Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Special Feature: Interview with author Holly LeCraw & A Giveaway

    Yesterday I reviewed Holly LeCraw's debut novel The Swimming Pool; Holly was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions for you and me about the book and her writing life.
    What themes were you exploring with The Swimming Pool?
I was interested, quite literally, in the ripple effect—in the toxicity of secrets in families, in their effects over generations. So often parents keep secrets from children in an effort to protect them, and then the result is just the opposite. Although the thing people first focus on in the book is the affair between Jed and Marcella, the underlying motivations really spring from the parent-child relationships—and the fact that Jed and Marcella’s affair is quite Oedipal underscores that theme.
I was also interested in the idea of lack of control. Jed doesn’t know who killed his mother, and the uncertainty is eating away at him; he thinks an answer will satisfy him. But, in the end, control is an illusion for all of us, and we must come to terms with that.

    Why did you choose Cape Cod as your summer setting, instead of, say, a Southern resort area like Cape Hatteras? Does the cultural conflict between the North and South play any role in the book?

I don’t remember choosing it—I saw Callie and Jed at the Cape from the beginning. I think the cultural conflict only plays a small part here, but in the book I’m working on now I think it will be larger. I’ve got self-exiled Southerners again. I guess more than the particular regional differences, I’m interested in the idea of the outsider, and the discomfort of displacement. Although I’m also very interested in the different attitudes toward religion in the North and South, and I think that might come into play in my new book.
    Why did you choose to create a fictional, archetypal Cape Cod town instead of using a real one? How did that choice influence the story and the characters?
I think when real places are used that aren’t absolutely iconic it can be distracting. It’s too tempting to compare—“is that place really like that?” It messes with the fictional dream. Also, my Mashantum, while very similar to the town we go to on the Cape, isn’t exactly the same. I am not that interested in verisimilitude, and I didn’t want to be held to it. Any measures you can take, as a writer, to free yourself up are worth taking.
Why did you choose alternating perspectives and flashbacks? I've heard some writers say there is some resistance to flashbacks as a narrative device. Did you encounter any resistance yourself?
It seemed necessary to move around in time and perspective to tell the story I wanted to tell. I thought of it, the story, as a whole, organic thing, and I wanted to look at it from all angles. I don’t even really think of them as flashbacks. The characters’ memories are very much in the present, and they influence their actions in the present, so time seems more fluid. Metabolizing one’s memories in the present makes the memories a part of the plot in real time, if that makes sense.
As for resistance, no, I never got any. I was well-edited, but also lightly edited. The book was sold in very similar form to the final version. Early on in the writing process, I considered putting dates on the sections, but then I decided to try to write it as clearly as I could so that wouldn’t be necessary. I might have to do them in my current book, though. I’m not opposed to dates on principle; I just thought I could make The Swimming Pool work without them, and that the reader might stay more firmly in the characters’ heads that way. I thought my eventual agent or editor might suggest them, but they didn’t.
Would you tell us a little about your writing process? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write every day. Write as freely as you can. Read On Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Listen to your gut. Have faith. Don’t give up.
As for my own writing process, I try to follow my own advice, often failing miserably.
What do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I have been reading a lot of poetry. I’ve been felt far too immersed in the Web because of book promotion, and at this point I feel like the Internet is a Chinese water torture of banality, with just enough meaning to keep you hoping but not enough to keep you satisfied. (Book blogs, of course, are an obvious exception!) So I’ve been craving pure, concentrated language. I want to cleanse myself with words. Rumi, Rilke, Stevens, Eliot, Levertov, Gioia. Right now I’m all over the place. I am looking for passion and intensity and, not precision exactly, but care.

I’m also reading a selection of Jung’s writings. I’m fascinated that he was a psychologist and a scientist who truly believed in God—I am rather more interested in him as a mystic than a psychologist. And I think as an artist and a storyteller, I should know more about the collective unconscious and archetypes—or maybe just figure out what it is that I already know. But I’m at the beginning of this project, so right now I just have questions.
And I also am reading, or at this point re-reading, Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, and Love and Summer by William Trevor. I tend to read a book very quickly the first time, and then, if it moves me, I slow down and read it a few more times. And I want to recommend American Music by Jane Mendelsohn, which came out last year. It didn’t get a lot of attention and I have no idea why, because it is beautiful.

Holly LeCraw's The Swimming Pool was recently named
one of Kirkus' Top Debuts of 2010, and was named a "Best
Book of Summer" by The Daily Beast and Good Morning
America. LeCraw has published short fiction in various literary journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A native of Atlanta, she now lives outside Boston with her husband, journalist Peter Howe, and their three children.
Thank you Holly!
I have two signed hardcover copies of The Swimming Pool left over from my travels, which I'd like to offer to two of you! Here are the rules:
  • Leave a comment on this post with your email address, and tell me what you're interested in about the book. No email address, no entry- no exceptions.
  • No strings- if you want to tweet or Facebook or link to this, I thank you, but it's one person, one comment, one entry.
  • This giveaway is open worldwide.
  • The giveaway is open from now until midnight, January 31, 2011.
  • I will contact the winners via email soon after the 1st of February. Please reply with your mailing address within 48 hours or I will select another winner. I'll send the books out media mail.
Thanks and good luck!


Amy said...

Please don't enter me, but I wanted to say the new book sounds really great! I'm very excited for it. :)

tapestry100 said...

Great interview!

I had not heard of this new book before and it sounds like something I'd love. The idea behind the "toxicity of secrets in families" immediately caught my eye. These types of stories constantly intrigue me, and there's nothing better than a good, juicy secret to make a family interesting!

I'd love to be entered into the contest. My email is:
tapestry1000 at yahoo dot com.

Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!

bermudaonion said...

I think parents keep things from children at first because they think they're too young and then it becomes this big, destructive secret and there's no good time to reveal it. I have this book, so I won't enter the contest.

Zibilee said...

Very interesting interview! I like that how she mentions that control is an illusion that we all try to maintain. She sounds like an incredibly erudite woman, and I would love the chance to read her book because I think the aspect of parents keeping secrets from their children is one that interests me. I also like that she mentions the ripple effect in regards to the toxicity of these secrets.


Kay said...

All you have to say to me is "mystery", "murder", "family secrets" and I'm interested. I always enjoy a book that picks apart family dysfunction.


jewwishes said...

Don't enter me, but thank you for the thought.

The book sounds like a good one!

contemplatrix said...

an exceptional interview! I really appreciated some of the questions you asked, about the writing of the novel. thanks!

seeing the list of authors she reads for creative energy and flat-out interest, has me intrigued to sample her writing.


Care said...

Hmmm, this author sounds smart. I'd be interested in it because of the secrets and theme of 'control is all illusion'. Why not! I love to win books. :)
bkclubcare at gmail.

angie said...

I have been wanting to read this book for awhile. The first time I saw a review I was hooked and need to read it! Thanks for the giveaway!

geosi said...

Interesting interview.

I would be interested to see how the title reflects the contents of the book.

Enter me. My email is:

Sarah Miller said...

Your review of this book piqued my interest enough to put it on my TBR list, but in this interview, I'm further intrigued by the "ripple effect" of secrets LeCrawe describes. I'd love to be entered in the giveaway: sarah dot pare at gmail dot com.

Lisa Eckstein said...

The novel I'm working on is also about "the toxicity of secrets in families, in their effects over generations," so I'm always intrigued to read other stories with this theme. And since I grew up in Massachusetts, I'm also drawn to the Cape Cod setting. I'll definitely be adding this book to my to-read list, but it sure would be nice to win a copy!


jpetroroy said...

I love the Cape, and am always excited for local settings

jpetroroy at gmail dot com

Nancye said...

This sounds like a great book! Thanks for the chance!

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Florinda said...

I thought I'd officially "wishlisted" this book before your review, but I was wrong - that's been fixed now, so I'd love to be entered in the giveaway! I'm definitely intrigued by the premise.

3.rsblog AT Gmail DOT com


pburt said...

Having a "secret" in my family I have always been interested in how families deal with these things. My parents handled it very differently than my mother's sisters. And even my mother's recollection of telling my brother and I "the secret" is very different from my recollection.

I am also interested in the LeCraw's reference to Jung in your interview. My mom was a Jungian so his worldview point is something I am familiar with.

Please enter me in the giveaway -

Thank you

virginie said...

I finally had plenty of time today to read thoroughly your interesting interview with Holly LeCraw. The book sounds great and has many assets to please me. I usually enjoy the themes of family secrets and/or dysfunctional families in novels and appreciate a good mystery book. The setting of the plot also appeals to me. The Cape Cod area is very attractive (I'm planning a holiday week there next summer!). And finally, you loved the book !
So, I am glad to enter this giveaway. Here is my email address :

Beth F said...

I would love to be entered. I love a good soap-opera-y murder mystery on a cold late winter weekend.

Thanks for hosting.

Great interview, too. I don't read much poetry anymore but I loved reading it when I was in high school.

BFish dot Reads at gmail dot com

Jen (Devourer of Books) said...

Well, for one thing I remember Amy raving about this book when it first came out, and that is enough to make me want to read it, but like tapestry100, the phrase "toxicity of secrets" grabbed me in your interview.

jen (at) devourerofbooks (dot) com said...

I remember reading raves of this book, even months ago, which is what initially interested me in the book. I'm a lover of mysteries, though, too, so there's that. :) I'd love to win. WordLily AT gmail DOT com

ellen said...

Count me in. Aside from a mad lust for books I am moving to Cape Cod in March, so anything set on the Cape is intriguing.

Danielle said...

Dysfunctional families are my favorite genre!! And thanks for sharing your books with us, your humble readers!!


Tribute Books Mama said...

pls enter me.

tributebooksmama at gmail dot com

Tiffany said...

This has been on my wish list for a long time. I HAVE to know what happens, it sounds so interesting. I am looking forward to reading it!