I was the kind of reader in smudged pink harlequin glasses sitting on the cool, dusty floor of the Arrandale public library, standing at the edge of the playground, having broken a tooth in dodge ball, and lying under my covers with a flashlight.
People tend to forget that in our country, we’d pretty much all be immigrants, except for the Native Americans.
My ideal meal varies, depending on the time of year. Lobster on a deck overlooking a beach at sunset is one – but all my kids have to be there, because they are all lobster-lovers. Making a bolognese sauce over pappardelle for my husband on a winter evening, because he loves my bolognese sauce and it’s his comfort food.
I spent a lot of time listening to people. But it’s also true that I liked details and listening to people when I was a bartender and when I was a waitress and probably when I was a babysitter as well. I suspect that’s part of what drew me to psychotherapy rather than the other way around.
I’m overall a big fan of President Obama.
I think the impulse to get to the heart of the story and to tell it well is in my genes.
‘Normal’ is not clinical, it’s not autobiographical, and I don’t claim to be objective. It’s strictly my perceptions and thoughts about the people that I met and the stories that I heard. It was never meant to be an academic work.
Nonfiction is both easier and harder to write than fiction. It’s easier because the facts are already laid out before you, and there is already a narrative arc. What makes it harder is that you are not free to use your imagination and creativity to fill in any missing gaps within the story.
Plays are wonderfully different than short stories, first because it’s a story that’s on a stage, but there’s a different sort of tension that appears on stage – you get to see your characters in a different way – like with lights.
I think all writers are mainly writing for themselves because I believe that most writers are writing based on a need to write. But at the same time, I feel that writers are, of course, writing for their readers, too.
I don’t think writers really choose their subjects. I think the subjects, the topics, the themes, choose us, and then we make the most of what we have. For Trollope, society; for Roth, Jews. For me, apparently, love. Why hide it?
We have our insides and our outsides, and I find the struggles between the two, as well as the occasions of harmony between the two, fascinating.
I am interested in struggle – between our hearts and our head, between principle and desire – and one of those struggles is with mortality; and no one at all is immune to it, which makes it even more interesting to me. Some people fall in love, some don’t. Some sky dive, some don’t. Everyone who lives, ages.
I’m a grown woman. I can come up with plenty of things that I’ve done and said or didn’t say or failed to do that remain with me as sources of embarrassment.
My father certainly believed that one could make a living outside of an office, as he did. And that if I didn’t want to work for other people, there wasn’t any reason why I had to. He conveyed that very strongly to my sister and I – that smart people can make their own livings.
I’ve had a family my entire adult life; I started raising kids when I was 21. I suspect that being part of a family has probably informed my life as a writer as much as anything else has.
My father would have been spectacularly ill-suited to working for an institution of any kind, and I suspect that, to a lesser degree, that’s true of me, too.
I usually don’t have to do a lot of research in my work, as I’m writing about something I’m already familiar with.
I do have a sister. I have never written much about sisters before. I am very close to my sister, but, maybe, because we are very close, it never occurred to me to write about her.
Keep your mouth shut and see what’s happening around you. Don’t finish people’s sentences for them. Don’t just hear what they say, but also how they behave while they’re saying it. That was great training for writing.
My grandmother tended to divide life into ‘nice’ and ‘not so nice.’ Life in America, her apartment, her grandchildren: ‘nice’; life before 1915: ‘not so nice.’ That’s all I heard.
I assume as a writer that most of the time I’m going to fall down and fail.
My job is to form the people, the story, the sentences. Every reader will bring their own life and their own history to the story and shape it accordingly. I guess you can say it’s like I am sending them a letter.
I find the 1940s very compelling. It is a very excitable period in the U.S. when, whether out of necessity or not, everybody was reinventing themselves.
As children, we think our mother has always been a mother, but it is just one of the roles you may have the opportunity to play. They don’t define you as a human being.
If the characters are not alive to me, it doesn’t matter how good the sentences are. It just becomes all cake and no frosting.
My greatest surprise was that so much of what we think is common sense is just prejudice, and so much of what we think is scientific fact is about as scientific as the idea that the sun revolves around the earth.
My target audience is anyone who finds the world interesting and human behavior fascinating, terrible, inspiring, funny, and occasionally, mysterious.
I’m sure I’ve been influenced by every fine writer I’ve ever read, from Dickens and Austen to Auden and Jane Hirshfield. And also, the short stories of Updike, Cheever, Munro, Alice Adams, and Doris Lessing. And the plays of Oscar Wilde. And paintings by Alice Neel and Matisse.
I’ve written the best work I know how. And I’m appreciative of the people who read it and care about the work – and that’s pretty much the end of that.
I do my business in the morning, and then at 2 P.M., I write fiction for the rest of the day. I like my husband, so I don’t work at weekends.
When I was a little girl, I thought I was Sydney Carton in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ I don’t think anyone else did.
I get to tell the most interesting stories I know how to tell with the most interesting sentences I know how to compose – and people who aren’t related to me read them. To be paid to write things that matter to me is extraordinary.
There are two trilogies I admire: Robertson Davies’s ‘The Deptford Trilogy’ and Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials.’
I am interested in the gaps between one piece of sidewalk and the next. I am interested in the things for which we don’t always have a name, and the things that are not easy to articulate – the difference between what we think and how we feel.
Training to be a therapist teaches you to shut up and listen, and that is certainly useful as a writer.
I find my readers to be very smart, and there is no reason to write dumb.
I didn’t think being a writer was a fancy thing. It was a job like any other job, except apparently you could do it at home.
‘Lucky Us’ ends with a description of a photograph of the novel’s fictional family. I could never get enough of my own family photo albums.
My family kept its history to itself. On the plus side, I didn’t have to hear nightmarish stories about the Holocaust, the pogroms, terrible illnesses, painful deaths. My elderly parents never even spoke about their ailments.
My mother’s favorite photograph was one of herself at twenty-four years old, unbearably beautiful, utterly glamorous, in a black-straw cartwheel hat, dark-red lipstick, and a smart black suit, her notepad on a cocktail table. I know nothing about that woman.
The truth is I never think of any subject as taboo.
It is a wonderful, moving, heart-filling experience to sit with the man or woman you love and your beloved children and know that all are happy to be just where they are with each other and loving one another. This doesn’t happen very often.
My writing process, such as it is, consists of a lot of noodling, procrastinating, dawdling, and avoiding.
My sister and I used to act as maids and waitresses at my great aunt and uncle’s cocktail parties, which were very much sort of retired, minor stars of the Yiddish theater and the Yiddish opera.
Smart people often talk trash about happiness and worse than trash about books on happiness, and they have been doing so for centuries – just as long as other people have been pursuing happiness and writing books about it.
Actual happiness is sometimes confused with the pursuit of it; and the most mindless and crass how-tos can get jumbled in with the modestly useful, the appealingly personal, and the genuinely interesting.
The real problem with happiness is neither its pursuers nor their books; it’s happiness itself. Happiness is like beauty: part of its glory lies in its transience.
To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.
Whenever you see shrinks on television, they’re so clearly written by patients. They’re either idealized or they’re demonized or they love their patients. All they ever think about is their patients.
It took me a while to understand the meaning of a franchise: the reasons why you see lawyer, doctor, cop shows. It’s not because anyone in their right mind says, ‘You know, what’s the most fascinating thing in the world?’ It’s because you need something new that happens every week in a frame.
I learned how to write television scripts the same way I have learned to do almost everything else in my entire life, which is by reading.
Bad people doing bad things is not interesting. What I find interesting is good people doing bad things.
The great pleasure for me in writing short stories is the fierce, elegant challenge.
If you’re an American reader, you can love short stories the way other Americans love baseball; this is our game, people! We have more than two hundred years of know-how and knack, of creativity.
For me, the short story is the depth of a novel, the breadth of a poem, and, as you come to the last few paragraphs, the experience of surprise.