Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Q&A with Elinor Lipman




Elinor Lipman is the author of the new novel Ms. Demeanor. Her many other novels include Rachel to the Rescue. She has taught writing at Simmons, Smith, and Hampshire colleges, and she lives in Manhattan and in Holmes, New York.


Q: What inspired you to write Ms. Demeanor, and how did you create your character Jane?


A: I create all my characters one sentence at a time. I rarely begin with an inspiration or even with a story to tell, and I know almost nothing about my characters until they reveal themselves. I’m always thinking what’s next? What makes sense? What makes a story? I’m a stern editor of my own work and can sense when I’m going down the wrong path. I do a lot of cutting--whole chapters. 


I was once collecting advice for my students at a summer workshop, asking other members of the faculty, “What do you do when you’re stuck?” The author Carol Edgarian’s answer was, “Go back to the truest line.” I follow that almost daily. And I also follow David Mamet’s practice: Get into a scene as late as possible and leave it as early as possible. 


Q: The author Wally Lamb said of the book, “Lipman, a master chef of literary romantic comedy, cooks up a deliciously entertaining story whose ingredients include wit, sass, sex, and social satire.” What do you think of that description, and would you describe your work as satirical?


A: What do I think of that description? I love it. I think there’s a difference between social satire and being satirical. The former can be gentler. I don’t let social satire invade the novel’s entire voice; it’s more in the characters’ individual observations.  


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Jane and her twin sister, Jackleen?

A: Both Jane and Jackleen see Jackleen as the alpha twin. She’s bossy and quite often condescending. Most of the time, Jane remains indulgent of Jackleen’s patronizing because it’s partnered with generosity and love. Jackleen means well. I think we all have a Jackleen in our lives. And I made sure to give Jane her due.


Q: You dedicated the novel to the memory of your friend, the wonderful writer Mameve Medwed. Can you tell us more about her?


A: She was my best friend for over 30 years, and though she’s only been gone a year, my brain is still wired to want to share with her every thought that runs through my head.


For decades I sent her everything I wrote for her feedback—every novel chapter as I polished them; every book review, every essay, every blurb I was asked to write. And vice versa. We were each other’s first readers, unofficial editors and cheerleaders. Her six novels are funny, sweet, poignant, smart. I wrote about the friendship here


When people ask “Who do you write for? Who is your audience?” the truthful answer was “Mameve.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m on the third chapter of a novel that I’d better not characterize, because I recently threw away 30 pages of what I thought was the next novel when it went aground.


But here’s a hint: I did crowd-source one element of the new pages on Facebook: I asked my FB friends help in naming a fictional business that ran estate sales…


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Sheltering during Covid wasn’t exactly house arrest, but it did provide some parallels. Like Jane, I went nowhere, did an awful lot of cooking, and binged on British Police Procedurals. The pandemic isn’t mentioned in the book. My editor thought it best to keep the story timeless.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Elinor Lipman.

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