Jennifer DuBois, Angie Kim, and More Take the Lit Hub Questionnaire
5 Writers, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers
The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month we talk to:
Jennifer duBois (The Spectators)
Kali Fajardo-Anstine (Sabrina & Corina)
Nell Freudenberger (Lost and Wanted)
Angie Kim (Miracle Creek)
James Lasdun (Afternoon of a Faun)
Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?
James Lasdun: Desire, power, changing sexual mores, seventies London, contemporary New York, the question of why we believe the things we believe and disbelieve the things we don’t.
Jennifer duBois: Trash TV. Moral hysteria. The AIDS crisis. Rubbernecking. Downward mobility. Women who make jokes in public.
Nell Freudenberger: Women who love their work. What it’s like to grieve for someone you didn’t expect to lose anytime soon. Why gravitational wave physics is so cool. Parenthood. Ghosts.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: Women, Denver, Chicanas of indigenous ancestry in the Southwest, legacies of violence and addiction, the power of love and resiliency, family, homeland, and truth.
Angie Kim: Immigration. Parenting. Experimental medical therapies. Bon-bons in blue submarines. Disabilities. Racism. Murder trials. Sacrifice. Desperation. Fierce cross-examinations by a badass woman litigator.
Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?
Nell Freudenberger: Talking to physicists was the biggest influence. Losing a dear friend was another. Parenting young kids and their on-again off-again relationship to reality contributed, as did the apparently profound but almost always mundane and literal things they say. Talking to friends about being black and female in academia changed this book, as did reading and hearing everyone’s #MeToo stories. There are a lot of very moving stories anonymous people tell online about communication with loved ones who are dead.
Angie Kim: My parents. Bullies in middle school. Parents of kids with autism and cerebral palsy and Lyme Disease who did hyperbaric oxygen therapy with me and my son. Women partners at my old law firm, Williams & Connolly.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: A photograph I once saw in middle school of Selena’s body on a metal table in the morgue, lack of indigenous, Chicana, and feminine representations of the American West, indie rock and pop punk, oldies, Bob Dylan, gentrification, Patsy Cline, my childhood in Denver, and family histories.
Jennifer duBois: Jerry Springer, Ed Koch, Mad Men, the emergent first-person point of view, ELO’s “Do Ya,” the West Branch of the Mill River in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. My friend Morgan’s old apartment on the Lower East Side. Andy Kaufman.
James Lasdun: Detective novels, psychological case studies, memories of the London I grew up in, novels narrated by supposedly impartial observers, newspaper stories about accusations of sexual misconduct, courtroom dramas.
Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?
Angie Kim: Driving three kids all around the DC-VA area for playdates, birthday parties, basketball games, golf matches, and piano competitions. The 2016 election and aftermath. Much, much drinking of vodka martinis to deal with everything I just named.
James Lasdun: Shuttling between New York and London in the wake of my mother’s death; sorting through decades’ worth of old possessions, papers, photos in her house; adjusting to an empty nest back in the U.S.; the mesmerizing ascent of a grotesque clown to the presidency.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: Homesickness, binge drinking, lovelorn self-destruction, self-empowerment, wonderment, and learning always learning.
Nell Freudenberger: Kids. An assignment about India’s Parsi minority. Housework.
Jennifer duBois: Left California. Moved to Austin. Fell in love with MFA teaching. Tried to learn Russian. Experienced a low-key home invasion. Moved. Moved again. Got a cat. Got pregnant. Got old.
What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?
Nell Freudenberger: Sensual, quiet, clever, smooth, precious, lovely, “like an eager and generous dinner party hostess” … I could go on.
James Lasdun: “Elegant”—the ultimate turn-off!
Angie Kim: As a debut author, I’m so gratified that others are reading/reviewing my novel that I’ve been pretty giddy about any and all the words! But I do remember a particular critique of one of my short stories as “nice,” and my being horrified, thinking that I’d rather people hated my stories rather than think them bland and being indifferent to them. Nice—ugh!
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: I do not enjoy hearing my work described as exotic or edgy. Another writer once told me during workshop that my writing was pretty funny, for a girl. I hate that, and I hate very little.
Jennifer duBois: “DuBois wants you to know she took an SAT course and remembers those vocabulary words.”—Goodreads reviewer AnnMarie
If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?
Jennifer duBois: I was hired by the CIA in my youth and went to get an MFA instead, so I still think about that sometimes. But honestly, I’m probably doing what I’m best at, for better or for worse.
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: I would have become an archivist. In fact, twice I have applied to Master’s in Library Science programs, but due to lack of funding and others reasons I haven’t pursued the degree. I still might someday. I love the preservation of physical artifacts.
Nell Freudenberger: Experimental physicist, very much irrespective of the above.
Angie Kim: That’s easy. Actress in a Broadway musical. Lead would be ideal, obviously, but I’d be happy with chorus, too.
James Lasdun: “Special Rapporteur” for the UN always sounds like a thrilling thing to be, though I’m not exactly sure what it is.
What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: I feel that I have strong grasp on structure, imagery, and character. But I would like to widen my vocabulary, and often, during revision, I must rearrange sentences to provide structural variety.
James Lasdun: I have some resistance to the idea of writing as a craft or set of crafts. But there are plenty of things I envy in other writers—most recently the amazingly vivid (and psychologically penetrating) biographical background sketches Balzac offers for his principal characters (especially in Cousin Bette). I’d like to be able to do that.
Angie Kim: I’m not sure about strong suit—I think that’s for readers to decide—but I find writing dialogue to be the easiest and most fun to write. I did a lot of theater when I was younger, so writing dialogue for me is like doing improv, and I tend to write without overthinking it. As for what I’d like to be better at, I’d love to learn to write more quickly. Except for dialogue, I write painfully slowly; it might take me a week to find the right sentence to begin a new chapter, and I have this awful habit of editing as I write. I’d love to be a writer who can quickly churn out the shitty first draft, and then spend tons of time editing. Editing is a joy compared to writing.
Jennifer duBois: I’ve gotten fairly vain about my dialogue. I think a consistent challenge is structural overreach. My next book is going to be one timeline, one point of view, and zero SAT words.
Nell Freudenberger: Dialogue and emotional observation are my strong suits. I’d like to be better at research, physical description (especially of people), moving fictional characters literally from one place to another, political and economic insights: the big picture.
How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?
Jennifer duBois: I’m pretty confident they don’t have much interest, as my book sales routinely attest. But I do think that artists need to write for themselves first. You’re going to read that book so many more times than anyone else ever will. You might as well enjoy yourself.
James Lasdun: There’s nothing like a royalty statement to focus the mind on that question, but I don’t think about while I’m writing. Trying to second-guess what other people might find interesting seems a recipe for disaster.
Angie Kim: I don’t think it’s hubris to want to share my experiences and stories with others, just as I don’t think it’s hubris for anyone else to want to share their stories with me. And believe me, I’m not assuming that anyone will be interested. I’m just hoping. (Very, very intensely!)
Kali Fajardo-Anstine: I once browsed through an anthology on literature of the American West. Inside, I found no writing by a woman of color, nothing by an indigenous writer, no mention of Chicanas in the Southwest. That’s how I contend with it. I’d rather not feel invisible anymore.
Nell Freudenberger: I don’t think I’m saying anything “about” anything. I’m aiming to be entertaining and immersive while I ask questions about things I don’t understand—I assume readers will stop if they’re bored. There’s a separate question about the hubris of doing this very pleasurable job, when there are so many more useful things I might be doing. I don’t have a good answer for that one, except that I try to do some other stuff to offset this. Also, I’m selfish.