All around us right now, tucked into the valleys and along the coasts, bookshops glow in the winter light. Think of them like singular, magical, and multi-dimensional recipe boxes. They wait for us to pluck out a card, to stand over the stove, to start cooking.
I feel like it has gone very fast for me, but I feel like it wasn't instantaneous, at all. I was getting a lot of rejections. I just got very lucky and it happened quickly for me. I don't feel like I'm a prodigy or something.
I did go to an MFA program, at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. For me, it worked perfectly. It was a small program. They only take five fiction writers a year, and they fund all of us - you don't go into debt to get an MFA. It's not like getting an MBA - you're not going to buy yourself out.
I was reading C.S. Lewis with my mom, and she was pointing out that he was dead, and I'm like, 'What do you mean he's dead?' We were in this world he created, and he was gone from the Earth. Yet in those black marks on a white page, his imagination lived on, his voice lived on. That is so miraculous.
I think some people think that writers read and read and read, get the information, and then write. That's not how it works. Often, you write yourself into a dark place where you don't know what you need to know, so you go get the information.
I subscribe to the theory that reading a book is similar to walking a trail, and I'm most comfortable walking when I can see where I'm going and where I've been. When I'm reading a printed book, the weight of the pages I've turned gives me a sense of how far I've come.
I originally got very interested in memory in high school when my grandmother came to live with us. She had been diagnosed with dementia. It was the first time I had heard the word 'Alzheimer's disease.'
My mom was a high school science teacher for decades. She just never made it feel like we had to choose between the arts and the sciences. We had bookshelves full of novels, and she also had Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold and Carl Sagan.
When people ask for book recommendations, I say this: Do some math. If you read one book every week for the rest of your life, and if you're lucky enough to live for 50 more years, you're only going to get to 2,600 books.
Hour by hour, minute by minute, I make decisions that seem like the right things to do at the time but which prevent me from reflecting on the most significant, most critical fact in my life: Every day, I participate in a system that is weaponizing our big, gorgeous planet against our kids.
In my students, I'm always dispelling the notion that characters come like a light bulb over the head in cartoons. For me, it's like a shapeless big lump of clay. You just build it into something, and then you step back and go, 'That's not right,' hack it apart, put out a new arm, and say, 'Maybe this will walk around and work.'
I feel like you are allowed in fiction to embrace imagination and try to enter other worlds. And I feel like you should push yourself to try to persuade your reader that you have the authority to engage with people who, you know, lived in the past, who live in the future, other genders, other places, other cultures.
For me it was perfect, because it wasn't a very competitive environment, and it was a studio program. They basically send you off, and say, bring us some work, and we'll help you improve it. It really rewarded self-discipline.
My sister-in-law is a painter, and I'll say, how long did it take you to paint that painting. She'll say, It took me maybe three days, but it took me all my life to get the skills to paint that painting.
In my early 20s, a friend and I worked for a few months on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Working with ewes, I learned a lot about the power of wool - how it keeps you cool when you're hot, warm when you're cold, dry when you're wet.
I don't believe in reincarnation. I feel like we're here for such an appallingly brief period of time. I believe we each get this one trip, and if we're really, really fortunate, maybe we get 70 or 80 years on Earth.
Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' made me long to wake in an era when my Casio wristwatch would strike folks as sorcery, and Martin Amis's 'Time's Arrow' wrecked my assumption that all narratives had to proceed from Then to More-Recently-Than-Then.