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Meg Wolitzer Explores Emotional Landscape-of the Family in her latest book

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Meg Wolitzer cover
The Ten Year Nap

by Meg Wolitzer
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An exclusive Authorlink interview with Meg Wolitzer
Author of The Ten-Year Nap (Penguin Group USA 2008)

by Ellen Birkett Morris

July 2008

Every writer has an emotional landscape that they return to and mine for compelling stories. For novelist Meg Wolitzer this landscape is the family.

Her novel The Wife was partly set in the fifties and detailed the parasitic relationship between a well-known writer and his spouse. The Position showed the impact on a group of siblings whose parents wrote a popular sex manual. In her latest work, The Ten-Year Nap, Wolitzer explores the search for a sense of purpose among a group of women who decided to be stay-at-home mothers and whose children are now old enough to care for themselves.

“So much drama goes on under that roof. Where else (but family) does a writer need to look for epiphanies in fiction?”
—WOLITZER

“So much drama goes on under that roof. Where else (but family) does a writer need to look for epiphanies in fiction?” observed Wolitzer.

“It is the small, seismic vicissitudes you see in life that are worth writing about,” she noted.

By taking on the details of domestic life, Wolitzer offers her characters a canvas on which to explore issues of the influence of children on a marriage, society’s view of women, and work and the concept of having it all.“As a feminist I grew up with the idea that everyone would find their passion. The truth is that not everyone has a passion for paid work,” said Wolitzer.

Her goal was to explore the restlessness, ambivalence and search for a sense of purpose experienced by modern women, without judging the characters based on their choices.Knowing the issues would spark discussions among women, she forged ahead, letting her characters show her the way.

“When I’m writing I don’t think about people’s reactions. It is a destructive thing to do.”
—WOLITZER

“When I’m writing I don’t think about people’s reactions. It is a destructive thing to do. When you are writing you need to live in the world of the book. I write the book I want to find on the shelf,” Wolitzer said.

Her challenge was to write a novel in which none of the main characters had a job and to do it in a way that honored the passions and concerns of those women. She worked with Editor Sarah McGrath at Riverhead to tweak a first draft that had a playful, piquant approach, but felt a little too judgmental of the characters. “She helped me see the big picture,” said Wolitzer, who decided to add a mother character in order to give the novel more depth and historical perspective.

Wolitzer’s own mother, writer Hilma Wolitzer, has been a big influence on her decision to pursue writing as a career. “She was very encouraging. She never once said, ‘You should have something else to fall back on.’” said Wolitzer.Having a mother writing in the house as she was growing up “made it imaginable” as a career option. “I would be heading out to school and my mother would be sitting there in her bathrobe with her IBM Selectric humming. At the time it seemed agonizing, but she was doing what she loved,” said Wolitzer.

She also benefited from fantastic writers/teachers including Mary Gordon, John Irving and John Hawkes. Reading has been as essential part of her development as a writer. Her favorite books include Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte’s Web and Mrs. Bridge.

“I know readers who are not writers, but I don’t know writers who aren’t readers. These books make you want to go write. They make you excited about the music of good writing,” said Wolitzer.

Wolitzer wrote her first novel Sleepwalking as a senior in college and sold it after she graduated for $5,000.

"Writing requires knowing when to stay at the computer and when to take a walk . . ."
—WOLITZER

 

 

 

Her first editor advised her to develop “alligator skin” when it comes to accepting criticism. Over time, Wolitzer has come to ask herself two questions when she writes – “Is there a reason for this?” and “Do I really have something to say here?” Wolitzer advises new writers to put in the hours it takes to produce quality fiction and to expect a certain degree of loneliness and boredom as part of the process.

“Writing requires knowing when to stay at the computer and when to take a walk or replenish yourself by reading. But when a book is going great guns I don’t want to do anything else, and I end up working in great bursts.”

She encourages writers to complete a full manuscript before pursuing an agent. She found her agent through a fellow writer and advises others to “find an agent who represents writers you like.”

“Always be professional. Act as though you are an executive – be respectful, follow guidelines for queries, have things looking presentable, and then sit back and let them do their job.”

Wolitzer is currently at work on a new novel.

About Meg Wolitzer

 

Meg Wolitzer is the author of seven previous novels, including The Position, The Wife, and Surrender, Dorothy. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. She lives in New York City.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.