Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Q&A with Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman is the author of the new novel On Turpentine Lane. Her many other books include The Inn at Lake Devine and My Latest Grievance. She lives in New York City.

Q: The review of On Turpentine Lane in The New York Times says of your main character that "maybe Faith as the eye of the hurricane is exactly as intended." Is that how you see her?

A: First, let me say that I loved and am grateful for that review. I can’t say that “eye of the hurricane” i.e. the calm center, fits the whole book because the plot(s) moves along on things that agitate Faith.

But, yes, her romance is the calm center that the reviewer was referring to. As the god of this little world, I didn’t want Faith to suffer unnecessary heartbreak and angst over that part of her life.   

Q: You are known for writing really wonderful dialogue. What can you say about how you create it?

A: Dialogue is the easiest part of the writing for me. I always want to get into a scene as late as possible and leave it as early as possible, so I dispense with the “hello, how are you?” and the “good-bye, nice to meet you."  

I seem to have a good ear for the way people talk, so it’s hard to describe the work that goes into it. I try to avoid what I call speechifying and pamphleteering.

I also try never to plant information in dialogue. (An example of that no-no would be a character who said, “Here we are on our first date, at the restaurant around the corner from the office where we both work as administrative assistants.”) That’s planting information, and deadly! 

Q: Which character in this novel did you have the most fun writing about?

A: I had more than my usual share of fun with this book. But foremost might be Stuart, the bad fiancé who is walking across the country. And the woman whom Faith’s father (spoiler alert) takes up with. 

Q: Faith's house plays a major role in the book. How important is setting to you?

A: In this book, very important; number 10 Turpentine Lane is practically a character. I don’t start with setting (except maybe My Latest Grievance, set on a college campus), but in almost every book the town where the characters live quickly becomes more than a backdrop. It tells me where they rent or own, eat, shop, walk, dine, socialize.  

And a character who chooses Manhattan as a place to start over is not the same person who chooses a small Massachusetts town.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m about half-way through the next novel—no title yet—but central to the plot is a found high school yearbook from the 1960s...

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m very proud of my two New York Times’s "Modern Love" essays, published in 2010 and 2015. And recently there was the added thrill of the second one (“Taking a Break for Friendship”) becoming a "Modern Love" podcast, read by Sela Ward.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Elinor Lipman, please click here.

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