What did you think about the reaction to your fourth and latest novel, Embassy Wife?
I was happy that readers in Namibia, the country I was writing about, really liked it. I did a ton of work and research to try to get all that right.
You were up for the 2022 Joyce Carol Oates Prize, which honors mid-career authors. That’s exciting.
What’s exciting is that the list includes a lot of writers that I’m totally gaga over. It sounds annoying, but I am super honored just to be on the list.
Do you read reviews of your work?
Not too much. If they’re really good, then that’s bad for me as a writer because I get over-confident. And if they’re really bad, then I get really sad. One bad review can undo the good that 20 good reviews can do.
How has the pandemic affected your writing?
During Covid itself, the hardcore time, a lot of people were like, “I wrote a novel!” or “I learned to bake bread!” I was like, “I’m just trying not to kill people.”
How do writers find their voice?
Write a lot. The secret is, if you feel like it’s hard to write, then it’s going to be hard to read. But if it’s fun for you to write, then, likely, it’s fun to read.
What makes your creative writing workshops so lively, as they’ve been described?
The point is for all students to come away knowing what their voice sounds like. So yeah, lively—I like a bit of back and forth and screaming in my class.
What is a good assignment you give students?
I have them create a character. My goal is for them to know everything about this character—what they eat, when they were born, where they were from, what their biggest mistake was, who they fell in love with—because I really believe the best stories come from that.
Are any of your students aspiring novelists?
I’ve had four or five who are writing novels. I have one in my class now who I think is going to have a young adult series, for sure.
Why did you become a novelist?
I was just really bad at everything else. I worked at a law firm in New York and lost Calvin Klein’s personal documents. I left them in a coffee shop. The documents had his Social Security number. I got fired for doing that.
How does your own writing inform your teaching?
I feel confident in teaching because I’ve spent so much time writing. And I’ve mired myself in it for the last 20 years, for better or worse.
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on two novels at once.