|Victoria Redel, photo by Marion Ettlinger|
Victoria Redel is the author most recently of the novel Before Everything. Her other books include The Border of Truth and Loverboy. She is on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Granta.com and Harvard Review.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Before Everything, and for your five main characters?
A: Deborah, I had been working on another novel when my best friend since I was seven passed away. After a period of deep silence, it became clear I wanted to write about friendship, about how a community of friends through life manage each other's life changes-- death being that most final change.
The characters emerged as I began writing. I knew I wanted a gang of childhood friends with all the sweetness and complication of people knowing one another through many phases and life events. And the rest of the characters--new friends, ex-husbands, the hospice nurse--all began to emerge through the writing.
Q: Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you move the sections around as you worked?
A: I wrote the book in big and small chunks and, yes, moved sections around to start to shape the book's structure. It was the way I found the rhythm overall voice of the novel.
That said, after a bit, I wrote the chunks mostly knowing where they'd fit. The more I wrote the book, the clearer it became that I wanted to give many of the characters a voice.
I saw the book as moving a bit kaleidoscopically which made it all more complicated. But hopefully it's interesting. I've always worked in a collaged style though I long to be a writer who works in a neat, linear fashion.
Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: "Before Everything" hopefully speaks to that moment when all things are possible. That time--which perhaps doesn't ever purely exist-- when you have that deep inhale that gives strength for all that follows.
Q: What do you think the novel says about female friendships?
A: It's really all about friendship--and the strength that is woven into the way women care for one another. I believe that the women in the novel bear witness to one another's lives. Some have to learn how to accept that which they don't want to accept, primarily Anna's choice to stop treatment.
There are many women in this book and so there's room for so much--love, history, jealousy, change, physical care, fear, secrets, love. I wanted to create a big cast of complicated characters--not always likeable, often struggling, but enduring and loving.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: It seems I'm back to writing poems. As it's turned out after the long haul of a novel, I'm always grateful to return to making poems. I love the compression, knocking one word up against another and that the arc of a poem is brief.
I'm letting myself mess around and see what these poems are pointing to. I'm throwing out a lot of them but hopefully some will withstand the revisions.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb