An exclusive Authorlink interview with Katherine Mosby
Author of Twilight (HarperCollins, May 2005)
By Doris Booth
In her compelling third novel, TWILIGHT, author and poet Katherine Mosby tells the story of Lavinia Gibbs' sexual and political awakening in Paris on the verge of World War II.
Against her parents' outrages, she breaks off an engagement to her emotionally remote fiancé and sails for Europe to begin rebuilding her life. In Paris she meets the charming and long-married Gaston Lesseur and begins a journey of self discovery.
TWILIGHT examines the emotional landscape of adultery from the perspective of Lavinia as the "other woman." Reminiscent of Edith Wharton's work TWILIGHT has a surprise ending, as Lavinia finds herself through the unforeseen circumstances which prompt her to unexpected action.
TWILIGHT is Mosby's third novel, following Private Altars and The Season of Lillian Dawes.
Here, the author talks about her latest work.
"A few throw-away lines in the previous book determined the direction of the next one."
AUTHORLINK: The character, Lavinia, was mentioned in your previous novel, The Season of Lillian Dawes. What prompted you to write a whole book about her?
MOSBY: In The Season of Lillian Dawes, Lavinia was, for the most part, a mystery woman She was the aunt of the 17-year-old narrator and the black sheep of the family. We knew she lived in Paris for two decades with a married man and that there was something scandalous about her. But that is all we knew.
Her character intrigued me. I became increasingly fond of her. In most families there is some version of a scapegoat. What later generations know about them through handed-down stories may be wrong. I wanted to investigate how Lavinia became a black sheep, explore the greater complexity, and reverse the idea that she was a reprobate. A few throwaway lines in the previous book determined the direction of the next one.
By the time I had finished writing The Season of Lillian Dawes, I felt I knew the family Lavinia had come from and it gave me the starting point from which to see why she made her choices. I thought it would be interesting to debunk the family legends and find out what was really going on behind her story.
It is the nature of the human condition that with intimacy comes greater knowledge, and with knowledge comes compassion. We become aware that we are all failed creatures; not just a dazzling facade. There is always a more a complicated texture.
AUTHORLINK: Are you planning a sequel to TWILIGHT?
MOSBY: This book is not designed to have a sequel. I never think beyond what I am working on at the moment. I'm in that period where I am recharging and figuring out where I am going next. Sometimes it seems obvious to me; at other times, not at all. I like the fact that my readers remain curious. That means they are still thinking about my characters.
"Money is always an issue for most of the writers I know. We have to supplement our incomes wherever we can."
AUTHORLINK: When did you begin writing?
MOSBY: I started writing as a child. I feel I have always been a writer, always known what I wanted to do. All I cared about as a child was reading and writing. From the time I entered high school through graduate school, I focused on writing poetry. It didn't occur to me to write fiction. By the time I finished two graduate degrees, I had a choice. I could either spend two more years writing a doctoral thesis, or two years writing a novel. I chose to write my first novel but I continued to write poetry.
AUTHORLINK: How did you find your first agent?
MOSBY: I had published poetry in Poetry magazine and in other literary journals, but not ever having written fiction before I'd never needed an agent to submit work. When I finished Private Altars, a friend gave me the name of an agent who luckily liked the manuscript and decided to represent me.
AUTHORLINK: Does that same agent represent you now?
MOSBY: No. Many authors change agents and publishing houses for a variety of reasons. I am currently represented by Kathy Robbins and we have a wonderful relationship.
AUTHORLINK: You are an adjunct professor at New York University's Stern Business School and you teach a creative writing course at the 92nd Street Y and privately. What do you tell your students about the difficulties of publishing?
MOSBY: Though it was easy for me, because I was lucky, I watch my students really struggle with trying to find agents and publishers. A poet friend said to me that you should not consider yourself a writer until you have papered your bathroom wall with rejections. That's good advice. I was fortunate to fall into a publishing relationship, but I tell my students that finding a publisher is like applying for a job. You have to keep looking. You can't give up.
AUTHORLINK: You are a published author and yet you continue to teach?
MOSBY: Money is always an issue for most of the writers I know. We have to supplement our incomes wherever we can. Even writers who are extremely well known or have won big awards still can't quit their day jobsor their night jobs. To have a life that affords you time to write, you must be willing to supplement your income in other ways.( That's why you should recommend but never lend your books!). It's a hard life, financially. That's the reality of the business. I tell my students that if they approach writing as if it is a hobby, they should take up watercolor painting or photography. You have to be committed to continue to write.
"It has been enormously helpful to work with an editor who has the same sensibilities for the work and who is in accord with my own vision."
AUTHORLINK: Marjorie Braman is your editor at HarperCollins. Describe your experiences in working with her.
MOSBY: Marjorie is great. She's funny and patient, and she really "gets" my work. The suggestions she makes are always within my vision for the book. Not everyone is like that. Some editors might say, "I love this book, but could you make the man into a woman and the dog into a cat?" I feel if you really like a book then why turn it into a different story. Marjorie understands what I am trying to do. She hasn't made a lot of suggestions, but when she does, she suggests things like, "I want to know a little more about Lavinia's relationship with her women friends," or "I need another beat here, a paragraph there." Her views are harmonious with my own thinking, which makes her a very good editor for my work. The small touches she has made make the whole work hang together more tightly. It has been enormously helpful to work with an editor who has the same sensibilities for the work and who is in accord with my own vision.
AUTHORLINK: Do you have any writing quirks or strange habits?
MOSBY: If a writer didn't start out with quirks, he or she soon develops them. I have lucky things on my deska shell or a talisman I feel particularly attached tofamiliar things that help me feel great about myself. I don't have a regular routine, though I won't sit down and write unless I have at least a two-hour stretch of time. Instead, I'll polish previously written work or make notes, but I won't dive in to the composition of new text. I have the familiar rituals like sharpening pencils (though I work on a computer), or rearranging my desk. Writers are like dogs. They circle before settling down. It takes a certain amount of time before I can get into stride. So, if I only have an hour open, I use it to do laundry or pay bills, not to write. I often write late at night because there are no interruptions. I can still be going strong at 3 a.m.
AUTHORLINK: Can you tell us about your next project?
MOSBY: I don't like to talk about whatever I'm working on. I'm superstitious about talking much about uncompleted projects. It depletes the energy. I feel protective of my work until I am finished.
AUTHORLINK: What advice do you have for the new writer struggling to break into publishing?
MOSBY: In general, be aware that writing is a frustrating business. Just keep at it. You are not alone. Everyone else is struggling, too. So often we look at other people and think they don't have to worry. But we don't see behind the scenes. It looks so easy when you have a finished book, but it is not. You have to realize that with few exceptions it's hard for everyone. And if you don't receive the recognition you deserve that does not diminish the value of your endeavor.
If nothing else, this business teaches you to be a better reader. Most people try to become writers because they love reading. You aren't wasting your time, no matter what happens, because writing teaches you to become a better reader, and to become aware of the craft. Then you begin to see writing in a different way. You see how another author handles a scene or a flashback or a piece of dialogue.
"The truth is, when you get there
it feels as if little has changed. You still
wake up in your bed in your skin.
It's still you."
AUTHORLINK: How does it feel to be a published author?
MOSBY: On one hand it's very satisfying; on the other you realize that once you are published life doesn't change much, unless you are wildly successful. You are still faced with creating your next book, and with starting again from scratch, like working with an Etch-a-sketch. You return alone to your room to start again. However, I am very proud of my books and the accolades I've garnered
There are so many things in life on which we peg our hopes, expecting that when a particular goal is attained our life will be magically transformed by getting a job or getting married or getting published or getting a particular prizewhatever it is we dream of getting at the moment. The truth is, when you get there it feels as if little has changed. You still wake up in your bed in your skin. It's still you.
AUTHORLINK: What is the best thing for you about being a writer?
MOSBY: The greatest thing about this job is that you can do it in your pajamas.
Katherine Mosby is divorced and lives with her two cats, Cedric and Shorty, whom she calls her writing companions and "critics." She lives in New York City and teaches at New York University's Stern Business School.