Jennifer Haigh Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh

How to pronounce Jennifer Haigh: The h on the end is silent, so pronounced haig

An interview with Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh talks about how she was inspired to write Baker Towers (set in a Pennsylvania coal mining tower after WWII) because of her own family history and the stories told to her by her parents and relatives.

Was Baker Towers inspired by your own family history?
Yes and no. The characters themselves are inventions; they don't resemble anybody in my family. But the details about the town itself, what life was like in the postwar years, definitely came from my parents and other relatives. Baker Towers ends in the Vietnam era, right around the time I was born, so I couldn't rely on my own memories of the period I was writing about. By the time I came along, the coal mines were already in decline. The era of the company town was past, and the region was on its way to become something else. But I grew up hearing about how things used to be, and when I set out to write this book I had a wonderful time interviewing family members about what life was like when coal was king.


How did the characters evolve from the time you began imagining them?
The characters really did develop a generation at a time. When I began writing, Rose and Stanley were clearest to me. I had a vivid mental picture of what they looked like -- Rose very dark, southern Italian; Stanley a Slavic type, big and blond -- and I was fascinated by how those two sets of physical traits would combine and manifest in a large family. As far as developing the characters, that happens in the process of writing. Each event in the character's life changes her destiny in some way, and the writer makes these discoveries over time. One of the pleasures of writing a novel is following the characters over many years, from infancy to adulthood. When the story opens, Lucy is two months old; by the end, she is a grown woman. It's important to me that the reader recognizes the child in the adult, that the character "turns out" in a way that seems organic and true.


The novel is packed with details that re-create a vanished world. What were some of your best research sources?
I do my best research by talking to people. These conversations yield more than simple facts; they give me a feel for how people talk, what they remember, which events in their lives hold the greatest significance for them. Beyond that, I spend a lot of time looking at old newspapers and magazines -- not just the headlines, but the advertisements. I care what people were wearing, what kinds of cars they drove, what groceries cost, what was playing on the radio. Some of this information finds its way onto the page, but most of it doesn't. It's my way of creating a world in my imagination, of making it real and vivid for myself.

How did the experience of writing this novel compare to that of your debut? What is life like now, as a full-time writer?
When I was writing Baker Towers, I felt a real sense of obligation to the region and the people who live there. It's a part of the world that doesn't get written about very often, and it was tremendously important to me that I do it justice, that I get it right. I'd been thinking about this book for many years, before I even wrote Mrs. Kimble; but I wasn't ready to tackle it. I think I sensed that I didn't yet have the skills to write it.

Writing full time is monotonous and lonely, but it works for me. When I'm deep into a novel, the characters are much more real to me than anybody in my own life, and that's necessary for me as a writer. Years ago, when I was writing mostly short stories, I could get by writing in the evenings or on weekends; but when I'm working on a novel, I really benefit from being able to work in long stretches. I write at home, in a quiet room with the curtains drawn. It sounds boring, and it is; but I can't write unless the world in my head is more vivid than my surroundings are. I'm amazed by writers who can compose on airplanes or in coffee shops. Writing is hard for me, and it only works in a place where nothing can distract me.

Copyright Harpercollins 2005

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Last Ballad
    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash
    Ella May WigginsA hundred years ago or so, farming land west of Charlotte, North Carolina was given over to giant ...
  • Book Jacket: Future Home of the Living God
    Future Home of the Living God
    by Louise Erdrich
    Louise Erdrich began Future Home of the Living God in 2002, set it aside, and picked it up again in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Mrs. Parrish
    The Last Mrs. Parrish
    by Liv Constantine
    Amber has lived in poverty all her life, and she has had enough. Of course, wishing to have money ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

At once a love story, a history lesson and a beautifully written tale of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Strangers in Budapest
    by Jessica Keener

    Strong characters and a riveting plot combine in this psychological thriller set in Budapest.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E Dog H I D

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.