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Powell's Q&A

Joanna Scott

Describe your latest project.
Everybody Loves Somebody is a set of stories spanning the 20th century, spun around experiences of love, loss, and gain — a history (in miniature) of ordinary emotions.

  1. Everybody Loves Somebody
    $3.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

  2. Liberation


    Joanna Scott

  3. Tourmaline
    $3.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist


    Joanna Scott

  4. Make Believe
    $3.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Make Believe

    Joanna Scott

  5. The Manikin
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    The Manikin

    Joanna Scott

  6. Various Antidotes: Stories
    $18.00 New Trade Paper add to wishlist

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
David Markson, author of such exemplary works of fiction as Wittgenstein's Mistress, This Is Not a Novel, and Vanishing Point. I had the opportunity to read Wittgenstein's Mistress in manuscript years ago, when I was a young, hopeful writer, and it gave me a thrilling sense of the intimate powers of imaginative narrative.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false?
The best liars lie with their eyes rather than with their words. This might put writers at a disadvantage.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
Jim Longenbach, poet, critic, and my husband, is always passing along life-changing books for me to read. The first one, way back in 1981, was Ovid's Metamorphoses; the most recent one was Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I find it helps put things in perspective to walk across the creaking floor in Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst or to read the notes pinned to Ezra Pound's grave on San Michele, the cemetery island in Venice, or to listen to a winter rain beating against the window of the room where Keats spent his last months, in the house at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
I've had many formative encounters, but I'll describe just one, when I worked as a security guard at the Picasso exhibit at MOMA in 1980. I was moved from one gallery to another and kept watch over some of modern art's most notable pieces, including Les Demoiselles D'Avignon, Woman Ironing, and the bicycle-parts Bull's Head. Alone in the gallery at the end of each day, while I waited for my manager to do his final walk-through, I'd talk to Picasso. And he'd talk back.

If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
It might be interesting to be my older sister. I don't have an older sister, but if I did, and if I were she, I would give me lots of useful advice and prevent me from making my worst mistakes.

What do you learn from your dreams?
How to think about paradox.

The stories in Everybody Loves Somebody feel very much like a thematic collection. Were the stories written together, during a cohesive time period, or have they been accruing over the years?
I wrote these stories slowly, over the last decade. More accurately, I wrote each one with steady and fairly speedy concentration, but then I'd have to wait for a long period before I was ready to begin a new story.

Since you've written mostly novels over the years, do you have a specific or different kind of discipline for working on short stories?
The novelist in me is probably hiding behind all the stories I write, looking for ways to connect them and continue the conversation with readers. Maybe I'm writing one long narrative, and each book, however different from the last, is just a chapter.

Occupations, and the ways characters make ends meet, play a strong role in the book. Was that an intentional focus?
This question gets at the heart of a personal anxiety. I can't stop worrying that one day I won't be able to make ends meet. One way to get by, I've discovered, is to tell stories.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Here's a short list.
My first job was at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
My easiest job was at a news syndicate, proofreading the columns by Miss Manners (she never goofed).
My hardest job was going door to door in suburban Connecticut, trying to raise money for good causes and having doors slammed in my face.
My best job — and the strangest — is writing.

Your prose, in Everybody Loves Somebody as in your other books, feels absolutely seamless. What is your revision process like, particularly on the level of language?
I'm really such a bumbler! Writing fiction is like arranging furniture in a dark room. I can't see what I'm doing. I grope for the right words, I bump against the wrong words and stumble and stub my toe and curse and keep trying to guess what belongs in the space. When I've decided I've done the best I can do, I stand back and wait for a reader to come in and turn the light on.

War looms in the background of several of the stories, providing a contrast to the various kinds of love explored in the collection. Did you consciously try to connect these two themes?
I'd say that war is an array of permeating facts rather than a theme. It's there, behind and around us. In this collection and in my recent novels, I've been trying to figure out the relationship between the realities of war and the unrealities of fiction.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
I'm always looking for books that cast a spell, whatever that means. It should be a simple quality to describe, yet it's infinitely mysterious. I can't give any recipe for this or even offer a list of ingredients. But I can offer examples of the spellbinding books I've read or reread recently:

1. The Silver Screen by Maureen Howard
2. King by John Berger
3. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
4. Two Women by Alberto Moravia
5. Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham spacer

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