Maddie Dawson joins us today on From Left to Write for an interview about her book The Stuff That Never Happened and about her life as a writer.
Read the inspired book club posts about The Stuff That Never Happened by the From Left to Write bloggers .
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: I have two places I love to write. One is my back porch, where I can look out at the woods and listen to the birds while I’m writing. This is a good place to be when I am listening to the voices of new characters and hearing the shape of the story they’re telling. But sometimes the back porch is just a little too close to the rest of the house, where there are all kinds of unfortunate distractions, such as the kitchen where I might need to think about what I’ll cook for dinner, or the bathtub, which if it was just a little cleaner, I could concentrate sooo much better on my writing. At that point, I need to get myself to my local Starbucks, where, believe it or not, I actually can get a lot done. I plug in my headphones, curl up in one of the armchairs, and I can write for hours, fueled by Starbucks iced tea and enough background noise to keep me truly focused on my project. I know this doesn’t make any sense at all, but it works for me.
Q: What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult?
A: I was reading all the time as a kid. I was THAT kid, the one with her face in a book, and I read so much that I actually can’t remember any absolute stand-out favorites. I loved all the Beverly Cleary books, the Donna Parker series, (I recently found one on eBay and was transported back to being 9), Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and a whole bunch of books that belonged to my mother and which I wasn’t supposed to be reading! As an adult, I love Anne Lamott, Alice Munro, Allison Winn Scotch, Susan Straight, Stewart O’Nan, Mark Haddon, Elinor Lippman, Lorrie Moore—oh, you see what happens when I get asked this question? I tend to go on and on. I love so many books!
Q: Are you in a book club? Tell us about it.
A: Big sigh. I am not currently in a book club, even though I would love to be. I had to abandon my book club while I was writing my novel. It’s way too much fun to read other people’s books when you’re at a tough spot in writing your own book! But then…well, your own book doesn’t get written and pretty soon you have to go get a real job.
Q: Do you a tip for writers? (e.g., how to overcome writer’s block, find your voice, routines, etc.)
A: My tip for writers (and I teach writing workshops, so I’m always saying this to them—I can feel them rolling their eyes even while I’m typing this) is to WRITE EVERY DAY. There is no substitute for actually sitting down and getting the words down; that’s where inspiration truly lives. You may think you can create and compose while you’re walking around in the world thinking about your book—but that’s an illusion. The real stuff only happens when you’ve trained your mind to create every day and given it a space and a mandate to then do it. And then it’s like magic. You sit down, do your little crazy ritual to get started (a friend of mine can only write once she’s won a game of Solitaire on her computer), and then let your mind wander free. You’ll be surprised at what starts to develop. (One caveat: Not every day is absolutely heaven on earth when you’re writing. Some days you can sit there for hours and the words and inspiration won’t come, and you may be tempted to throw your computer out of the window. Give yourself a break. The next day is bound to be better.)
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekend?
A: Oh, this is a hard thing to admit—but my favorite thing to do all the time is write. I would be writing all the time if I had the choice. I know, I know. This makes for a very boring, one-note life, and after a while you have nothing to write about because you have no new experiences. So I also love hiking, talking about writing, going to the beach, eating lunch out, talking to my friends, teaching writing workshops, traveling to new places, talking about writing some more, and eating dinner out. And oh yes, I like to cook. But I must be appreciated in order to cook. And then I don’t particularly like the cleaning up part.
Q: Christine Yother from Hooey Critic asks: What do you think are the keys to a great marriage?
A: Everybody always says the key to a great marriage is “communication,” and that’s so true that it’s become almost a cliché. You have to communicate. You have to say what you need. But I think the opposite is also true: you also have to know when not to communicate. Every single thought does not have to be expressed. You don’t have to point out that he takes the most crazy, wrong-headed route to the restaurant that there ever was, and if he would just turn left here and then take a right three blocks from here, he could get there twenty minutes earlier and avoid all the traffic! And you don’t have to tell him every single detail of your day, including the way that Agnes looked at you when you said the thing about the boss, and that that might mean she’s going to try to get your job. It’s a hard thing to learn—knowing which things can just be glossed over and go forever unexpressed—but it can bring you years of happiness and peace. Oh, and one more key to a happy marriage: savor the good moments. And sex is really, really good and important and can get you over the fact that he drives the wrong routes most of the time.
7) Sharon Young from Channeling Ricky asks: Annabelle’s mother was a great character in the early years of the book. My question is why did you choose to write Annabelle’s mother out of the later years by having her die?
A: Hmm, what a good question, Sharon. I, too, loved Annabelle’s mother and her crazy way of looking at life back in the 1970s through the women’s movement. And she was a real strength for Annabelle at the time she left Grant and was living in New York City. It was her mother who knew that she needed to stay in the city and create her own life and not come back to California. But sometimes an author has to create more problems for the main character—and Annabelle needed to come to terms with her own life in New Hampshire and with her marriage to Grant without her mother’s aid. Part of that meant that she stood on her own two feet.
Q: Maxine Bagoye from The French Mommy Born in California asks: Does the story line reflect your life or those of friends? Meaning where did you get the idea for the story? Also, do you think someone who has such control issues in his life could really come to this conclusion in a moment such as her husband did? It just seemed a little fast. I did appreciate you bringing out the almost generational concept of the childrens lives reflecting aspects of the parents brokenness. I did enjoy the book it gave me a review of the transition women went through during the 70s.
A: Hi, Maxine. The story didn’t happen to me or any of my friends, but we all did go through transitions and tumults of new marriage and children and possible regrets. I think the story came to me after I ran into an old boyfriend on the train, twenty years after seeing him last—and we sat and told each other the story of our lives from the moment of our last, tearful goodbye to the present. Interestingly enough, we had both gotten what we wanted out of life, even though at the time of our breakup, I don’t think either of us thought we’d survive. I was shocked, though, at how different our memories were of that time—and from that little germ, a novel was born. I knew that I wanted to write about a woman who was in a happy-enough marriage which is perhaps going through a rough patch, and how she fantasizes about the lover she once had, and must come to a certain maturity. What I didn’t know at the beginning was whether that maturity was going to consist of making her marriage what she wanted it to be, or if it was going to be becoming more of a independent person in her own life. So it was interesting to me to see how it worked out in the story.
As far as Grant giving up his control—that is such a good question! He was a character I struggled with in the book. I loved him but also disliked him for the way he shut Annabelle out of his life and didn’t have sympathy for her predicament in their empty-nest years. I tend to think he was still harboring some anger at her for those Jeremiah years, mostly because they had never really discussed it. He had just clamped the lid on it and said they could never discuss that time again. What he had to learn—and I don’t think he learned it particularly quickly; he did leave her in New York and not communicate with her for a while before the baby was born—was that you CAN’T just shove something under the rug and pretend it never happened. He came to see Annabelle as a full person, somebody who loved him and had made a great life with him for 26 years—and that he didn’t need to try to control anymore. I think that often when a control freak is shown that he doesn’t have to maintain such a tight rein on everything and everybody, there’s a kind of relief that comes. And that’s what Grant experienced at the end of the book: the realization that he didn’t have to hold onto things so tightly. His wife and his family were going to be stay with him no matter what.
Thank you all for your questions and comments. I appreciated the thoughtfulness with which you read the book and the wonderful insights you have. Really, it’s been such a pleasure!
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