A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

A Conversation with Author Stacey D’erasmo of Newly-Released Novel “Wonderland”

August 29, 2014
I had the opportunity to interview Stacey D’erasmo, the author of the popular novel “Wonderland.”
Do you write for others because you have to write or for yourself only?
I write to be read. It’s my vocation, what I feel that I must do in the world, and while it’s deeply satisfying to me, it isn’t for myself alone. I hope that others find something in my work that speaks to them, but it’s always impossible to predict what will speak to whom when, if ever.
How many days do you actually write, and how rigid you are about that schedule?
When my time is my own, I work every weekday, without fail. I’m not sure I’d use the word “rigid”–it’s more like tending a garden. It needs to be done every day.

While writing, what kind of relationship do you often form with your own writing self – a painful or a joyful one?
Actually, it’s mostly pretty joyful. That doesn’t mean that I adore every word I write (I certainly don’t), or that I never doubt myself (I do), or that I don’t have to rewrite extensively (I do). However, just being in that process is where I most want to be. I’m happy at my desk.

How do you recognize if you are on the wrong track?
That can be hard to tell. Sometimes, I know, because I find myself getting terribly “bored,” which is another way of saying that the energy isn’t accreting, the work isn’t gathering steam. But other times, many times, I need my trusted dear friends and close readers to take a look and let me know if they see a spark or not. They are invaluable.
Are you affected by other people’s appraisal of your work? Have you ever been hurt by them?
Oh, sure. I wish I weren’t, but I’m not bulletproof. It isn’t the negative criticism per se that hurts–sometimes a critic just has an issue with something I’ve done, or haven’t done well, and that’s fair, even if I don’t like it. But when reviewers seem to be taking delight in being mean, as has sometimes happened, it not only hurts me, but it also makes me angry. I’m quite serious about what I do, and I’m astonished when reviewers don’t have respect for that.
Do you feel you and the characters in your books have always been well understood by your readers?
Most of the time, but not all the time. We do live in the age of the great (and not very interesting) “likability” debate. Sometimes I’ve been told that a character of mine is “unlikable,” and that’s aggravating.
Do you lose yourself in your writing? The very fact that writing is a very lonely art, do you sometimes feel lonely?
I guess I’d say more that I find myself. I certainly become quite absorbed, but that’s a self-expanding practice, a deep engagement. I’ve never felt lonely when I’m working.
What books are currently on your book stand?
White Girls, Hilton Als
The Art of Daring, Carl Phillips
The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
Oh, so many. Proust is probably the most embarrassing.

What do you plan to read next?
Bough Down, by Karen Green

Which books might we be surprised to fined on your shelves?
All the Benjamin Black mysteries: love those.
About the Author
WonderLand - derasmoStacey D’Erasmo received a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.A. from New York University in English and American Literature. From 1988 to 1995, she was a senior editor at the Voice Literary Supplement. She was a Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University from 1995-1997. She created and developed the fiction review section of Bookforum from 1997-1998. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction in 2009. She was the 2010-11 Sovern/Columbia Affiliated Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

derasmo-intimacyShe is the author of four novels and one book of nonfiction. Her first novel, Tea (Algonquin, 2000), was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. Her second novel, A Seahorse Year (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday and won both a Lambda Literary Award and a Ferro-Grumley Award. Her third novel, The Sky Below, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2009 (a favorite book of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun Times, and the New York Times). Her fourth novel, Wonderland, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 6, 2014. Her nonfiction book The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between was published by Graywolf Press in 2013. D’Erasmo’s articles and podcasts have been published in The New York Times Book ReviewNew York Times MagazinePloughshares, Interview, The New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times. She is frequently a faculty member at the Breadloaf Writers Conference.

She is currently an associate professor of writing at Columbia University.

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