We're All Damaged

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I recently went on this really great new Website called Facebook and asked some readers if they had any questions about my novel, Domestic Violets, or about writing in general.  Here are some of the questions that turned up, followed by the answers that my team of assistants and ghostwriters put together in response.

You’ll notice that some people asked more than one question—often as many as three. Well played, readers.  Well played indeed. 

If you haven’t "Liked Me" on Facebook yet, you absolutely should.  In difficult times like these, I think the world needs to like me now more than ever before. 

Gigi C. asked...
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: I’ve got a lot of them.  Richard Russo for starters.  I read Straight Man and Nobody’s Fool in college.  I remember the exact moment in Straight Man—during a scene that starred a goose—when I realized that serious fiction could also be funny, which was a valuable lesson for me. John Irving is another old-school favorite of mine.  His best books have lingered in my head for a very long time.  I have an intellectual crush on Lorrie Moore.  Birds of America is one of my favorite story collections. David Sedaris, Nick Hornby, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth, Jay McInerney, Zadie Smith, and Zoe Heller are all fantastic, too.  I could go on and on. 

Q: If they made DOMESTIC VIOLETS into a movie, who would you pick to play Tom and his father?
A: I actually can’t comment on Curtis’s role quite yet.  The book is in the very final stages of being optioned, and an incredibly awesome actor has called dibs on Curtis. More on that soon—I’m told the deal is done and it’s just a matter of signing contracts at this point.   

As for Tom, I never really had anyone in mind for him when I was writing the book, but I think Jason Bateman would be an interesting choice.  He’s a little older than Tom, but there’s this melancholy world-weariness about him that I think fits well.  My agent actually floated the idea of Bradley Cooper a few months ago.  I think it’d be a cool character for him to play.  He’s an actor who always plays the best looking, most charismatic guy in the room.  Seeing him dial that star wattage down a little could be really compelling—sort of like George Clooney in The Descendants.

Oh…and even though you didn’t ask, a friend of mine insists that Justin Timberlake needs to play Brandon, Tom’s would-be agent.  Now I can’t get that out of my head. 

Q: Do you listen to music while you write, or do you write in silence?
A: Absolute silence is terrifying, so I always, always have something on when I’m working. I normally don’t like listening to my favorite albums when I’m writing, though, like Achtung Baby by U2 or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco.  I’m too close to the music I love to have it not take over whatever I’m doing.  So, I usually have Pandora running on my computer in the background. Also, a friend of mine made me a mixed CD of movie scores a few years ago.  I go with that sometimes if lyrics are messing me up.  Scores are good because they’re all sound, mood, and emotion...but no words. 

Abby F. asked...
Q: Is there an author that inspired you to begin writing?
A: When I was as kid—like 11 to 17 or so—I read a ton of Stephen King.  I wanted to grow up to be a horror writer.  I totally ripped him off my freshman year in high school in a story I wrote for the literary magazine.  It was about a hunter who mounts all of these horrible trophies and animal heads in his study.  One night all the animals come back to life and maul him to death.  It remains my crowing literary achievement.  One of the janitors at my school actually made a formal complaint to the English department.  He was a big hunter, so I guess he was offended.

Matt Z. asked...
Q: How long did it take you to write your first draft?
A: The first draft took about a year, give or take. 

Q: When is your writing most productive: morning or night?
A: My entire adult life I’ve had 9-5 jobs, so nighttime is really when I do almost all of my writing. Even on weekends it’s tough to get much work done until after my two daughters have gone to bed. That said, nighttime writing is really more out of necessity than preference.  I’d love to wake up every morning, go for a run, and then sit down and get to work.  That’s every writer’s dream. Maybe some day. 

Q: Did you do an outline first?
A: I’ve never formally written an outline.  I do, however, always have key plot points in mind that I’m writing toward, which make up a loose plot in my head.  With Domestic Violets, I had a very clear idea how the book would end from day one, so that was really helpful for generating momentum—sort of like downhill writing.  For the novel I’m working on now, the end is a little hazier, but there are still some key turns that I know I’m going to want to take.  And I’m still trying to work a vampire in there somewhere.  A really good-looking vampire.  And possibly a car that transforms into a fighting robot.

Laura M. asked...
Q: How much time did you spend on revisions after the first draft was complete?
A: As I mentioned earlier, that first draft took about a year.  After that, I messed with it incessantly for about six months, just obsessing over the language and details.  Once I had something that I decided was finished enough, my agent sent it to a handful of editors where it began racking up an impressive string of rejections. 

Then the financial crisis happened.  I remember one day I was watching the news and I had this horrible sense of impending doom—and it was doom that I didn’t even really understand. A couple of days later, I started messing with the book again and trying to weave some of that confusion/anxiety into the story.  Six months later, I’d basically blown the whole novel up and set it squarely in the middle of the mess.  It really helped add some urgency to the "Death Star" sections of the book.

So, long answer short: one year to write the first draft, and about one more year of editing and fiddling and reworking and destroying. 



  1. Ok, so are you pulling my leg, or is DV actually optioned? I think it must be a joke since you're not screaming it across the interwebs.

    By the way, I have ordered about five or six people to buy and read this, and they've all loved it. Looking forward to your next book.

  2. Hey, Picky. Nope, no leg pulling. I haven't been screaming about it because things aren't officially signed yet. We're just working out one last detail, which is that I've demanded to play every character in the movie. Apparently they don't love that idea.

  3. About half way done with DV and am loving it.

    I'd have to agree with Jason Bateman playing Tom, though I really couldn't put up a fight against Bradley Cooper for obvious reasons - well, obvious to most women anyway.

    Also, like Russo (whom I've never read - I'm an ex-teacher & YA gal), you have a real gift for making serious fiction fricken hilarious.

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