Friday, July 15, 2011

Bryant Park Blog Q&A with J. Courtney Sullivan

J. Courtney Sullivan and Katie Lee will visit the Reading Room next Wednesday to discuss their books which deal with family, gossip, and two very different beach towns. Before Ms. Sullivan is here next week, she takes a moment to share a few personal tidbits with us in our Blog Q&A. We're starting to notice some similarities in our authors. Few read their work after it is published, and many would be teachers.

What was your inspiration for this book?
I wanted to explore how certain things—like alcoholism, religion, resentments, and secrets—move from one generation to the next. The mother-daughter dynamic is powerful and often fraught, and I wanted to really dig into that as well. A secluded family beach house seemed like the perfect place to let all this percolate.

Where do you do your best writing?
I write at the Brooklyn Writer’s Space in Park Slope. It’s my saving grace. You pay a monthly fee, and can go any time—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is blissfully silent and devoid of distractions. I think if I tried to write at home, I’d end up watching daytime TV in my pajamas most of the time. Having a destination for writing helps keep me focused.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl. It started with a love of reading. I was particularly obsessed with anything by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, or Lucy Maud Montgomery. I started writing short stories and poems when I was six or seven. I also wrote plays, which all the neighborhood kids would put on.

Who reads your first draft?
My best friend from high school is usually the first to read my fiction. (In the book, the Kellehers’ beautiful oceanfront house in Maine is actually based on her family’s home. It was there on the beach a few summers back that I first conceived of this novel.)

Another friend, who was my editor at a magazine years ago, has read lousy first drafts of both my novels and given me the most incredible, detailed edits. And my agent reads all my early drafts, too.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?
Absolutely not! I’m never satisfied—even if I read a single page, I can find two or three things I could have done better. Once they’re published, I like to leave them alone.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
In high school and college, I wrote everything out by hand and then entered it into the computer. But sometime in my early twenties, I trained myself to write on the computer. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I only type with one finger. It sounds insane, but it’s worked for me this long!

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing? 
Probably the dash. I love the dash. I went to a Montessori school with a lot of emphasis on creativity and not so much on grammar. So I’m never totally sure that I’m using, say, a semi-colon correctly. But you really can’t go wrong with a dash.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I’ve always dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher.

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