October 7th, 2009 BEN WATERHOUSE | Special Section Stories
 

Julia Glass

     
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IMAGE: Peter Ross

You really should read: Three Junes

Glass, a mother of three from Massachusetts, seemingly came out of nowhere to win the 2002 National Book Award for her debut novel, Three Junes, beating out the likes of Ann Packer and Jonathan Safran Foer. Her third novel, 2008’s I See You Everywhere, explores the same themes as her first—adult siblings with little in common but blood and the inescapable influence of place—in a tight, energetic, totally unpretentious voice. 1 pm Sunday, Oct. 11. Powell’s Books Stage.

What’s your personal writing ritual?

I wish I were the sort of writer who gets up before dawn every day and plants herself at the computer, wide awake, muse on shoulder. I have a theory that “everyday writers” are all morning people, and boy am I not a morning person! To the external observer, I write haphazardly: I may work every day for a few weeks running, then not for an entire month—or a few days here and there. I might work for one or four hours at a sitting. The one essential key to my productivity and deep involvement with my stories is the day-to-day connection I maintain, in my head, with my characters. During the “in between” moments of my life—showering, shopping, walking the dog, waiting in lines, idling in traffic—I think about their choices and relationships. For that reason, I don’t carry a cell phone or an iPod or any other gizmo that might sabotage those daydreams.

What are your favorite themes to write about?

I write, first and foremost, about families. I am endlessly fascinated by relationships among parents, siblings, mates, and children. I believe that many of the greater conflicts in the world arise from rivalries, grudges, biases, and misunderstandings that originate in families and radiate outward through communities and tribes to influence the fate of nations. To understand human nature in the context of family is to begin to understand how we behave in a wider society. I also love to explore how even smart, good-hearted people make foolish, vain choices—and how they deal with the consequences of their folly.

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?

George Eliot—specifically, her final novel, Daniel Deronda—made me pick up that pen. I was in my early 30s, pursuing my ambition as a visual artist (while reading fiction at a pace I will never match as long as I live!). I had begun to suspect that while of course I revered and loved contemplating paintings and drawings, no work of art could move me as deeply as a great work of fiction. Daniel Deronda is not Eliot’s best novel—it has many flaws—but it features an extraordinarily complex heroine (one who is initially contemptible yet wins the reader’s heart) and writing so exquisitely beautiful that I could not resist reading long passages aloud to myself. It’s the novel that made me understand why fiction is so powerful and so important: how it can teach us true empathy and strengthen us through stories of human endurance.

Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?

Pick a fight? You must be joking. We authors need all the friends we can get!

Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.

Both The Great Gatsby and Heart of Darkness disappointed me—though perhaps my expectations had been too high for too long when I finally read these books (in my mid-20s), or maybe I read them at the wrong time. Honestly, though, Gatsby struck me as a gorgeously written melodrama and Heart as an overgrown boys’ adventure tale.

Dream project:

A New England flower garden that blooms every day from the first late-March crocus to the last early-November rose.

Your cure for writer’s block:

There is no such thing as writer’s block. Writing is a job like any other: Sometimes you do it well, sometimes badly; sometimes you’d rather be doing anything else or you see your vocation as pointless. Too bad. Ever heard of plumber’s block? Lawyer’s block? Nun’s block? (Speaking of which, Mother Teresa worked hard through a very long crisis of faith.) If writers had people who depended daily on their services, they wouldn’t have this pretentious excuse for moping about. When I feel low on energy or inspiration, I go do something else (laundry, gardening, shopping), or I grit my teeth and get words down on paper, even if I know I’ll be tossing them out. Eventually, I get to the other side of the chasm.

Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?

Optimistic (realistic!) answer: As long as there are writers, there will be readers. People are reading in different ways than they have in the past, but read they always will. Reading is part of what makes us human.

Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.

I’m still at a point where, every single day, the first time I see Obama’s face in the paper or hear his voice on the radio and realize that man is my president, I feel a twinge of happiness and pride. He’s making mistakes—who wouldn’t, at a time like this?—but behind every one of those mistakes is a worthy goal or motivation. Even when I don’t agree with him, I trust his heart. And I trust his ability to learn on the job!

Please paste a short paragraph from a story, poem, article, blog post, etc., you’re currently working on:

“Because I’d seen so much of Clover since her return to Matlock, weeks would go by during which I did not consciously notice how much this daughter resembled her mother; and then, whenever it rose to the surface again, I felt the familiar, vertiginous tumble of emotions: relief at the presence in the absence (that something of my wife remained) and sorrow at the absence in the presence (that my daughters would always remind me their mother was gone). And the ugly sense that I held a bottomless debt of repentance: that even while I’d maintained my solitude, had never even come close to marrying again in the thirty-two years since my wife’s death, still that solitude had been ample with pleasure.” (From the novel I’m working on now.)

 
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