Interview with Anita Shreve

November, 2008

Anita Shreve When New England native Anita Shreve impulsively quit her job as a high school teacher mid-semester to pursue her dream as a writer, she couldn't have known that 25 years later she'd be penning bestsellers. With no guarantee of success, she persevered through decades of hard work: writing short fiction (winning an O. Henry prize in 1976), working as a journalist in Kenya, freelancing for The New York Times Magazine, teaching creative writing, publishing her first novel in 1989, and then finally getting a game-changing phone call from Oprah in 1999. Since Oprah chose The Pilot's Wife for her book club, Shreve's books, including Light on Snow and The Weight of Water, have topped the bestseller lists. Shreve talked with Goodreads about her new book, Testimony, and the luxury of writing in her bathrobe.

Goodreads: In Testimony, an underage sex scandal creates turmoil in a tight-knit private school community. Some Goodreads members have drawn parallels to the Duke lacrosse scandal, but your characters are younger. Where did the first kernel of an idea come from?

Anita Shreve: There were many of these scandals at the time. Some made the news, some didn't. But the subject was much in the air. I first began thinking about the risks of (very) underage drinking. Usually, it's a single risky or careless moment with catastrophic consequences that intrigues me.

GR: Private schools have a uniquely New England flavor. What intrigues you about this setting?

AS: I attended and taught in public schools, but two of our five children attended private schools. A private school in a small town is a great arena in which to set a novel in that it's a relatively closed society.

GR: The book is told from the perspectives of both young and adult characters. Is it more challenging to write a child character than an adult character?

AS: Not actually. It seemed to me that the children's voices came as easily as the adults'. The trick is to hear the speech patterns.

GR: Was there an event or a mentor that first inspired you to become a writer? How old were you when you knew this would be your profession?

AS: I was very young when I had the first hankerings to be a writer, but I didn't take this desire at all seriously until I was in my early 20s. I am self-taught.

GR: The New Hampshire house featured in three of your novels is drawn from a real house in Maine. Have you ever been inside or spoken to any of its residents?

AS: The house as it appears in the novels is very different from the house I first saw. But I did once have a tour of the original house. It was remarkably unchanged and historically pure.

GR: What is it like to see your stories transformed into films?

AS: It's a bit of a (mostly-pleasurable) shock. To see something you dreamed up in your living room come to the Big Screen is always a little amazing.

GR: You have set an impressive pace in the past decade. How long does a novel typically take to complete?

AS: I've written 14 novels in 19 years. It always seems to me that a novel takes 18 months to write, but obviously that can't be true.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

AS: I'm at my desk by 7:30. I work until noon. I usually write in my bathrobe.

GR: What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?

AS: The "favorites" constantly change. Right now, I'm reading Joyce Carol Oates's My Sister, My Love, a wonderful book.

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message 5: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn Interesting. All her books include some form of adultry. I'm convinced that she is in love with a married man. I wish they would have asked a question about that.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

I wish they would have asked her how soon she can write and publish her next novel! I will be really sad if we all have to wait another 2+ years for her next story!


message 3: by Serena (new)

Serena This is an interesting interview. I'm happy good reads posted it. I've heard the house question asked in a number of interviews.


message 2: by Laurel-Rain (new)

Laurel-Rain I love her books and just finished "Testimony", which I reviewed on Goodreads.

I, too, anxiously await each new novel.


message 1: by Leslie (new)

Leslie I love her books. they are really good.


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