An Interview With Richard B. Wright
Was there any especially challenging aspect of writing letters and diary
entries from the perspective of a woman?
The especially challenging aspect of any novel for me is establishing the
main character. Once I have that character's "voice", I feel the book
begins to live. I had to imagine what it was like to be a woman like Clara in
the 1930s. But that's what novelists do -- imagine what it's like to be someone
else. The letters and diary entries seemed a natural way to tell her story.
Clara Callan is set in the 1930s. What kind of research did you do to make
this era so vivid?
I read a great deal about the period, and I remember things my parents had
said about the 1930s. It's always been a special interest of mine and the period
has always seemed to me to be a pivotal decade in the last century.
In this novel, characters seem concerned with their own sexual morality.
Is this a function of the era or the nature of small towns?
Yes, this is a function of the nature of small towns where everyone is
concerned (and were more concerned 70 years ago) with personal reputation. Our
tolerance for more liberal sexual attitudes nowadays is very new in North
American life. It probably began around the end of the 1960s.
Why did you decide to introduce Clara to the Europe of the 1930s? What
were some of the challenges for you of conjuring up that period?
The 1930s was probably the most politically interesting decade of the 20th
century. Ideologies -- communism, socialism, fascism, liberal democracy -- they
were all clashing and much of this was going on in Europe. Clara is an
intelligent woman, and I wanted her to see a part of all that as it was
unfolding in Italy where Mussolini had taken control.
Does Clara Callan share any qualities with any of the other characters you
have written about?
Yes, I suppose she does. Clara is thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent; a
bit of an outsider. Other characters in other books both male and female are
somewhat like her.
Were there any special challenges you experienced in creating two main
characters who were sisters?
Not as sisters, but as women. The problem was to create convincing female
characters, especially in a novel which explores their intimate lives. The fact
that they were sisters almost made it easier, but only after I saw them both
clearly in my mind.
How would you describe the significance of Clara's loss of faith in this
book? Why did you decide to treat this subject in Clara Callan?
Her loss of faith is crucial; once she no longer believes in God (a huge
admission for the time in which she lived) she felt cut off from others, and was
troubled by the narrowness of her life.
What is your next project?
It's bad luck to talk about what you are currently working on.