Ayelet Waldman is the author of Red Hook Road and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was made into a film starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.” Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel, Korea and Italy. (Photo by Stephanie Rausser.)
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?
I have four children and am thus so absurdly busy that I don’t have time for writers block. If I waited for inspiration, I’d never write anything else as long as I live. I have one rule: butt in the chair. I try to sit down to work five days a week, from about 10:30 AM to 3 PM, with a short break for lunch. When I’m feeling crabby, I remind myself that that is about as UN-onerous a schedule as a person could ask for, and I have no business whining about it.
But of course I do still whine. And when I’m whining and out of sorts, I put on Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. Minimalist classical music and that piece in particular has a kind of propulsive energy that makes me buckled down and write.
What makes us care about fictional characters as readers?
The work “authentic” is loathsomely fashionable nowadays, and I tried so hard to think of a different way to describe what makes a character important to the reader, but alas I fear that is the word that describes it best. As a reader, I don’t demand or even expect likeability. I enjoy reading about complicated, spiky people, people who are interesting because of their flaws. But for me to care about a character, even an “unlikeable” character, I must feel like she is true, that she is real, that the things she does and says make sense. I don’t necessarily need to say to myself, “I know someone just like that!” What I need to feel is that the character is doing exactly what he should be doing, would be doing. As a reader, I lose interest when the character’s actions seem forced by plot rather than to come naturally from who he is.
Mentors/Mentoring: talk about this, if you have had a mentor?/ & if you yourself have been a mentor. Anything about this experience.
My husband is without a doubt my literary mentor. He edits my work, and I edit his. I’ve learned more from reading his manuscripts and books than I ever could have learned in an MFA program. (Although maybe I just say this because I never went to an MFA program, and I feel a certain insecurity because of that.)
Being married to a writer, anything on this subject of you both being writers?
I have the world’s best in house editor. And more importantly, I am allowed to edit one of the best American writers of this century (or any, frankly). How cool is that?
“Voice of Witness,” your women in prison project/ please tell us about this. How can we help, if we can?
Inside this Place, not of It, is a book in the Voice of Witness oral history series. We interviewed people in women’s prisons around the country and edited the transcripts of the interviews into long narratives that illuminate different human rights issues. The book includes narratives by women who underwent terrible sexual abuse in prison, women whose children were kept from them, women who were denied basic medical care, and worse. Every American should read this book, so that you can understand how we treat the least powerful among us. Buy the book, recommend it to your friends. And, look at the section in the appendix on “further action.” Write a letter, make a donation, reach out.
Red Hook Road – how did this novel happen, what compelled you to write it?
Michael and I heard a news story about a bride and groom who were killed by a drunk driver as they drove from the church to the reception. We looked at one another, and then simultaneously shouted, “Dibs!” I won that fight. If the victims of the tragedy had been escape artists or superheroes, I would have lost.
What are you working on now and next?
Too much! Which is great. The busier I am, the more I accomplish. Desperation is great inspiration. I just finished the first draft of a novel called Unclaimed, which is more or less about the Hungarian Gold Train, a train full of the property of the murdered Jews of Hungary that ended up in the hands of the American army in Salzburg in 1946. I’m working on a pilot for HBO with my husband called Hobgoblin that is also set in the 1940s. I’m adapting my murder mystery series for CBS. And, lastly, I’m collaborating with my husband and with a brilliant young composer/lyricist named Peter Lerman on a musical.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs athttp://megpokrass.com.