Interview with Monica Wood
"I was born in Mexico, Maine, to a family of devout Irish Catholics, a family of paper mill workers. My father and my mother's parents came from Prince Edward Island in Canada, and brought with them the island tradition of storytelling. Although my sisters and I were the first generation in the family to go to college, I think of my background as a literary one. My father had a lilting island brogue and beautiful grammar; the notion that stories had to be told in a certain way was something I learned early. My grandfather used to sing long, melodramatic, novelistic ballads, another island tradition. I am not one of those writers who claim to have been weaned on
Proust, but I did read a lot, a happy habit for a child, I think, no matter what the material.
"My fiction is not autobiographical, except that the theme of family infuses my work, as it does my life. My family was ordinary in most ways, but with a few twists. My older brother and sister are almost a generation older than my other two sisters and me; my sister Anne was my high school English teacher; my brother Barry entered the
air force the year I was born. My parents died young; one of my sisters is mentally
disabled, which has kept my siblings and me close through her need of us; and one of the largest male presences of my childhood was our beloved uncle, a Catholic priest. As a result, I assemble families for my stories and novels with the assumption that any combination of people can fit into a family as long as they have some shared experience.
"I strive to create characters who seem real, no matter how unusual their circumstances, and to make my readers care what happens to these characters as if they were looking after their own brothers and sisters. If I have any obsession as a writer,
it is the notion of the power of our 'first' family, the family into which we were born: that collection of people who accompanied us, for better or worse, through the process of learning how to find our way into the world. Our first family remains with us, in ways both damaging and redeeming, through our entire lives. It is this family that must be alternately escaped from and returned to, over and over, in the family dance.
"I work nearly every day in a small studio in my back yard, which my husband Dan built for me. Having this physical separation between house and work is a great writing incentive. Even the few steps from house to studio give the impression of 'going to work.' I spend more time writing and less time frittering than I used to.
My hobbies are birds and music. I am an avid bird watcher and, for a period of several years, I was a singer on the local bar circuit. Nowadays I am content to 'sit in' occasionally with my brother's country- western band. I also read every day; it's a big part of my life as a writer. Most of my reading is contemporary, but every so often I take a foray back to the classics. I subscribe to many literary magazines, and I have a good collection of story anthologies and one-author collections. I also read novels, of course, and I like reading murder mysteries--I'm
a really, really fast reader--when my own work is stuck. Mysteries are all about
plot and can be instructive in surprising ways.
"The best advice I have for aspiring writers is to read, read, read. Read everybody; you're bound to find that one writer who seems to write only for you, and it will be an exhilarating, life-changing discovery. My own discoveries in that vein are numerous, and I feel ardently devoted to these writers, though we've never met. My favorite short-story writers are Ron Carlson,
Andre Dubus, and Antonya Nelson. My favorite novelists change all the time, mostly because a good novel can spellbind me so completely that I tend to forget anybody else I've ever read. I feel that way right now about Russell Banks after reading The Sweet Hereafter; last week I could see no one but Anne Tyler and the delightful characters of Saint Maybe. Before that it was
Andre Dubus III, whose House of Sand and Fog knocked my socks
off. There are so many wonderful writers out there--I only wish the human life span were long enough for me to read them all."
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