Thursday, March 14, 2019

Q&A with Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman is the author most recently of the novel Waiting for Eden. He also has written the novels Green on Blue and Dark at the Crossing, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Esquire and The New Yorker. He lives in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Waiting for Eden?

A: The book started with the first line, “I want you to understand Mary and what she did …” The only thing was that I didn’t know at that point what Mary had done, only that her husband, Eden, was in this debilitated state in the hospital. I also didn’t know who the narrator was, there was just this voice.

The novel then became a series of questions: Who is Mary? What did she do and why? And who is this narrator who is pleading with us to understand her? Often that’s how my books get started, with a question.

Q: At what point did you decide who would narrate the story? 

A: Early on, I knew that I wanted this book to feel very intimate. I understood the book’s mood immediately and such intimacy usually lends itself to a first person narrator.

But the set up of the book caused all these problems with point-of-view. I’ve got Eden who is mostly non-communicative in his hospital bed, and Mary who for three years has been keeping a vigil with no indications that Eden knows she’s there. Neither of them could narrate the book because neither of them had access to the other.

Then I’ve got this voice, the first line of the book, and I wasn’t sure who that was. Eventually, the realization occurred that I could achieve the intimacy of first person narration and the omniscience of third person narration if my first person narrator was dead.

So the voice is a ghost, and who that ghost is and why that person is narrating Eden and Mary’s story becomes one of the central conceits of the book.

Q: How was the novel’s title selected and what does it signify to you?

A: The title, of course, comes from the protagonist’s name. But the idea of characters attempting to return to an original, purer state of being was one which resonated with me. Personally, politically, socially, it seems we are, all of us, often striving for such a return. This, too, becomes a theme in the book. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I hope to tell a story that immerses the reader and leaves them thinking of the characters long after the book is finished.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My first book of non-fiction, Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning, will be released in June 2019. That’s the alligator closest to the boat, though I have several other projects I’m working on.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Elliot Ackerman.

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