Describe your latest book.
The Chalk Artist
is a love story involving a young teacher, a brilliant chalk artist, and a teenager chasing his dreams in video games. The novel is about the seductive power of the imagination in words and images, online, and on the page.
What was your favorite book as a child?
The Wizard of Oz
When did you know you were a writer?
In kindergarten while playing with my father’s typewriter, I began putting words and sentences together. I remember writing about a tuba — mostly because I knew how to spell the word. My teacher shared my work with the class, and I began to think of myself as a writer.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I like to work on the couch, in coffee shops, at the kitchen table, and occasionally at my desk. Sometimes I’ll work in my parked car. I carry everything I need with me. Pilot pens in purple and black, notecards, a notebook, and a lightweight computer — currently a Microsoft Surface, which my husband thinks is a piece of junk. He tells me my computer is slow. Actually it works fine! I’m using it as a lightweight typewriter.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
I like to make my bed every morning, and every other bed in the house, too. I also like to be early for appointments, just to get my bearings. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I try to allow plenty of time to get lost.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Last year the University of Southampton took on my novel Intuition
as its book in common. The whole university read it — students, administration, and staff. It was quite an experience to visit and talk to all these readers and answer questions from the chancellor, undergraduates, and faculty in fields ranging from philosophy to chemistry. For me, the most remarkable experience was signing a copy for a Saudi who told me that Intuition
was the first book he’d read all the way through in English.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I can’t — by definition!
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Kipling is a great and subtle writer who might surprise you. Start with The Jungle Book
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have a complete set of Classic Comics. My parents had a friend who worked for the publisher, and he gave them to me when I was born.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Being a mother.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I went once to see Samuel Johnson
’s house in London. It was tiny, juxtaposed with modern office buildings around it. I have been to Arrowhead, Melville
’s home in Western Mass. He used a harpoon as a poker. And I’ve toured Longfellow
’s beautiful house in Cambridge. That was a historic house even when Longfellow lived there, because it was Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War. Those were easy visits for me, however, because I was in the neighborhood. I don’t think they count as pilgrimages. I think a true literary pilgrimage involves reading, not touring a house or visiting a grave. The writer’s life and ideas are on the page.
What scares you the most as a writer?
That time between books when I’m figuring out what to write next. It’s not scary, exactly, but it’s unsettling. I’ll often experiment with several ideas and openings, discarding many before settling on one. A book is a big investment. I have to think hard about how I’ll spend two to five years of my life.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Hmmm. I don’t know! One of the privileges of novel writing is that you don’t have to think about how to frame your own life for others.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.” – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“All this happened long ago, before the streets were air conditioned.” – The Other Side of the Island
Describe a recurring or particularly memorable dream or nightmare.
When I was little I thought that you could only have a dream once, and so nightmares would never return. I still believe this, and maybe that’s why I don’t have recurring dreams. If I do, I don’t remember them.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Indiscriminately using I instead of me, e.g., “Between you and I.”
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Time management books and decluttering books. When I want to procrastinate, I read my time management books. When I want to declutter, I give them away.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best writing advice came from my Punahou creative writing teacher, Liz Foster: “Use dialog and concrete details.”
Best parenting advice: “Sleep when the baby is sleeping.”
Write a question of your own, then answer it.
Isn’t writing lonely work? Not when it’s going well! Then I’m surrounded by my characters.
Top five books about girls who want to become writers:
1. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
2. Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
3. Harriet the Spy
by Louise Fitzhugh
4. One Writer’s Beginnings
by Eudora Welty
5. My Brilliant Friend
by Elena Ferrante
÷ ÷ ÷
’s novels include Intuition
, Kaaterskill Falls
, and most recently, The Chalk Artist
. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker
and Best American Short Stories
. She is a winner of the Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.