Maile Meloy answers a handful of frequently asked questions...
What are you reading?
Cheating at Canasta, by William Trevor, which led someone to ask me why anyone would cheat at a game like canasta. (The answer from the story: the character cheats to let his wife, who's losing her memory, win.) I just finished the incredible Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Also The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, and Marisa Silver's wonderful new collection, Alone With You. Other books I've loved lately: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman, and Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann.
And it's a movie, not a book, but the documentary Prodigal Sons is wonderful, and set in my hometown.
What advice do you have for writers who have trouble focusing?
Set aside time to write, even if it's only an hour or two a day, and think of the time as the requirement. So you just have to be there, and it doesn't matter what you finish. I think it takes the pressure off the individual story or chapter, and you'll end up working on the ideas that seem most promising. I start many, many stories and abandon most of them, but eventually some pay off.
Do you like writing short stories or novels better?
I like going back and forth between the two. It's like the difference between a long marriage and dating, and there are advantages to each. With a novel, you know you have the book there to work on every morning. With stories, you have new characters and fresh situations. (Although some of my stories have taken me as long as the novels, with long periods in which I put the stories aside.) Some of the stories in Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It were written (or started) before and between the novels, and some after.
Do you outline your novels and stories before you begin?
NoI wish I could. It might be more efficient. I figure the story out as I go along, and then revise heavily when I know what it is. The story "O Tannenbaum," in the new collection, started with the idea of a family out cutting down a Christmas tree, and choosing one that's crowding another tree so that the one left behind would have room to grow. We used to do that, when I was growing up in Montana, and it seemed like a promising idea, but I didn't have anything more than that. The hitchhikers showed up as they do in the story, under a tree in the snow.
When did you decide to write A Family Daughter? Were you planning it when you were writing Liars and Saints?
I wrote Liars and Saints first, with no thought of writing another novel about the Santerre family. I really thought I was finished with them. It wasn't until after Liars and Saints came out that I started thinking about writing a book about someone who's written a novel, and about the way people wonder what's true in it. Then it seemed interesting to have one of the secret-keeping Santerres write one, so that A Family Daughter would seem to be the bigger, messier, less-streamlined source material that Liars and Saints came from.
Everything I'd written until then had been very straightforwardly realistic, and this new novel would have a meta-fictional aspect to it, but only in relation to the other book. A Family Daughter also had to work on its own, if you hadn't read Liars and Saints. The mental exercise of doing both things at once seemed interesting and entertaining to me (and you have to find things that are interesting and entertaining to you, if you're going to plug away at a novel.)
The people who seem to have had the best experience of the two books are the ones who let a little time passenough time to read another bookin between.
What are you working on?
A novel that isn't about the Santerres.
From the author's website with permission, 2010