Thursday, July 29, 2010

20 Writerly Questions with…Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman’s novels include Intuition and Kaaterskill Falls. 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. For more information, visit

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?

This is a book about hunger--for food, for fame, for money, for knowledge, and above all, for love.

2. How long did it take you to write this book?

I thought about it for two years and then the actual writing took about a year and a half.

3. Where is your favorite place to write?

In a coffee shop with a cup of hot chocolate and the whole afternoon ahead of me.

4. How do you choose your characters’ names?

I write out lists and then ask a friend--what do you think of X? It's just like naming a baby.

5. How many drafts do you go through?

There are scenes I've rewritten twenty times and scenes that I just sail through. As far as complete drafts go, I do a complete revision before I show the manuscript to my editor. Then with her comments I'll generally revise the whole thing twice more.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?

If I love a book I just say--hats off to the author! Only that person could have written it.

7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?

I'll have to ask my friend Dana. She always knows.

8. What’s your favourite city in the world?

To visit: London. To live in: Cambridge, Mass.

9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?

I would talk to Dickens about just where he got his amazing energy.

10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind??

I love classical music, but when I'm writing everything fades into the background, so I can't say I'm listening.

11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?

Changes--depending on the manuscript.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?

The "TLS." Just kidding! I don't feel guilty about it.

13. What’s on your nightstand right now?

Collected Poems of Rilke, Collected Cartoons of Roz Chast, book about miniature books, catalog from last year's Titian, Veronse and Tintoretto exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and "Ariel" by Sylvia Plath. But I don't read in bed, so they are just keeping me company.

14. What is the first book you remember reading?

First book I read on my own: "Little House in the Big Woods."

15. Did you always want to be a writer?

Pretty much. I decided to be a writer when I was seven. Before that I wanted to be a painter and my younger sister was going to be my art dealer. As it turns out, I'm a novelist and she is an oncologist and hematology researcher.

16. What do you drink or eat while you write?

If I'm trying to be healthy: a tuna melt and a glass of orange juice. If I'm just hunkering down and ignoring the outside world: a peach yogurt, a bag of kettle corn and a bottle of spring water.

17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?

Netbook, pen and paper, and my favorite: giant presentation size Post-Its which I use to chart plot and character. I stick them right up on the wall.

18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?

I laughed!

19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?

It's a bit like being a casting director. You look out at your characters and think which of you should I cast to express this idea? But the funny thing is that it works the other way too. I look out at my ideas and think which of you would work best for this character?

20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?

Time! As my birthday approached last year I was getting really down because I was trying to write the last chapter of my novel, "The Cookbook Collector" but I had to stop of the three day fourth of July weekend. My birthday, July fifth, fell out on the Monday after Independence Day, so my four kids were out of camp. I said to my husband, "For my birthday this year could you take the kids for the day?" He took them and I walked to my neighborhood coffee shop. I arrived at about nine in the morning and stayed there for six hours, and I nailed that chapter. I was so happy. I wrote the last words of my book on my birthday. Then I waltzed home and we all went to see the movie, "Up" in 3-D. It was the best birthday ever.

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