Wolitzer: Write from the place where you stand

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 9, 2014

Meg Wolitzer’s book, “The Interestings” connected with a lot of readers, and Wolitzer herself connects easily.

At the Q&A following her lecture at Catawba College’s Brady Author’s Symposium last Thursday, she answered questions and told more jokes and made suggestions for other writers.

In the audience was Jennifer Hubbard (aka Jenny Hubbard), author of two books for young adults, “Paper Covers Rock” and the new “And We Stay,” who asked questions about writing for younger readers, as Meg did in “The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman.” Meg told her she really enjoyed getting on a kid’s level and respecting their age.

Dr. Kurt Corriher, Catawba professor and author of two books, “Someone to Kill” and “Salvation,” asked Wolitzer how she writes.

“I write all the time. I have the 80-page plan. If you can, write 80 pages without worry, without thinking about who’s going to read it, without worrying what people think. You have a sizable stack, but it’s not fatal.

“Take it somewhere — I like to go to the coffee shop — and slash and burn.” When you deal with the pages, the idea isn’t a fantasy anymore. It’s a reality. “You see what you have and you have to deal with that.” Maybe your mind took you places you did not anticipate. “This way you see what you need to write. … You don’t worry about the social niceties.”

She’s met some writers who crank out 200 or 300 pages and drag it around like another appendage. It’s awfully hard to rip that much up or throw it away, even if it’s wrong.

Wolitzer’s husband, Richard Panek, is also a writer, as is her mother, Hilma Wolitzer. Panek is a science writer covering topics such as dark matter and reality itself. Hilma Wolitzer writes novels, including some for young readers. Meg recommends her mother’s latest, “An Available Man.”

Meg told a story of how she and her husband work in their small New York apartment, one on each end of the couch, tapping away on their separate laptops. Meg is like many New Yorkers — she has a sly humor that Southerners might find almost cutting, always accompanied by a look to make the point clear.

Meg grew up as the woman’s movement was becoming a force and she feels strongly about the unfairness of male vs. female authors. More male authors are published, are represented in literary magazines and sell more books, although more women than men read.

She talked about her gender-neutral cover for “The Interestings,” but said it’s depressing that we’re still talking about these issues after all these decades.

“The Interestings” is her longest book so far, 480 pages. Someone asked if her next book will be bigger or smaller. Meg laughed. “I think I’m growing as a writer. ‘The Interestings’ was a pleasurable way forward. It’s my favorite book so far.” She says you don’t like all your books the same way.

She writes the way she thinks, she says, and she’s been thinking more deeply and reading longer works, especially from Norwegian writers, who seem to look deeply within.

She has to find what the next natural thing to do would be. “If you’re making decisions based on commercialism, it’s not as good.”

Unlike some authors who say their characters write the story for them, Meg says, “I like to have command of what I’m doing. I have gotten to the end and see that what I planned to happen isn’t going to work.” She thinks writing is sort of like being a therapist — when you write, you learn about the characters as they reveal themselves. “I love the moment when you feel you really get the characters and you can trust them. If not, you may be writing the wrong book.”

“The Interestings” raises questions about talent and what happens to talent over time. When folk singer Susannah Bey joins the Moonies (Unification Church) in the book, Bey is finding her audience again, since the contemporary world is not interested. Bey’s son, Jonah, is an “Interesting,” yet he plays a somewhat minor role. Jonah’s talent is stolen, Meg says, and he comes back to it later in life.

Still pondering the question of her long book and how long the next one will be, Meg says, “I want to read and write a book that is deeply satisfying. I’m interested in the project of a long book. … I’m still interested in what happens to people.”

“We write from the place where we stand to look around the world. At this point in life, I’m looking around at deeper stories.”

Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at dp1@salisburypost.com of 704-797-4252.