Q & A with Emma Donoghue discussion

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Writing Process

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message 1: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
I'm sure many of you are curious how I write my books. This is the thread to ask about such topics. How I get my ideas, where and when do I most often write, etc.


message 2: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) Seems like so many stories similar to Ma and Jack's have been in the news lately. Did Fritzl or the other similar cases give you the idea?

BTW, I loved Room; gave it 5 stars.


message 3: by Ananya (new)

Ananya (sowmyas) | 1 comments I loved Room. So grateful for the opportunity to ask questions here. Thanks Goodreads!
As I was reading and getting more involved in the story, I realized the depth of research it must of taken to make this story this believable, especially the parts that relate specifically to Jack's adjustment to mainstream life. How easy/difficult was it to get all the information needed? I don't know much about your background and I'm assuming you are not in the medical field yourself.


message 4: by Laura (new)

Laura | 4 comments I read Room in one sitting on a plane back from Italy, but I don't think I could have put it down even it I'd had to. I loved it and it's a book that will stick with me for a long time and was like nothing I'd ever read before. I was so impressed and fascinated by the imaginative world Ma created for Jack and also by Jack's vision of the world. I couldn't help but wonder if you had the opportunity to interview victims of similar kidnappings? It certainly seemed like you had amazing insight into how that would affect one's psyche. What are you working on next? I'm looking forward to reading it.


message 5: by Tara (new)

Tara | 1 comments Did you need to be sequestered during the writing of this book? I felt quite sad during parts of the story, how do you work through that? I loved the innocence of Jack and the way his mom protected him till he was five. Loved it, thank you for writing it!


message 6: by Melanie (new)

Melanie (melanie144) | 1 comments I was intrigued at the way that the setting of the "room" was unfolded. It was only through interpreting Ma's words and actions that we really figured out that they were being held against their will in a small room. I'm curious, did you spend time in an 11x11 room to get a feel for how to write about it?


message 7: by Deborah (new)

Deborah (thebookishdame) | 2 comments Your use of repetition and naming of utilitarian items were some of the things that I think made Room seem so confining and "crazy-making" to me. I could feel the constraints and the oppression as I read. Really genius writing! Once I gave it some thought, it reminded me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." Were you inspired at all by that novel? How did you come to determine what you would use to convey that heavy, captive feeling that would translate to your readers? Deb/TheBookishDame


message 8: by Rebekah (new)

Rebekah (raendancer) | 1 comments You give Jack such a unique voice--intelligent, yet naive, and so fun to read. How did you develop his voice in the early stages of the novel? Did you spend time with young children to learn what their worlds are like?


message 9: by Bxrlover (new)

Bxrlover Emma wrote: "I'm sure many of you are curious how I write my books. This is the thread to ask about such topics. How I get my ideas, where and when do I most often write, etc."

Being relatively new to the historical fiction genre, I am curious as to which writers appeal to you, or have in some way inspired your own writing?


message 10: by Tammie (new)

Tammie (tmrose) Please forgive me if my terminology is wrong, but the arc in this book is far different from any other that I've read. Your climax came dead centre in the book. Was this a risky move, or did you receive a lot of support for this decision? Excellent decision by the way - I loved seeing both sides of the story (both in and out of Room).


Dilly | Book Affairs  (dilipickle) | 2 comments My question to you is about the character of Old Nick. I personally loved how you always (for the most part) kept him in the shadows, never too explicit about his relations with Ma (although it was sufficiently clear that they were sexual). I see this as a narrative choice you made--to not go into fleshing out Nick and especially his motives for doing what he did, any more than you have. Is this because you wanted to maintain an element of suspense, or because you yourself found it difficult to "understand" and "get under the skin" so to speak of such a person?


message 12: by Pauline (last edited Mar 19, 2011 05:20AM) (new)

Pauline (akosikulot-project52) Hi Emma! Given that you've written a couple of books, was there ever a time when you've felt insecure about writing a book, times when you've thought "this is too big for me?" I guess I consider myself a writer, too, and I've had one too many story ideas I wanted to develop, but just when I'm about to consider sitting down and working on them, I think, "I might mess this up. What if I don't have what it takes to put this to paper and tell this story? What if I ruin this idea instead?" Room was no easy feat to write, I am sure - other than the research, the character developments, emotions must have been invested in its making too. How to get over getting too attached to an idea that you become afraid of spoiling it and end up not working on it instead?


message 13: by Lyla (new)

Lyla Ibrahim (lylaibrahim) Hye. I'm just curious as how you write the book using the words of a 5-year-old boy? How do you get into Jack's head?


message 14: by Diane (new)

Diane (mmeb) | 1 comments I am another big fan of the book--as a literature professor, I had to include it in a class this semester, so I am doing an independent study about Room and Victor of Aveyron (stories and films).

I have a question about the setting of the work. I was very surprised when it turned out that the story was set in the USA. Many expressions, especially those by Ma and her mother sounded British (or Canadian) rather than American to me. I'd be interested to learn why you decided to set the story in the US? And how you explain the question of dialect?


message 15: by Spacey (last edited Mar 19, 2011 04:03PM) (new)

Spacey I'm curious what inspired you to write this book and what prompted you to write it from Jack's perspective?

Did you find writing in Jack's language difficult?

As somebody else mentioned, the story evokes a lot of sadness in so many parts. How did you find the process of writing those parts? How were you able to go through them?


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I really loved Room. It was really the best book I've read in a long time.
I was wondering was there are spark or a nugget of an idea that lead to the story to Jack and Ma. Were you inspired by any real life events?


message 17: by Rosemary (last edited Mar 20, 2011 10:33AM) (new)

Rosemary Diane wrote: "I was very surprised when it turned out that the story was set in the USA. Many expressions, especially those by Ma and her mother sounded British (or Canadian) rather than American to me. I'd be interested to learn why you decided to set the story in the US?"

Irish, surely? Jack calling his mother 'Ma' had me thinking they were Irish from page 1. Ma uses a lot of Irish expressions. So I too was surprised to find they were in the USA. I didn't have a problem with that, I assumed Ma and her mother had emigrated there, but I would be interested to know why it was set there.


message 18: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Manus (kdemanus) | 5 comments Reading the book was haunting. Did the writing of it completely consume you? Didn't you have children around Jack's age during the writing of the novel? What sort of research did you conduct on child development. I have read what you posted on your website regarding this, but am interested in what you have to say specifically. How did the writing of the book affect your interaction with your own children? I found after reading it, that I paid closer attention to how my 5 year old son entertains himself.


message 19: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Secnud wrote: "I loved Room. So grateful for the opportunity to ask questions here. Thanks Goodreads!
As I was reading and getting more involved in the story, I realized the depth of research it must of taken to ..."


I talked to one friend who works as an Occupational Therapist with children, another who is a psychotherapist... but mostly I just read the huge assortment of research papers available online. I found the concept of 'resilience' particularly helpful.


message 20: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Kathy wrote: "Reading the book was haunting. Did the writing of it completely consume you? Didn't you have children around Jack's age during the writing of the novel? What sort of research did you conduct on chi..."
It really wasn't an upsetting experience to write ROOM; I've always found that fiction lets me confront my demons, so writing about a child in peril in the morning, then playing with my kids in the afternoon, was a good combination. I probably paid my son more attention during the writing of ROOM than I ever have before or since; certainly the words 'Let's play with Lego!' don't trip off my lips anymore... Writing Ma made me feel like a pretty bad mother.


message 21: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Rosemary wrote: "Diane wrote: "I was very surprised when it turned out that the story was set in the USA. Many expressions, especially those by Ma and her mother sounded British (or Canadian) rather than American t..."
I wanted it be set in America so that the country Ma and Jack emerge into would be one with a strong sense of itself as everyone's happy ending - land of freedom and prosperity, etc. Ma's not an immigrant, it's just that - despite the best efforts of my publishers' copyeditors! - I'm afraid some of my phrasing is not standard American. As for the title 'Ma', I just didn't want the typical modern American one of 'Mom', as Ma and Jack are such outsiders, so I went for one (Ma) that I associate with nineteenth-century America (Little House on the Prairie, anyone?). In Ireland we say Mammy, Mum, Ma or (increasingly) Mom.


message 22: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Pauline wrote: "Hi Emma! Given that you've written a couple of books, was there ever a time when you've felt insecure about writing a book, times when you've thought "this is too big for me?" I guess I consider my..."
Nah, all books are equally scary when you're at the blank-screen stage. The task of making a world out of words - making characters who live and breathe - seems utterly daunting. All you can do is tell yourself, 'I've done it before, so cross my fingers and hope it works again.'


message 23: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Diane wrote: "I am another big fan of the book--as a literature professor, I had to include it in a class this semester, so I am doing an independent study about Room and Victor of Aveyron (stories and films).
..."


A further comment on the language: I agree that there are many phrases that sound unAmerican to some (though not all) readers. But some of those readers hear them as Canadian, others as British, others as Irish (and presumably if I'd lived in Australia they'd hear them as Australian). Basically, myself and the editors checked every word, so nothing Jack says is entirely out of the range of American English - but American English is a broad language, with many variations (class as well as region). 'Wardrobe' is one example; one reader denounced me for including this 'Britishism', but Americans do use it in some contexts. (Basically I was trying to avoid the phrase 'Come out of the closet, Jack!')


message 24: by Lynn (new)

Lynn (lynnber) | 1 comments I 'read' the audio version of this book and am wondering if the voices, particularly Jack's, were the same as the one's you imagined. Do you have any input on the voice actors who read your books?


message 25: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Tammie wrote: "Please forgive me if my terminology is wrong, but the arc in this book is far different from any other that I've read. Your climax came dead centre in the book. Was this a risky move, or did you ..."

I knew it was a tad peculiar, but nobody objected. Literary fiction (rather than, say, crime) has no rules. The way I see it is, the escape is the most overt climax, but in the second half there is actually more (in terms of Jack's relationship with Ma) at stake, which I think avoids anti-climax.


message 26: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Dilipickle wrote: "My question to you is about the character of Old Nick. I personally loved how you always (for the most part) kept him in the shadows, never too explicit about his relations with Ma (although it was..."
No, I'm sure I could have got under his skin, I just didn't choose to. Partly because it's been done before, in literary novels (especially John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR) as well as countless crime ones. But mostly because, like Ma, I didn't want to let him take over or set the terms of the story. I was interested in the ordinariness of his monstrosity - the fact that, like any wife-batterer or nineteenth-century slaveowner, he just wants to be boss.


message 27: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Bxrlover wrote: "Emma wrote: "I'm sure many of you are curious how I write my books. This is the thread to ask about such topics. How I get my ideas, where and when do I most often write, etc."

Being relatively ..."


Re: historicals, I love Philippa Gregory, Adam Thorpe, Barry Unsworth, and the late lamented Ariana Franklin / Diana Norman.


message 28: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Deborah wrote: "Your use of repetition and naming of utilitarian items were some of the things that I think made Room seem so confining and "crazy-making" to me. I could feel the constraints and the oppression as ..."

Mm, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' was a definite influence, but also other stories (such as Doris Lessing's 'To Room 19' in which a single room can be a refuge from the world. Children's language (such as Jack's names for the furniture) can shade from cute into sinister very easily, because many things children find delightful (repetition, cotton candy) horrify adults.


message 29: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Melanie wrote: "I was intrigued at the way that the setting of the "room" was unfolded. It was only through interpreting Ma's words and actions that we really figured out that they were being held against their wi..."

I'm a writer: since my early twenties I've been sitting in a room alone all day! Forgive the flippancy. I didn't need to lock the door to explore those feelings, which can range from 'Argh, I'm trapped here in my chair and the minutes are crawling' to 'wow, a whole hallucinogenic universe is streaming through my head'.


message 30: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Laura wrote: "I read Room in one sitting on a plane back from Italy, but I don't think I could have put it down even it I'd had to. I loved it and it's a book that will stick with me for a long time and was like..."
Working on... a play set in 1950s New York and a novel set in 1870s San Francisco. Loving both, if frustrated at how little concentrated time I get with them because of the peculiar success of ROOM!


message 31: by Reesie (new)

Reesie | 1 comments Hi Emma. I'm such a fan of yours after reading Room. I wonder though did you ever think of putting another character(s) like siblings of Jack perhaps inside Room?


message 32: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Reesie wrote: "Hi Emma. I'm such a fan of yours after reading Room. I wonder though did you ever think of putting another character(s) like siblings of Jack perhaps inside Room?"

Interesting question. No, I agree that the family dynamics with more than one sibling could be fascinating, but I wanted the situation in ROOM to have a stark simplicity: one mother, one child, one villain. The strangest thing about Room is that Jack has never had to share his mother's love or attention with anyone at all.


message 33: by Oreotalpa (new)

Oreotalpa | 1 comments I have only read "Slammerkin" and "Kissing the Witch" so far, but I was incredibly impressed with Slammerkin as a piece of historical fiction--I felt it succeeded amazingly well at creating a vivid, intense sense of time and place without being all "Look at my research! Here it is!", while at the same time filling in the possible human motivations and details around an event in the historical record.

So, getting to the question: when you're writing a historical novel, how do you balance the research with the plot and human elements writing so that one doesn't overwhelm the other? Do you find this tricky or does it come naturally to you?

Thanks for doing this Q&A!


message 34: by Laura (new)

Laura | 4 comments Emma wrote: I probably paid my son more attention during the writing of ROOM than I ever have before or since; certainly the words 'Let's play with Lego!' don't trip off my lips anymore... Writing Ma made me feel like a pretty bad mother. "

That's actually comforting to hear you say that! I certainly felt guilt over all the creative ways Ma played with and taught Jack. ("Gee, should I be making a snake out of eggshells?!") I have a 6 year old who is on the autism spectrum and has some of the same sensory issues as Jack coming out of Room. You mentioned on another thread that part of your research included reading about autistic children and that doesn't surprise me at all. I thought you did a great job of capturing the sensory overload he experienced in the mall for instance.



message 35: by Suzyn (new)

Suzyn (chalicechick) | 3 comments Lynn wrote: "I 'read' the audio version of this book and am wondering if the voices, particularly Jack's, were the same as the one's you imagined. Do you have any input on the voice actors who read your books?"

I'm curious about that too. Jack's voice in the audio book took some getting used to.


message 36: by Laura (new)

Laura | 4 comments I know there has been a lot of discussion on Jack's voice and language, but having a 6 year old, I found it completely believable and loved the combined words they used together (I forget what you had called them?) like "scared+brave=scave". It's actually something I've since used with my son when I needed him to do something he didn't want to do- like go to the dentist! What was your inspiration for that?


message 37: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Oreotalpa wrote: "I have only read "Slammerkin" and "Kissing the Witch" so far, but I was incredibly impressed with Slammerkin as a piece of historical fiction--I felt it succeeded amazingly well at creating a vivid..."
No, it is tricky. You'll have heard this before, but basically: you have to throw 95% of your research away. Or rather, let it profoundly inform what you invent, but don't let it show. My novel LIFE MASK was very long indeed, because it's based on rich people who left letters, diaries, etc, so I cut about a quarter of it simply by removing the scenes which (though full of interesting material) didn't move the plot along. It was hard to do but I never looked at those scenes again or ever felt the lack of them.


message 38: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Laura wrote: "I know there has been a lot of discussion on Jack's voice and language, but having a 6 year old, I found it completely believable and loved the combined words they used together (I forget what you ..."

My kids make up words all the time by happy accident; my son used to mishear 'scrambled eggs' as 'family eggs', for instance, which is perfect, because I never bother making them for fewer than two people. And I try to make up for what I lack in sporty energy by a lot of verbal input; I'll refuse to get off the sofa, but I'll rhyme a lot. (Recently the kids responded to news of protest marches in Egypt by marching round the kitchen going 'Pear! Pear! It's not fair! We want apple, make it snappy!' Which perhaps reveals that I emphasize poetry over politics.)


message 39: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Suzyn wrote: "Lynn wrote: "I 'read' the audio version of this book and am wondering if the voices, particularly Jack's, were the same as the one's you imagined. Do you have any input on the voice actors who read..."

I think you have to cast a woman for a small boy because an actual boy would get tired and flat - but I thought Michael (even her name was boyish!) did a fantastic job. The Jack in my head was less American only because I'm not American. And the Ma in my head was younger-sounding than the one they cast. But I enjoyed every minute of the audiobook; I thought the only weakness at all was that the very talented actor who played all the women except Ma couldn't do an Irish accent, but then you're always touchy about the dialect of your own home!


message 40: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Suzyn wrote: "Lynn wrote: "I 'read' the audio version of this book and am wondering if the voices, particularly Jack's, were the same as the one's you imagined. Do you have any input on the voice actors who read..."

Oh, I forgot to say, I probably could have input into the casting if I wanted to, or felt I was familiar enough with the talent pool, but I wasn't, so I didn't.


message 41: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Laura wrote: "Emma wrote: I probably paid my son more attention during the writing of ROOM than I ever have before or since; certainly the words 'Let's play with Lego!' don't trip off my lips anymore... Writing ..."

For research I blew one single egg and it was incredibly hard, I basically had to knock chip two great holes in it. But I figured Jack would get better than me with all the practice he's getting. Yes, ROOM is not about my style of mothering at all; my idea of home crafts is scribbling faces on balloons.


message 42: by Claire (new)

Claire | 1 comments I also loved Room and have recommended to many people. My question is about your writing, reviewing and editing process. How exactly do you do it? Do you sit down and write a rough chapter, and then edit it, or sections, or a whole book? And how rough is your first draft?
Claire


message 43: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
A very rough first draft of the whole thing, with sentences like this: 'She walked/marched/stormed down the [draughty/chilly] corridor/hall. [?STAIRS?] [MORE ATMOSPHERE HERE.]' Then a readable first draft, which I show only to my agent. After her feedback I improve it into an official first draft, which I show to publishers and my partner. Then it goes through another draft or two, then it gets copyedited, then published.


Digitalenviromentalist (reymos) | 12 comments Emma wrote: "A very rough first draft of the whole thing, with sentences like this: 'She walked/marched/stormed down the [draughty/chilly] corridor/hall. [?STAIRS?] [MORE ATMOSPHERE HERE.]' Then a readable fir..." This is what I wanted to know...Im sure alot of us who love to write could learn alot from your writing style. Of course, every writer wants to be different, but for me (as a trying-hard writer...lol) it makes sense and inspiration to do something new - away from my profession as an Engineer.


message 45: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Oh, it's great to have another job/profession first, it'll give you so much more to write about! It's a real weakness in me that I've never been anything but a student and then a writer; that's why I have to do so much research...


message 46: by Digitalenviromentalist (last edited Mar 24, 2011 07:36AM) (new)

Digitalenviromentalist (reymos) | 12 comments Emma wrote: "Oh, it's great to have another job/profession first, it'll give you so much more to write about! It's a real weakness in me that I've never been anything but a student and then a writer; that's why..." Wow, thank you for being honest and your candid reply which we seldom get from popular writers nowadays. Sometimes I feel cheated or doubtful that those stories that Ive love most might not be the original work of the author himself/herself - having ghost writers to back-up their credibility! This is only my personal opinion... On the other hand, browsing your novels, you did so much research on the topics which we seldom see in bestsellers books. Im sure with the success of Room, people will be able to read your previous novels with excitement and appreciation. Thanks alot!


message 47: by Charlie (new)

Charlie | 1 comments I read, in your chat on the New Yorker, that you were influenced in part by Cormac McCarthy's "The Road".

I so loved reading "Room" that I proceeded to read "The Road" and am quite glad that I did. One of the interesting differences couldn't help noticing is the lack of specification of the boy's age in "The Road" contrasted so sharply with the opening sentences of "Room". Both of you painted your dystopias very convincingly, but I thought that you were more effective an making the love between parent and child so palpable.

Thank you for your work!


message 48: by Elske (new)

Elske (elskewaite) | 2 comments It can't have been easy to write 'Room'. Did telling through Jack's innocent and naive mind make it easier, or was it harder that you understood what was happening and he didn't? These are all questions I've asked myself about reading it, whether it was less upsetting to read or harder, because he didn't understand the full impact of so much.


message 49: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Charlie wrote: "I read, in your chat on the New Yorker, that you were influenced in part by Cormac McCarthy's "The Road".

I so loved reading "Room" that I proceeded to read "The Road" and am quite glad that I did..."


THE ROAD was very inspiring, but of course they are very different books; I have a rather sunny world view whereas McCarthy is a stern prophet warning us that we're destroying the planet. I often find the most inspiring books are not ones that are obviously like mine in content or tone, but ones that tackle similar literary problems, such as, in this case, how to write a parent-child story that feels like a timeless myth.


message 50: by Emma (new)

Emma Donoghue | 133 comments Mod
Elske wrote: "It can't have been easy to write 'Room'. Did telling through Jack's innocent and naive mind make it easier, or was it harder that you understood what was happening and he didn't? These are all ques..."

Jack didn't spare me from imagining the pain, because I had to keep figuring out what was going on for Ma at the same time. But the fact that he has so much for cheer and comfort him really did help me; I knew his would never be an entirely dark story.


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