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Posts Tagged ‘The Man in the Wooden Hat’

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement.  Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

Susan Conley, Author - Portland, ME

Today’s post features Susan Conley, author of Paris Was the Place, an Indie Next Pick, and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Pick.  An American novelist, nonfiction writer, poet and creative writing professor, Ms. Conley’s memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune, was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine and the Daily Beast. Ms. Conley has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She currently teaches at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program, and at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Susan is co-founder of The Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing lab in Portland, Maine.

Ms. Conley speaks at the Norwich Bookstore next week on Wednesday, September 18th at 7 pm.  Reservations are recommended, please call 802-649-1114 or e-mail info@norwichbookstore.com for more information or to make a reservation.

While we have not yet read her book, we enjoyed her answers to our questions below.  We especially like her eclectic list of books on her bedside table as it includes many of our favorite authors such as Jane Gardam, Halldor Laxness and David Sedaris.  We also truly hope she manages to finish Independent People by Laxness; we both loved that novel!

1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?  

 Joan Didion’s The White Album taught me that women could write about the same things that men could:  rock and roll and politics and driving cars on the Santa Monica freeway. But that women could do something perhaps more interesting–they could layer on to that social inquiry a more internal, emotive investigation of what it means to be a mother or a sister or a daughter or a wife. Didion opened up the world of complex, nuanced, startling intimate creative non-fiction to me. Her novels are also lessons in compression and distillation and I have devoured all of those too.
Tolstoy’s War and Peace taught me about breadth and scope and the infinite possibilities of how to write about family. You may be able to tell I preferred the domestic chapters to the war chapters, but those battle scenes and schemes were extremely educational too. This book showed me how to write about the intricacies of place and how to use place as a full-blown character in my work–a portal into the story. This book is also so generous with its treatment of scenes. Tolstoy stays in the scenes for a long, long time. Much longer, in fact, than you think it’s possible to.  And this is how he is able to fully render his character, until they come completely alive on the page and work their way into our hearts.
 Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is on the list because this was the book that showed me how novels can spend all their time tracing their character’s shifting internal thoughts. Not much happens in this beautiful novel. It’s mostly the mapping of each character’s fluid, discursive inner thinking. Woolf showed me that it is rare that two characters in a novel (or in the world for that matter) are actually speaking to one another–actually exchanging ideas. And that most often they are pushing some kind of unseen and often unconscious agenda in their mind without even knowing it. Often they are lost in their own dreams and their own questions and musings. Then every so often, two people connect, as they do in quiet, powerful moments in To the Lighthouse and there’s great pathos and emotion.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
Probably the esteemed Virginia Woolf. Because of her prolific career–so many novels and essays and letters and journals. But also because of her layered, complicated life and the crowd she hung out with. Her perch in the famed Bloomsbury art world in England and her famous sister Vanessa would make talking to Virginia even more fascinating. That is, if I could get her to talk. I have a feeling she would be rather circumspect and want to drink her coffee (or tea rather) and then go home.
     
3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
I will simply look at the pile, right next to the bed, and list them for you. There are always many and they all call to me:  Richard Russo’s Elsewhere, Colum McCann’s Dancer, Pers Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time, Jane Gardam’s The Man in the Wooden Hat.  Halldor Laxness’ Independent People. David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. (Sedaris is always on my bedside table. He keeps me honest and keeps me taking risks.)

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