By Ian MacAllen on Wednesday, October 7th, 2015 at 9:04 am
Bill Clegg has written two memoirs about addiction. He is also a literary agent. That means there are plenty of expectations about his debut novel Did You Ever Have a Family. He was at Greenlight Bookstore to talk about the book with Darin Strauss.
There was no grand scheme when it came to writing the novel, Clegg explains, saying the narrative began simply as an exercise. He had been thinking about the town that he grew up in while writing his memoir, and that had him thinking about how the small town in upstate New York is a very particular kind of place.
“I convinced myself it was in the service of writing the memoir,” he says about early drafts of the novel. He fiddled with form, created characters. The character Lydia started off as a first-person narrator, but she never spoke. He eventually had to re-write her as a third-person perspective.
Strauss asks how he felt about taking on the first person voice of someone so different than himself, of a different gender.
“Of all the audacity and entitlement of a white man, I plunged right in,” Clegg says. He adds though that he is very close to people that the characters are based on. And people often have common experience, especially with grief and loss, that transcends identity.
The novel is ultimately about the community–and the gossip that inhabits small towns. People who live in places like that are very tough on each other Clegg explains.
The place came first for the novel. The grief and emotions followed from the location. Clegg says he has had little experience in mourning death. He had to imagine into it. He began imaging his life without certain people in it.
Since his memoirs deal with drug use, he wanted to avoid that in the novel. Teenagers smoking marijuana seemed appropriate and not the same as hard drugs.
Writing a novel was quite a different experience from writing the memoirs. With the novel, Clegg says he had no idea what was going to happen. “There was a sense of revelation and discovery that was thrilling.”
Strauss adds that in writing fiction, the question is always: does this make sense? In memoir, you know those things; the challenge is in finding the story.
Bill Clegg and Darin Strauss
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
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