William Norris Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

William Norris
Photo: William Norris

William Norris

An interview with William Norris

William Norris talks briefly about the story behind the writing of his first novel, Snapshots.

Before I started Snapshots I had never tried to write a novel. The form seemed daunting, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around its demands or the level of commitment required to see a novel length work through to completion. Instead, I wrote short fiction, much of it, in retrospect, not very good short fiction, and sent my pieces off to journals and magazines without success.

During that time, I wrote four or five stories with the same cast of characters; a family called the Mahoneys. There were four children, and I had written pieces narrated by three of them. I begin to envision a collection of linked stories narrated by each member of the family, but found myself blocked when I attempted to write a story told by Nora, the youngest member of the clan. I sat down each writing day, determined to get Nora’s voice right on the page, but when I read the work over the next morning, it was clear that I wasn’t even close. Everything I tried felt flat and forced.

Then, one morning in the summer of 1997, I typed, "Nora wakes first and toddles to the television hulking silently in the living room." It was the first time I had come at these characters in the third person, and the first time I had written about any of them as very young children. Suddenly, I was off, using the third person to veer in and out of each character’s point of view and finding myself fascinated by the dynamics that arose between each family member on the page.

The work went well that day; it was one of those rare times when I found myself confident that I, in fact, knew what I was doing. When I walked away from my desk hours later, I had completed what, almost without change, became the final chapter of SNAPSHOTS.

It took another six months of trying to jam this new idea into my original conception of the work before a good teacher insisted what I was doing was, in reality, a novel and that the work was most alive when I was working in the point of view I had discovered on that summer morning. I was heartbroken–I had over 100 pages done in the original form–but after resisting her advice for a while, I was able to see that she was right.

Those original stories weren’t a waste of time; many of the events recounted in them ultimately turned up in SNAPSHOTS, but more importantly, I had a firm grip on who these characters were before I plunged into the book that I was eventually able to write.

Like many people my age, I am deeply intrigued by the ways in which families are formed and why they are sometimes able to endure and survive and sometimes they splinter apart. Much has been written about the dynamics of families in the aftermath of the great cultural shifts of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I have seen little that reflects my own sense of what family is really about. It has been my experience that family–be it a family of biology or one carved out of friends and lovers–is often exasperating, sometimes claustrophobic, occasionally devastating, but also the only place where people can find comfort and real, human joy without the need to explain their foibles or justify their mistakes. Above all else, I hope that SNAPSHOTS reflects that view.

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.

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