Susan Minot’s latest novel, Thirty Girls, is a gripping story about an American writer who travels to Uganda to report on the abduction and detention of a group of schoolgirls by the rebel army of a local warlord, whose life becomes inescapably entwined with that of one of the girls. She disappears when she writes, and admires Rumi, Tolstoy, Woolf and Nabokov among many others…
Where are you now?
At the far end of a long kitchen table in my apartment in the West Village of New York City. Outside it is snowing.
Where and when do you do most of your writing?
Home. During the weekdays while my daughter is in school. Sometimes on the weekends when she is with friends…
If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?
Make a cup of tea.
Full-time or part-time?
In between full- and part-time. (I buck against labeling…)
Pen or keyboard?
Pen and ink first, then manual typewriter. My most recent book, my seventh, was the first one that I put the final drafts on a computer. I am not sure it was more efficient, after all.
How do you relax when you’re writing?
I try to disappear when I am writing. That is part of the point.
How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?
It is the story of two women and their love stories, one being a teenaged Ugandan girl in rehabilitation after being enslaved by bandits and the other an American journalist who has travelled to Africa to cover the story of those abducted children.
Sorry, more than 25 words…
[Bookanista writes: “The love lives of a Ugandan girl enslaved by bandits and an American journalist who travels to Africa to cover her story.” – 22 words]
Who do you write for?
Whoever wants to read it.
Who do you share your work in progress with?
No one, really. I used to show my nearly finished work to Ben Sonnenberg but he’s no longer here, so I’m without his guidance. Near the end, when I am still unfinished, I will dare show work to my editor Jordan Pavlin who seems to understand the potential in a mess.
Which literary character do you wish you created?
I have to say I must grant the creator the right to her character…
Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.
Yikes, talk about having to boil something down. Let’s see, off the top of head:
“The time to make your mind up about people, is never.”
Philip Barry, The Philadelphia Story
“Prayer is an egg. Hatch out your helplessness.”
“Memory believes before knowing remembers.”
Which book do you wish you’d written?
I wish I were as good as the writers of Anna Karenina, To the Lighthouse and Lolita (but only they could have written those books).
Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?
I love Lorrie Moore’s new collection of stories Bark. Lillian Hellman, An Imperious Life by Dorothy Gallagher is wonderful and compelling; The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein is wondrous and contemplative.
What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?
No e-reader, just a pile of books: Stoner by John Williams, The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age by George Stevens, Jr., The Raymond Chandler Papers, Rumi, Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, Graham Greene’s May We Borrow Your Husband? Some books stay in that pile a long time.
Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?
The whole of The Bible?
Which book/s do you treasure the most?
Work by Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Leo Tolstoy, Raymond Chandler, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Raymond Carver, Henry Green, Dawn Powell, John O’Hara, Walt Whitman, Franz Kafka, David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis… I am only stopping because of space.
What is the last work you read in translation?
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Which story collections would you particularly recommend?
Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Dorothy Parker, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Conner, John O’Hara, Alice Munro, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Lorrie Moore, Anna Kavan. Again, tip of iceberg.
What will you read next?
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie just arrived in the mail.
What are you working on next?
A short story called ‘Occupied’, and overall a group of stories called Island Life.
Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?
Oscar Wilde, Scott Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Bishop, Lord Byron, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud, Anton Chekhov, Rumi, William Shakespeare, Colette, and can I have Jesus too?
If you weren’t writing you’d be…?
Painting, watching a movie, drifting, sleeping.
Susan Minot’s previous books are Evening Monkeys, Lust and Other Stories and Rapture. She has also co-authored the screenplays for Stealing Beauty (1996) with Bernardo Bertolucci and Evening, based on her first novel and written with Michael Cunningham. She lives in New York City and Maine. Thirty Girls is published by Fourth Estate in hardback and eBook. Read more.