Fiona Maazel is the author of the novel, Last Last Chance. She is winner of the Bard prize for 2009 and a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35″ honoree for 2008. Her work has appeared in Bomb, The Common, Fence, The Mississippi Review, The New York Times Book Review, Tin House, Salon, N+1, and The Yale Review. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and just finished work on her next novel, Woke Up Lonely. She is reading at Fiction Addiction THIS MONTH and answered some questions for me on writing, teaching and her new novel.
Regarding the Occupy Wall Street-related piece of yours that was up at Salon the other week–Do you enjoy having a prompt to work with? How are most of your ideas generated? If you can find any sort of pattern to it, where would you say your stories/novels grow from?
Sometimes it’s easier having a prompt. I’ve written three pieces like this in the last six months–one for Glamour, one for This American Life, and one for Salon.com, and they were fun insofar as I felt relieved of the onus to justify putting words on paper, my thinking being: Hey, they *asked* for this. Coming up with plot ideas is really not my forte; I’m sure this is why I write maybe one short story a year and generally stick to novels. Plot never seems to interest me as much as it should. I usually start with some kind of emotional predicament I’m interested in and then just see what I can do to outfit it with a plot. This might sound unlikely, since my first book and the one I just finished are heavily plotted and oddly at that, but I promise I’m telling the truth.
Where did the idea for Woke Up Lonely, specifically, come from?
I understand that a third novel is now in the works?
Yep, but who knows what it’s about besides a guy who is unknown to himself. I haven’t gotten very far. I do know that it’s set in Staten Island and that, for research, I went a few weeks ago to look around. The upshot? Poison Ivy.
You teach in the CWP at NYU. Have you learned anything from your students?
I think they’ve made me much more attentive to what I’m doing on the page. Often, I just do stuff without thinking, and I make bad choices. But teaching forces me to articulate ideas about fiction writing I didn’t know I had. And then to apply what we talk about in class to my own work.
What advice do you find that your students most often need to hear?
That writing IS revision. Most of them want to write a draft and be done with it. Maybe two drafts, tops. I tell them some writers spend 6 months on 6 pages. This always seems to floor them. Hell, it floors me, but that’s what writing is. Never settling.
You made a very interesting comment in a discussion for Authors at Google about “enabling” vs. “disabling” writers to read, both types being writers you admire. I think this is a condition a lot of writers suffer from–encountering work they love that either inspires them to produce or stops them dead in their tracks, thinking “well there’s no chance I will ever do that.” Can you talk a little about some writers you have found to be one or the other, or perhaps both at different times? Who inspires you, who overwhelms you?
You said in the same interview that you see art as a compulsion, because “why would anyone willingly want to do this?” As someone who sees it as such, do you ever have doubts in your ability to produce art that is meaningful and effective?
Last but certainly not least: Why do you write?