Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

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

Jennifer Haigh
Photo: Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

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" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Jennifer Haigh at BookBrowse
Mercy Street jacket Heat and Light jacket News from Heaven jacket Faith jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

All the books below are recommended as read-alikes for Jennifer Haigh but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Brit Bennett

    Brit Bennett

    Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Mercy Street

    Try:
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett

  • Ann Cummins

    Ann Cummins

    A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona writing programs, Ann Cummins is the author of Red Ant House, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Best Book of the Year. She has had her stories ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Baker Towers

    Try:
    Yellowcake
    by Ann Cummins

We recommend 14 similar authors


Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Women and Children First
    Women and Children First
    by Alina Grabowski
    After Lucy Anderson falls to her death at a high school party, no one in Nashquitten, her gloomy, ...
  • Book Jacket: Henry Henry
    Henry Henry
    by Allen Bratton
    Allen Bratton's Henry Henry chronicles a year in the life of Hal Lancaster. Readers already ...
  • Book Jacket: The Last Murder at the End of the World
    The Last Murder at the End of the World
    by Stuart Turton
    The island is the only safe place left on Earth. Since a deadly fog overtook the planet, the ...
  • Book Jacket
    A Kind of Madness
    by Uche Okonkwo
    The word "madness," like many others that can be used to stigmatize mental illness — e.g., "...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
The Pecan Children
by Quinn Connor
Two sisters deeply tied to their small Southern town fight to break free of the darkness swallowing the land whole.
Book Jacket
Look on the Bright Side
by Kristan Higgins
From the author of Pack Up the Moon comes a funny, romantic, and moving novel about life's unexpected rewards.
Win This Book
Win Bright and Tender Dark

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson

A beautifully written, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A W in S C

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.