Sandra Carey Cody Interviews Jane Hamilton
“Every novel is very much like a letter to a shadowy person or perhaps a group, solemn and still, just beyond our vision.” These are Jane Hamilton’s words, taken from the Random House website. The Chicago Tribune described her writing as “mesmerizing … bittersweet, funny” and her as “… one of our most magnetic and provocative novelists”. Jane spoke at a luncheon in our area recently and very graciously agreed to answer a few questions for BIRTH OF A NOVEL. She is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, and A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, also named one of the top ten books of the year by several national publications. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World were selections of Oprah’s Book Club. The Short History of a Prince was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998. Subsequent books have won comparable accolades.
SANDY CODY: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
JANE HAMILTON: My mother wrote poetry and fiction, and my grandmother wrote two novels after she signed into the retirement home. She wanted to sell her house, be done with domestic life because she wanted to write novels. I remember thinking that most grandmothers were not like mine, and thinking that if you were a girl child, you should grow up to be a writer. That’s what the women I loved most were doing. Everyone in my family read books, we didn’t have a TV until I was twelve or so. I had terrific librarians both at school and at the public library, and I loved books. I always knew I would be a reader, I knew very early that I loved to write, but I didn’t expect to have the great luck to be able to do it as a profession, as a daily job.
CODY: Which part of writing do you most enjoy?
HAMILTON: I love it when, with some kind of magical harmonic convergence, everything starts to hum along, and you hardly know you yourself are present at work. (This is not a usual occurrence). It’s as if you’ve spun gold from straw: you look up and think, How did that happen? Also, I enjoy reading my work out loud to myself when it’s going well, when I can take pleasure in my own sentences and story.
CODY: Which part do you find most difficult?
HAMILTON: The first terrible draft is no fun. I write badly first, and then work on draft after draft until I can stomach it.
CODY: What refreshes you creatively?
HAMILTON: I’m a jock. So, running, swimming, walking, riding my bike is a joy, and an important part of the work. Some of my best thinking happens when I’m moving and sweating.
CODY: Can you tell us something about your latest project? Laura Rider’s Masterpiece is so different from your earlier books. Is this a new direction for you?
HAMILTON: I think the previous books have humor in them but Laura Rider felt quite different. It’s short, it’s got a plot! And it’s a satire. And it felt effortless to write; it was pure joy to write. I don’t think it’s a new forever direction, but it has a different feel and shape from the other books.
NOTE TO JANE: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about writing with us. Good luck with Laura Rider’s Masterpiece – in fact, with all your books, those already written and those to come. I look forward to reading more of your work and to meeting many more of your totally believable characters.
P.S. Would love to have known your grandmother.