Maria Flook

Maria Flook
Maria Flook by Robert Birnbaum

Writer Maria Flook has published two novels, Open Water and Family Night, and a book of short stories, You Have the Wrong Man, and two books of poetry, Sea Room and Reckless Wedding, as well as a memoir of sorts, My Sister's Life: The Story of My Sister's Disappearance. Her latest book is a true crime story, Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod. She has taught at Warren Wilson and the Bennington College low-residency program as well as the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Currently Maria Flook teaches at Emerson College. She lives in Truro, Massachusetts, and her next novel will be published by Little, Brown in the fall of 2004. She is at work at yet another novel.

Invisible Eden is the story of fashion writer Christa Worthington's murder in the small Cape Cod town of Truro. And beyond that it is the story of a woman escaping the glitz and glitter of the fashion world to focus on the up bringing and nurturing of her out-of wedlock daughter. As Maria Flook relates below, "I hadn't had any previous impulse to write about Worthington, but already I had felt very connected in many ways. Here was a resident of my town, a woman, an independent woman and she was a writer. She wasn't the same kind of writer I had been for the past 25 years, but she had been a professional writer for the last twenty … Her family background, her baby's dilemma, her career path, it all started to interest me."

Robert Birnbaum: Where were you in your life before you came upon the idea for this book?

Maria Flook: I didn't come up with an idea to write a book about a murder. Like every resident of Truro, I woke up one morning to hear on the local radio station that a woman had been murdered in our town. I had broken my ankle a few weeks before and I was just learning how to get around on crutches. I was beginning a new semester at Emerson where I teach and just getting back and forth to work was my biggest problem. I think my reaction to Christa Worthington’s murder was at first quite typical, surprise and curiosity. I had just completed a novel. I had just broken my ankle. But I just reacted to a murder in our town with surprise and interest. The more I learned about the event; certain things started to feel familiar to me. Christa was only two years younger than me. We’re of the same generation of women. New feminists of the ‘70s. I learned she had been a single mother. I had been a single mother with a little girl the exact same age as Christa’s baby girl. I identified with that. Then, I learned about the father of her out-of-wedlock baby. It was Tony Jackett. I'd known Tony for years. So I was interested in that. I had no inkling that I would write a book about Christa’s murder, Tony or not. Then a couple of weeks passed and I got a call from Random House, from an editor who I’d worked with on a previous book. He had read a New York Times story. He told me, “I saw the heading ‘Truro Author is murdered.’ I thought it was you!” Then he told me that they thought I would be the perfect writer to investigate the story and write about it. I hadn't had any previous impulse to write about Worthington, but already I had felt very connected in many ways. Here was a resident of my town, a woman, an independent woman and she was a writer. She wasn't the same kind of writer I had been for the past 25 years, but she had been a professional writer for the last twenty years, and she started to interest me. Her family background, her baby's dilemma, her career path, it all started to interest me. I thought about it for about a week. I wrote a proposal. Of course, I have never written a murder book, but they didn’t seem to want a formula murder book. So I agreed to do it.

RB: Where were you in your life? What were you planning, had this book not come to you?

MF: I had finished a novel. This novel was actually set on the outer cape. It was a Cape Cod novel, and so at the time I agreed to write the Worthington book, I had already written my first Cape Cod book. A publisher had interest in the novel and had wanted me to write a new ending. He thought it too bleak. I wrote the new ending, and I think it was, in fact, better. This novel was inspired by Hardy’s Jude the Obscure—now that’s a bleak book. That’s the one where the little kid, ‘Father Time’ kills all his siblings then hangs himself. Hardy stopped writing fiction because the response to Jude was so negative. He’s one of my heroes, not just one of my influences. I was still waiting to hear from that publisher about my novel when I took on the Christa Worthington book. So it turned out that Invisible Eden would be published before my novel, I’m happy to say that Little, Brown is publishing that novel next fall.

RB: You were asked to change the ending and lop off a chapter.

MF: They asked me begin at the second chapter instead of where I began. They asked me to do a lot.

RB: Where was your agent in this back and forth?

MF: She was very helpful. I agreed to reexamine the ending of the book, which was very desolate. And, of course, I didn't write a ‘happy’ ending. But it’s more hopeful. Somebody joked with me when I said I had written a happier ending. They said, "Happier? Your character is still on probation." [laughs]

RB: What are the degrees of desolation?

My characters are disenfranchised, usually. And they are also the privileged who vacation side by side with the disenfranchised. I don't write about the successful dynamic business tycoons of our country, unless they are side by side with my real fascination, the underclass.

MF: I had a woman character that had been done away with in a pretty violent setting. She had ended up institutionalized. So in my revised ending she is back…

RB: Being given medication and…

MF: She is back and she is in a program or something. Something more optimistic. It was very peculiar to write the nonfiction Worthington book after writing a novel set on the lower cape. My novel has a mysterious death in its central story and my characters reflect certain aspects of the Worthington book. My characters are disenfranchised, usually. And they are also the privileged who vacation side by side with the disenfranchised. I don't write about the successful dynamic business tycoons of our country, unless they are side by side with my real fascination, the underclass.

RB: I am interested how this chess game is played. This book [Invisible Eden] is a best seller.

MF: I think it’s very bizarre. Unbelievable. I just got a call from my editor. It's gone into a tenth printing.

RB: So you have a novel that you are happy with that you wrote. Does the success of the published book give you juice with a publisher when you are trying to place a book?

MF: [sighs] I don't know. I don't know what it gives me. I've never been in this position before.

RB: You'd think writing a bestseller would change the power dynamics for the writer.

MF: I think it's all smoke and mirrors. I really do.

RB: [laughs] Seriously?

MF: A little bit.

RB: You are a year writing veteran.

MF: Starting out as a poet. Yeah, in fact when I sold my first book of poems to Houghton Mifflin editor there…

RB: When they were in that neat building at Two Park Street?

MF: Yeah, it was great building. Little offices, books stacked floor to ceiling, editors at rickety desks like Bartelby the Scrivener. The offices in the new Bertelsmann building are decorated with minimalist plastic textiles like Ikea furnishings. But at Houghton Mifflin Robie McCauley was the editor-in-chief, when I sold my first book of poems. They told me, "You are getting the biggest advance ever given, bigger than Lowell, bigger than Anne Sexton.” They named all these famous poets. I thought, "God, that’s great!" But do you know how much that “biggest poetry advance” was?

RB: $750

MF: Eight Hundred. Yeah. I don't know what they are giving now. I have always been a non-earning literary writer, at the far end of the spectrum—as far as financial gain, I've been in the debit column.

RB: Is somebody going to write a book about you and how your life has changed?

MF: No, no. It hasn't changed my life except it's made my life…

RB: You've never been in this position before.

MF: Well, I don't really know what this position is. I think it's great people are reading my work. I have been doing some of these book events and the people who have been coming up to me are people who haven't read any of my other books. They have bought Invisible Eden in chain bookstores, maybe even at Costco and Walmart, as well as the independent stores. These readers say things like, "I really like your style of writing." They've never read literary fiction or nonfiction. So I have not only interested them with the story, but they suddenly started to see that there is a way that some writers write that may be more lyric or a kind of writing that has more introspection, a more literary examination happening it its pages. And they are being indoctrinated into that with this book. So I am very happy with that. Maybe suddenly I'll get a readership.

RB: Maybe suddenly?

maria flookMF: With more people. Mostly, my readers are very egghead, literary type readers. And these new readers are asking me about my last book, which was the book about my sister's disappearance. That has to be special ordered ‘print by demand’; hopefully that book will go back into print. Back on the shelves.

RB: Maybe not, given the sudden discovery by big retailers of the used book market. In which case, you wouldn't benefit anyway.

MF: Benefit? I just like the idea people who want to read a book can find it somewhere. My books can be found in used books stores. But they are not where a new reader might necessarily find them.

RB: I suppose I should trot out the old saw about when Chou Enlai, the number two man in the Chinese Communist hierarchy, being asked his thoughts on the French Revolution—he responded, "Too soon to tell." I suspect this is a big thing in your life, and who can know how big events change our lives until later, if then?

MF: Right, right.

RB: Tell me about the title?

MF: Truro and the Lower Cape--to many people it’s a place they go for sanctuary, for an ideal of life and, some people might say, to escape. It's a wilderness paradise, which is what I like about it. Even though it's almost reaching build-out, the National Seashore owns so many acres of both coastal area and uplands; it’s a secured paradise, at least for now. It’s Eden. It's invisible in the sense that it is very remote and not too many people who haven’t gotten a taste of it ever seek it. People who are really die-hard lower Cape fans, who want to live here year round or who at least want to come here every year, are still few. In that sense, it has real technical reasons to be called “Eden” and “invisible.” But, of course, in a metaphoric sense it has many other weighted meanings. And, actually in one of the selectman's reports, they pledge to try to keep “Truro the Garden of Eden of Massachusetts.” And Men's Journal listed the “Fifty Best Places to Live” with Truro at the top of the list. They had interviewed a resident who had said, "Yeah, it's just about invisible out here now and we want to keep it that way." So that's where I really got the title but, of course, it has that metaphoric wallop…You may search for Rome in Rome but . . .

RB: There is this section of the book where Christa goes to Morocco on assignment and speaks with various wealthy, uh, types…

MF: Christa did go to many rarified resorts and rich people's Edens, places that were full of moneyed people. She wrote about islands and ski resorts. I love one article she wrote, “Letter from Gstad," where she describes how they send a helicopter up a mountain to collect a glove that some rich kid had dropped from the ski lift. Of course, she lived in Gramercy Park, which can be an urban Eden. But Truro was that one wilderness Eden that she gravitated back to.

RB: What upsets people about this book? Is there a non-fiction book that involves people that doesn't upset anyone?

MF: Serious non-fiction usually addresses issues about the human grain and the human condition, events that have volatility or some distress involved. We are not writing books about people splashing in hot tubs after happy successes at work or full tilt easy street scenarios. I write about human problems. Human troubles cause distress. In this instance, there are very particular reasons why there has been some negative responses to the book. One, it's about a murder victim. And the victim’s loved ones and some of her friends, even her friends manqué might react to an outsider who comes in to talk about their loved one. Two, a small town is often sensitive to any portrait a writer makes about their tiny, insular world. Kidder’s Home Town and Junger’s Perfect Storm suffered from the same reactions from Gloucester and Northampton.

RB: You are considered an outsider?

MF: I've been living in Truro for twelve years. But I took my first baby steps on Cape Cod. I am not an outsider to Cape Cod. I have family from East Sandwich, who were here in the nineteenth century. In 1980 I came to the lower cape when I received a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. I developed many friends, and I have my own community in the Lower Cape who don't think of me as an outsider. But the Worthingtons probably think of me of an outsider because I haven't been in town for a hundred years like their family. But in New England a hundred years is nothing. Let’s go back to 1620, remember? I didn't know Christa personally. So in that sense I am an outsider. But I think that after writing the book I know Christa in a completely authentic way—I know her as no one else can know her. But the family’s reaction has many legitimate reasons for distress. They are still in grief, those who really did love her. Though I will tell you I have talked to a number of Christa's close friends who said she had a love/hate relationship with some her family members.

RB: Wasn't one of them selling a movie treatment?

MF: Jan Worthington. From the many people I have interviewed, Christa and Jan did not have a hundred percent happy relationship. There was some volatility, competition, some envy and some ups and downs. Of course, all family members have ups and downs. I'm the first one to say my family had serious ups and downs. But I think there are a couple of reasons why I have a lot of trouble from the Worthington family and from the town. I came in to this book immediately after the murder. Too soon. How rude! How inconsiderate for a writer to approach people right after a loved family member had been murdered. I mean it was really horrible. I asked my friend [writer] Tracy Kidder, "How do you approach people when they don't want to talk and they are in grief?" He said, "You try them a couple of times and then you have to let go and just leave them alone." It was really hard to approach these people—within four weeks of Christa being killed I was calling up the Worthington family and writing them a letter en masse, asking for their cooperation. In an early telephone conversation, very brief, with Jan Worthington, I remember her yelling at me over the phone. She said it was none of my business. It was private. Already wearing my journalist’s visor my first reaction was to tell her, “A murder is not a private matter. Murder is a public event in the community theater.” It enters the frontal consciousness of our town and should be somehow examined.

RB: What about Emily Dooley of the Cape Cod Times? Wasn't she doing the same thing for her newspaper?

Serious non-fiction usually addresses issues about the human grain and the human condition, events that have volatility or some distress involved. We are not writing books about people splashing in hot tubs after happy successes at work or full tilt, easy street scenarios. But I think that after writing the book, I know Christa in a completely authentic way—I know her as no one else can know her.

MF: Yes.

RB: What about the reaction she encountered?

MF: She had difficulty too. They weren't happy with any of the press that was calling. They were turning away national press, TV press. Their response was worse for a local resident that was actually writing a book. They immediately assumed I was doing it for monetary reasons. And, of course, I wasn't. Charlie Conrad, my editor, was interviewed for a local Cape Cod paper when the book made the best seller list. He said, "We’re surprised. If we had wanted a best seller we would never have asked Maria Flook.” Basically he said, "She doesn't sell." I would never write a book unless I was interested in the story. My last book about my own sister is an example. That story was the linchpin event of my childhood. It shaped my whole life. In fact, my sister's disappearance is probably what made me become a writer. Because it made me a witness. From witness I went to becoming a writer. I have never written for monetary gain but for deeper, even more compelling reasons than just getting bread on the table.

RB: Do you still talk to Dan Frank who was your editor at Pantheon?

MF: Yeah, I still talk to him. He was my mentor. I was devastated when they let me go because I didn't make money.

RB: No surprise that it's become a harsher business.

MF: I'm telling you. You really have to pay out. Even though I got really good reviews… so who knows. That's always been my return, that my peers [respect my work] and the high bar I set for myself and that maybe I leaped over that high bar or at least crashed through it. So it's never been a monetary game for me.

RB: You did a story about a murder, a real event. People who are mentioned are upset because no one ever is portrayed the way they think they should be portrayed.

MF: A lot of the people that are my sources in the book are totally positive. They are not the ones that squeal and squeak and squawk.

RB: Accepting that everyone's thresholds of sensitivity is variable there was one area you covered that I questioned. There is a couple whose sister Linda Silva was murdered and Nancy and John Burch are still campaigning for a solution to this case. And you suggest that Nancy had gotten her fifteen minutes of fame as if her motivation for pursuing this case was personal aggrandizement as opposed to purer motives.

MF: Nancy did gain a great deal of identity from the death of her sister. She actually flowered in this identity as someone who tried to keep it rolling and tried to always keep it in the news. She constantly wrote letters to the local newspaper about her sister's death and in memoriam poems and things like that. I did get to interview her, and I talked to people who know her well. For her, her sister’s death became an obsession that's not healthy. Recently a suspect in that case has been arrested.

RB: How old is the case?

MF: Probably about seven years old. She was killed seven years ago. So they actually arrested this guy and he is kind of nut case, a guy who does concrete forms in Eastham. Now that’s a detail that interests me. So saying that [about Nancy Burch] was really based on a lot of information. And it was probably a little tough on the character, but she is somebody whose concern seemed to be very, very personal, making herself into a self-proclaimed heroine of the tragedy. The funny thing is that the Worthingtons, in their own ways, are finding little niches of their public face and it's funny how some people, like her aunt Diana, who is totally private and very disturbed by the murder and was closer to Christa than the others, isn't coming forward with any remarks. Some of the other ones are very aware that they are players in the public media event. But it's been very difficult because if you ask anyone who knows me and is actually my friend and compatriot they would probably hopefully all tell you that I do not take any pleasure in causing any distress to anybody. But being a writer, I wrote about distressful things about my own family—they weren't happy. My allegiance is to finding the truth that I can find about the human problem that I am looking at.

RB: So you are a novelist who takes on a real life situation. Putting aside the notion of the unreliable narrator that is a mainstay of fiction, why should I as a reader accept the things that seemingly are not directly verifiable, conversations and events.

maria flookMF: I give verification, right and left in every moment of the text.

RB: Here's what I wondered about. She has sex with a lover who is a married man, on a little train in a French amusement park. Who reported and verified that? The lover?

MF: Not him but many of her friends corroborated the details of that story. All of those events are facts. There is nothing invented in the book. None of the events, none of the step-by-step occurrences or moments in the book are invented. What I did was I dramatized scenes, but the information in those scenes are corroborated by the sources that I spoke to—which were her childhood friends, her high school friends, her college friends, her ex-lovers, many ex-lovers. I talked to eight of her ex-lovers. Hours of face to face with Tony Jackett and Tim Arnold, too. The only people who didn't speak to me were her family members. And a couple of her professional associates who didn’t want to come forward, and some of her “closest” friends. It someone is unwilling to speak about a friend it leads me to believe they are uncomfortable with their feelings about him/her, or about themselves, about how might they appear?

RB: Early in the book Christa and Ava are at an ice cream stand near town and Christa thinks she sees Tony Jackett drive up. It turns out that it wasn't him. You follow that with a lot of interior emotional description. Was that from something that Christa reported to someone?

MF: This, of course, was from people telling me what it was like for her living in a town with the man who abandoned her with his baby. Tony Jackett had not seen the baby for the first eighteen months of its life. Finally, he actually he did one day meet his daughter, He stopped and said, "Cootchie cootchie coo." This is from his own words, "Yeah, I stopped and said, 'Cootchie cootchie coo'." He didn't see that baby for eighteen months. So she was in that town taking care of her baby and often seeing him around town. She was living in this funny situation where she was mad at him. But she was not over him. So she had that tension of when you see an ex lover, there is this anger and also there is desire. And that's the moment where I decided to try to evoke this confusion in a scene. I tried to create a scene as a 'felt moment'—instead of a dry reportorial moment where I could have said, “Sometimes Christa would see Tony in town and she would feel very uncomfortable."

RB: [laughs]

MF: Instead I dramatize critical events in a scene. My own daughter asked me this question. She said, "Where did you find out about the trapped bird in Christa’s upstairs bedroom?" That trapped bird in the bedroom is a dramatized instant. Every August barn swallows collect at the beach at Corn Hill before they migrate. They flock and swarm for a week or two. They are in and out. I had learned that Christa had collected all this fashion attire she kept amassed in her upstairs rooms. Friends had told me that she had racks of this weird couture stuff that she had collected. None of it was really great stuff but it was just what she had collected during her recent career, and it was all in plastic, puffed up with issue paper. I wanted to explain how she had some of these artifacts and so I created a scene with a swallow trapped in her upstairs rooms, a bird flying around in all this couture stuff. She releases it from a window. I wasn’t watching this scene, but it’s authentic in every way.

RB: Does it strike you as possible that there is an adverse reaction to the fact that you have this single woman who had an active sex life and seemed unabashed in talking about. Had two or three abortions…

MF: There is a weird moralism that has exploded around this book. This moralism comes from the Boston media community but a lot of it comes from the Worthingtons themselves. They are the ones that bring up that they are displeased with how the DA talked about Christa and about my evoking scenes and releasing information about Christa's sexual life. Her sex life is only part of her portrait in the book. There are no judgments made within the text; it’s the Worthingtons who seem to be saying a single mother shouldn't want to have an active sex life.

RB: But she did.

MF: She did. She had her relationship with Tim Arnold and she was seen hanging out at the local heterosexual tavern the Squealing Pig and she also had many relationships in her life with married men. And that's another part of the moralism. Many of her partners were married. She saw married men here and when she was in Europe working in the fashion industry. Some of her friends have told me that she might have gravitated towards married men because they were less of a threat. She knew they were not going to marry her so she couldn't feel rejected. They weren't going to leave their wives.

RB: A friend of mine who is savvy and sophisticated in many ways thinks that you painted Christa Worthington as a slut. Where does that reaction come from?

MF: I never use that language or vernacular at all. The moralism is coming from a weird area of response from a certain kind of person. I have had a lot of responses from women who recognize her as one of our generation. We are the women that came of age in the late '70s. We were told that we could have it all. Career, freedom, and family— all three of those things. A lot of women I know have had many partners, many of us got married and divorced and maybe remarried. Christa was unusual because she never tied the knot. But the moralism is strange, almost period. Not of now.

RB: Tony Jackett is not being castigated for his life long playboy, Romeo character.

MF: I know. It's hilarious or annoying, depending. They are calling Christa promiscuous but he is just a romantic rogue. It is a double standard.

RB: I know you said that you have no interest in hurting anyone. You close the book with a report of Ava's ongoing and perhaps life long therapy. At any point in the writing of this book have you thought about what effect her reading of this book would have on Christa's child?

maria flookMF: When Ava reads this book she will see that Christa wanted her. Christa loved her wholly. In the first two and a half years of that baby's life Christa was there for her. Ava was her whole world. I think that one reason Ava is doing so well now is not just that she is in a very good setup with Amyra Chase and her husband. Amyra has a whole monkey house of kids and she is a very loving woman as far as I have seen. I don't know her personally, but I think one of the smartest things Christa did was to name Amyra as guardian for her baby. But even before her new mom, Ava had a fantastic start in those first two and half years. One reason she is so strong and doing so well now is because Christa immersed herself in that baby. Ava will have to absorb and analyze the more distressing facts about her mom, but I also think that she can admire a lot about her mother when she reads this book. Christa was a savvy, individualist, not a careerist but a woman who really loved to write. And I don't know why she never stepped aside and tried to write her novel like some of her friends suggested. That's a hard row to hoe and maybe she didn't have the kind of commitment you need for that. Because in fashion writing you have immediate return. A small return.

RB: Easy targets and pickings.

MF: I did admire a lot of her writing. Her approaches and methods were a little more interesting than typical fashion writing. One of her editors, Jeff Stone of Chic Simple, called her a fashion anthropologist. He used to have to edit out all this extraneous information that she'd find out about a textile—where it was made and what the economic upheaval was in the country that made it. Or the silkworms that were endangered. Her interests were deeper than just the surface Fashionista stuff.

RB: Is it too soon to ask you what now?

MF: I am writing a new novel. But my editor has told me he wants to get together and talk about some new ideas for a non-fiction book. You see this where it gets strange. I just can't pull a non-fiction book out of my hat. If I have an interest in a story that's a non-fiction story I might consider writing another one, but I am not a non-fiction writer for hire who is going to go and write something that somebody offers me unless I connect with it. And the only reason I think I connected so immediately with Christa, it was just weighted towards familiarity for me. I had too much in common. We lived in the same town, around the same age…writers, babies. She was a nursing mother—they made a big thing about this nursing mother and "Oh should she be nursing at two and a half?" I had two kids. I nursed a total of six years.

RB: Are you still teaching?

MF: I am writer-in-residence at Emerson. I was at Bennington low residency for the last seven years, but then last year I came over to Emerson where I teach in their graduate program. I teach fiction and I will be there again in September.

RB: Because you want to teach?

MF: Because I need the money.

RB: Another way of asking is, if you could, would you write full time?

MF I do like teaching. I do like the connection with young people and also with a forum, talking about what I love—which is fiction and writing. So in my fiction workshops we just don't look at student work. I always assign a couple of stories by writers that I admire and I like to look at again. Teaching to me is a nourishing thing. It's not nourishing when it's more teaching than my own writing. I certainly found working in the low residency format where you actually are on campus twice a year, ten or twelve days, but then you go home. And I would have five students send me their work every month: a story and critical annotations of their work. So it would be a packet of twenty-five of thirty pages. Which I had to turn around and write a letter about. It was really exhaustive work, and it is a great way to be taught because you are getting a one to one from a teacher—if it's a good teacher like me who send back five pages, singled spaced addressing their story, its conceit, its carry through, all different aspects of stuff. But after doing that for five students—and it would take me a day per student, at least. By the time I put it all back in the mail my eyes would be…whereas when you go into the classroom you don't actually have to write it out and you are speaking and all of your students at once. It doesn't distract you quite as much from your work. But I like being in a classroom.

RB: Whose writing do you put into your curriculum?

MF: I am teaching, as I do every summer, at the Fine Arts Work Center, I hand out a packet of stories and we talk about stories in the first part of the class everyday. I always hand out "Glissando" [in Living to a Hundred] by Robert Boswell. It's this incredibly wonderful story. It's dead ahead realism with all the aspects that I like in a realistic story. Humor, tragedy and an undercurrent of desire and characters who you can really sink your teeth into. I'll hand out a story by Annie Proulx, a story by Edna O’Brien. Edna O’Brien is one of my favorite writers.

RB: One of those damaged woman writers?

MF: Those are Christa's words. Edna O’Brien is an exquisitist. That's my word. She is over the top in exquisite writing. But her stories really connect with me. They're about the female problem of matrimony and matriarchy and country and place. That's what she addresses. Also, I'll hand out a Cheever story or a Murakami story. I am always learning about new writers and if I find a story then I use it class.

RB: You have published a collection of stories. Do you still write short form fiction?

MF: In the past several years I haven't. I have had a project in front of me for the last six years. I did the sister book, then the novel I completed and then immediately into this book. So I am not a writer who dabbles at stories. Some writers will always be writing stories even when they are writing a novel. I did publish a book of stories that I really worked on and believed in and refined over a period of eight or nine years. And I will l probably write more stories. I also don't write too many poems anymore. I have written some love poems. You know I have published two books of poems. I was a trained poet

RB: Have you read anything recently that you thought was terrific?

MF: I read Austerlitz [WG Seebold] —I like that writer a lot. He is new to me and interesting. And I mentioned Murakami. When I read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle that took my breath away. And then I went back and read Norwegian Wood, which was a different and weirder kind of book. He's been around a while but I was late to him.

RB: It is still fashionable to decry the state of literary culture…

MF: I don't do that. Well I am always reading something. What do I have on my…you know what I finally read? After I did that big whirlwind media blitz I wanted to just relax and be entertained. I read Atonement. I enjoyed as it as entertainment. I don't think I bought it.

RB: I haven't read it yet. I loved Enduring Love.

MF: Enduring Love was much better than this. This was a really escapist little thing. I liked Amsterdam too. What I liked was The Cement Garden. He [McEwen] had a slow start and then he just exploded. You know, I mention him in the book, because he was at University of East Anglia where Christa went as a junior from Vassar. Small world.

RB: Well, let’s talk again when the novel is published.

MF: Hey, you never asked me about the DA? (laughs)

© 2003 Robert Birnbaum
Images by Red Diaz/Duende Publishing

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