I want to thank Ann for responding to my questions. Read more about Ann here!
What was the first story you ever wrote about?
The first story I remember writing was from fifth grade and concerned a family named Appleton. Of course, I don’t remember anything the Appletons did or experienced, but I strongly suspect they spent their time bickering in the passive-aggressive yet charming (I thought) manner of my own family. What I do recall about this story is that I read it out loud in class, and another student was so taken with the Appletons that she wrote her own story about them, which I don’t remember either, and read it to the class a few weeks later. Sadly, no one else adopted the Appleton saga after that. Then, if memory serves (and it obviously doesn’t), I didn’t write any more fiction until I was in my twenties, when I produced a story for a friend’s birthday party about an opera singer obsessed with Star Trek action figures.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I honestly had no idea. At one point I thought I was a visual artist, but I came from a very pragmatic Midwestern culture, in which you really could not “be” an artist. Art was something you were supposed to do “on the side” to recover from your real job, which was being a medical doctor or possibly a businessperson–neither of which appealed to me. So I was a bit stumped. That’s probably why I ended up going to grad school in comparative literature.
Do you think writing is taught, that we know how to do it instinctively, or both? Why?
Probably both. Of course you have to possess the urge to do it in the first place, to create something utterly intangible out of nothing at all–or to spur a reader to create something in her own mind. But wanting to do it isn’t enough. Despite the amount of reading I had done all my life, and the years I spent studying literature, when I started writing fiction, I made every rookie mistake possible. Clichés, endless, boring backstory, cardboard characters–you name it. So, I’d say that for most people, at least some formal training is definitely necessary, and it does make a real difference.
What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?
An introductory social psychology class I took in college. At this point I was thinking of majoring in psychology, and this put me off the subject for good. Strangely, I still recall a lot of what we learned in that class, and I have no reason to believe it was wrong. But as I saw it then, the discipline viewed people as a faceless, muttering mass responding to stimuli, and–as a staunch individualist–I found that infuriating. Yet, even more strangely, much of my new novel is about a faceless, muttering mass responding to stimuli. Go figure.
Are you reading anything right now?
I am reading Suzanne Roberts’s memoir, Almost Somewhere, about her post-college backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail with two other young women. It’s quite suspenseful and also funny.
Are you writing anything right now?
I have a second novel more or less in the can–it just needs a bit more polishing. It’s a bit of a departure from Bigfoot and the Baby, kind of an existential murder mystery. I’m trying to do Dostoevsky in Cleveland.