The Newsday Book Club held its first online chat with Alice McDermott, author of the novel Someone (FSG), on June 16. McDermott, winner of the National Book Award, had a lot to say about how she writes and how we can read her fiction. Here are 10 things we learned:
2. She doesnt consider Irish-Americans to be her true subject. I think of these people and this time and place ... as a means to an end: a way to get at the larger subject: what it is to be human, to be mortal, to be part of a family, a community, a mortal world.
5. Stories about good people are harder to write than stories about villains. Sentimentality is a bigger threat to beginning writers than gratuitous violence, graphic sex and unmitigated callousness.
6. A writer cant simply ignore cultural stereotypes. Im always setting myself the challenge of writing about familiar characters but making them uniquely themselves I think its one of the wonderful things fiction does for us.
8. Fiction is built on specific details but speaks universally. Fiction is meant to remind us of what we all feel, I think, even as it reminds us of our own individual experiences.
9. Fiction can do it all. Heres the thing that makes fiction a far superior art form (compared to film, for instance): fiction can make use of all the senses: touch and taste and smell, as well as sight and hearing.
10. A novel is much more than just the plot. If you read every book only to find out what happens ... then you miss out on the art of it, the thrill of recognizing all the levels of meaning in a gesture, a name, an incident.