Author Interview

A Conversation with Megan Abbott

Q: What was your favourite childhood book?
MA: Little Women by Louise May Alcott

Q: Which book has made you laugh?
MA:Anything by Muriel Spark. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar—the first half.

Q: Which book has made you cry?
MA: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Q: Which book would you give to a friend as a present?
MA:Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell. And, for a few friends with a more tabloid streak, I Am Not Ashamed by Barbara Payton.

Q: Which other writers do you admire?
MA:The crime novel masters, like Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, F. Scott, Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, all the way up to and including James Ellroy. I tend to read in obsessive waves, everything Jazz Age, then everything Harlem Renaissance, then only big 1950s melodramas, then gritty police procedurals followed by all the Edith Wharton I can get my hands on.

Q: Which classic have you always meant to read and never got round to it?
MA: The Stranger, Albert Camus

Q: What are your top five books of all time, in order or otherwise?
MA: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Q: Is there a particular book or author that inspired you to be a writer?
MA:The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy. All of Ellroy really, but that was the one that did it for me. The power Ellroy has to create a whole world. You feel completely absorbed into it, it surrounds you, and it’s haunting and wrenching. Each time you open one of his books, you’re immediately transported back in, and it’s ugly and beautiful, terrible and exquisite all at the same time.

Q: What is your favourite time of day to write?
MA:I wish there was one. I suffer every time I sit in front of the computer. I tend to write in the morning, but I think it’s easier in the early evening. Morning is better for my schedule, so I struggle through it. Lots of staring, yawning and sighing.

Q:And favourite place?
MA:I write almost exclusively at home, but occasionally I will start writing on the shaking subway car coming from work and that can be really productive. For all its noise and movement, the subway is somehow really conducive to writing. The constant thrum of white noise and misery.

Q: Longhand or word processor?
MA:Mostly computer, but during the early stages of each novel I write in long hand a little. It’s less pressureful and makes me write I different ways.

Q: Which fictional character would you most like to have met?
MA: Philip Marlowe, in some dim old-L.A. bar, circa 1947.

Q: Who, in your opinion, is the greatest writer of all time?
MA:William Faulkner

Q: Which book have you found yourself unable to finish?
MA: Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Q: What is your favourite word?
MA: Forlorn.

Q: Other than writing, what other jobs or professions have you undertaken or considered?
MA: I work as a grantwriter at a nonprofit by day. I’ve also taught literature. I worked briefly for a politician. I thought about becoming a press secretary or speechwriter or journalist. But a hopeless, hapless love of books and movies won out.

Q: What was the first piece you ever had in print?
MA: A poem in my college’s literary magazine titled, “Eunice Williams I Love You Forever.” The title was stolen from some graffiti on a freeway overpass in my native Detroit. I’m sure I’d wince if I read it now.

Q: Can you think of a question that we didn’t ask you?
MA: What book have you read more times than any other?

Q: What would the answer be?
MA: James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1936) or Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929)—both slim, little, deceptively simple novels that unearth all kinds of secrets the more you sink into them.

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