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Katharine Weber Katharine Weber

Q and A

Katharine Weber
Katharine Weber

Where do you get your ideas? Is your writing autobiographical?
Writing, putting thoughts and observations into words, is something that comes so naturally to me that I would have to say that the question of finding ideas for my writing is more about filtering out material than it is about searching for inspiration. Everything is potentially of interest to the fiction writer who works the way I do, like a magpie, snatching up glittering bits of detritus from the dirty sidewalk to take home to the nest. My fiction is not literally autobiographical, in that the characters are made up, the events described have never occurred -- but at the same time, the sensibilities of certain characters are authentically my own.

How do you teach writing?
There is a great deal of craft that can be learned in a writing class. I try to offer the kind of information and practical advice to my writing students at Yale that I would have loved when I was just starting out. I try to expose them to writers whose work inspires or infuriates. Beyond a certain point, of course a certain kind of talent is either there or not. But even the most brilliant natural writer needs to know rules of grammar and punctuation before she breaks them. I don't believe in the old chestnut "Write what you know," but I do take my friend Elizabeth McCracken's good advice that one should "know what you write."

What’s the best moment for you when you are writing?
The best moment is when I write the last sentence of a novel for the first time. I try to write in sequence, and although I have a very clear sense of the final elements of those last pages very much in mind before I write the first sentence on the first page, I don’t allow myself to write the final sequences until I have truly arrived there. It feels right to me to work this way, because then the final pages will fill with the true emotional weight and momentum of everything that has come before. I have come to this way of working on my own, intuitively, but I recently discovered that Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary, when she was beginning to write The Waves, “I am going to hold myself from writing till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear.”
What’s next?
Now that my new memoir, THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT, has been published, I am returning to fiction. I have in mind my next three novels, and have been mapping, doing background reading and research, and making extensive notes on all three for the last two years. I am not quite certain which of two I will write first. One is about the consequences of a series of burglaries committed by children, and the other is about a monkey helper. After that comes an Amish story.

At least, this is where I am right now with my intentions, but since my method of work is to make plans and then deviate from them, the actual writing will probably take each of these novels in some unforeseen directions.


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