As we approach our one-year anniversary here at Writer Unboxed, Kath and I thought we’d re-post one of our favorite interviews – with ultra-unboxed bestselling author Audrey Niffenegger. If you missed the re-post of part 1, click HERE, then read on! Enjoy.
Part 2: Interview with Audrey Niffenegger
Q: Did you ever worry that TTW might not fit neatly on any particular shelf in the bookstore?
A: Literary fiction is a very broad category. But I worried that it would never get published because the title makes it seem like traditional science fiction, and it isn’t SF enough for fans of that genre.
Q: Some might argue that TTW’s mega-success makes it, by definition, mainstream fiction. What do you think distinguishes literary from mainstream?
A: I think that is a purely subjective distinction. It’s easy to look at the extremes of each and see differences (take, say, Ulysses at one end and The Da Vinci Code at the other) but mostly it’s kinda meaningless. My book remains exactly the same no matter what you call it.
Q: What drove you to finish TTW when you were worried about salability?
A: Well, I never expected to actually make money. As a visual artist I’ve always been pleased when things sell, but it’s never the point. I did hope to publish TTW, just to get it out in the world and possibly find a few readers. But I mainly wrote it for the pleasure of writing it.
Q: What one scene—if any—do you wish you’d written for TTW that didn’t make the cut or didn’t come to you until after it was too late?
A: None. The book is really and truly finished for me.
Q: As I reader, I’ve often wondered what happened to Claire in all her Henry-free years. What do you think she did? Remarry? Have more children? Was she lonely? Did she sink into her art?
A: One of the pleasures of reading, for me, is when there are gaps and empty places in a book which the writer has left open for me to fill in. I don’t know what Clare is doing in that time. I’m sure she is lonely. I’m sure she made art. I don’t imagine more children.
Q: What are your thoughts on TTW being translated to film? Are you interested in seeing any particular scene or character on screen?
A: I am avoiding imagining the film. The film I would make isn’t the film Gus Van Sant is going to make, so I’m trying to leave an empty space in my head which his film will eventually fill. Every writer I know who has had a book filmed has expressed disappointment with the result. How could it be otherwise?
Q: I think fans of the book are also holding their collective breath over the film (and trying–perhaps unsuccessfully—to imagine Brad Pitt as Henry DeTamble). I’ve read that movie rights were picked up even before a publisher signed the book. Were you shocked that Hollywood came a-knocking?
A: Pleasantly shocked. I am not someone with Hollywood dreams, so it’s been very interesting to see the extent to which other people are fascinated by all that.
Q:I recall reading that you’ve considered writing a sequel to TTW featuring Alba. Is this still a possibility, and do you imagine giving the story a different spin?
A: One of the reasons I am not working on a sequel is that I have no idea what happens to Alba or any other character outside of the book, and if I ever get ideas about that I’ll plunge in and start writing. It would probably be the story of Alba and David Kendrick. I won’t work on it if it is just more of the same. I would have to have a new take on it in order to be interested enough to live in it for the years it would take to write.
Q: What books are on your keeper shelf? Do you have an all-time favorite?
A: The answer to that changes daily. Some I love: Was, by Geoff Ryman; Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis; Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers; Life? or Theatre?, Charlotte Salomon; Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell; The Secret History, Donna Tartt; Trash, Sex, Magic, Jennifer Stevenson; Portrait of a Lady, Henry James; Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy; On Photography, Susan Sontag; My Sister’s Hand in Mine, Jane Bowles.
Q: How are things going with your new work-in-progress? Can you offer us any peeks or provide a quickie synopsis?
A: Things are going rather slowly. But the research is great fun. Her Fearful Symmetry is set in London, in and around Highgate Cemetery. It concerns a pair of mirror-image twins who inherit a flat in a building next to the cemetery from their aunt, who is trapped in the flat as a ghost.
In the process of researching Highgate Cemetery I’ve become a tour guide there. It’s quite exciting for me and the Friends of Highgate Cemetery are a wonderful group of people who have been quite decent about letting me hang around and plague them with questions.
Q: Author immersion-now that’s unique! Will Her Fearful Symmetry be told using a traditional timeline?
A: I seem to have started in the middle and am working my way toward the beginning. But I am not far enough along to answer that question with anything more definitive than Probably.
Q: Do you feel pressured to “live up to” TTW acclaim, or do you feel comfortable going in a new direction, come what may?
A: I have a natural tendency to do whatever people are not expecting me to do (witness my most recent book, The Three Incestuous Sisters). So I’m sure that there will be a number of readers who would like a sequel to TTW, but HFS is not that book. Maybe they will like it anyway, who knows? My epitaph should be “Easily Bored.” If I’m going to do it at all it has to be different from my previous work. That’s how I ended up writing TTW in the first place.
A: It might be more correct to say that the Book and Paper Center evolved from my interest in artist’s books. I started working on the Sisters in 1985, and the Book and Paper Center was started by a group of Chicago artists, including me, in 1994. We were trying to make a place for the Chicago book arts community to gather and learn. It’s become a more national thing, with graduate students from all over the country. I seldom try to do my own work there; I have a studio of my own for that.
Q: How much are art and writing alike for you? Are there similar principals or processes? Can you learn about one by dabbling in the other?
A: For me they are connected by narrative. I am interested in telling stories both pictorially and with words. I am always trying to make them converge; someday I will probably end up doing comics, which are the perfect form for that. I learned about long-form narrative by working on my visual books, and it was very helpful to have done those before beginning TTW.
Q:Are there any other characters or concepts begging your attention? What will we see from you in the years to come?
A: I am writing short stories and a novella. All of these are set in Chicago, and eventually I may gather them together in a book. The novella is The Chinchilla Girl in Exile. It’s about a nine-year-old girl who has hypertrichosis, which is a hereditary disorder in which hair grows all over one’s body and face; my character, Lizzie, looks like a junior werewolf. I’m very fond of her, she’s plucky.
We hope you enjoyed re-reading this WU Interview Classic with Audrey Niffenegger!