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.
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.What do you like to read? What are you reading now?
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.