introducing readers to writers since 1995

February 23, 2005

Author2Author: Elizabeth McKenzie & Curtis Sittenfeld, pt. 2

by Ron Hogan

(Curtis and Elizabeth continue to discuss issues of content and technique in their e-mail dialogue...)

Elizabeth McKenzie: Are there any scenes or sections in your novel that you particularly enjoyed writing? Something you like that has yet to be noticed by any readers?

Curtis Sittenfeld: This isn't one overlooked scene or paragraph, but something that has surprised me in reviews is that several critics have made comments along the lines of, "Prep is surprisingly interesting for a book in which nothing happens." And I've thought, Nothing? Nothing?! Everything happens! While I was writing it, I literally was worried that the main character, Lee, found herself in the thick of so many situations that she would seem like a sort of Forrest Gump--improbably omnipresent. I guess what's at issue is whether or not you think walking past your crush in the dining hall counts as drama--clearly, I do. But of course I'm also a person who can sit at my desk for ten hours, alone in my apartment, and then feel like I had a really hectic day.

Another question for you is: How did you decide on a novel in stories? What advantages and drawbacks does this form have over a novel or a story collection? Did you know when you started writing that this is what it would be? Do you foresee writing future books in this form? (I guess this is actually four questions!)

Elizabeth McKenzie: Yes, I know what you mean (about what counts as drama).

As for Stop That Girl, it started out as a collection--but four of those stories were about one character and her family (actually, they all had different names, but it was clear they were the same person), and the editors were interested in seeing where that might go. They asked if I wanted to take another six months and see what happened, and this sounded good to me. I ended up writing five new stories. Once we took a look at the thing, saw that the overall effect was novel-like, it received its hybrid designation.

The advantages for me were that conceiving of the material in story form really helped me distill it. And there was something interesting about touching down on on key moments or episodes without filling everything in. I was just reading Bob Dylan's Chronicles and he was talking about how you fill in a lot when listening to a song, how the lines jump but somehow there's an intuitive connection going on in the mind of the listener. That made sense to me in terms of the novel in stories, too. I'm not sure I'd ever write another book in this form, but I actually really like the possibilities it creates, how stories can unite in unexpected ways.

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