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Jessica
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Questions for Claire Messud

Do you have a question for Claire Messud? Reply to this message to start the conversation!
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IBIS
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

Hello Claire Messud, thank you for joining this conversation.

I picked up THE EMPEROR's CHILDREN this summer without having heard much about it. I liked the cover's graphic design, and wondered if the photo of the building is the Dakotas, where John Lennon lived in NYC.

I was so taken by your writing, that I immediately bought WHEN THE WORLD WAS STEADY. And I had just finished Elizabeth Gilbert's EAT, PRAY, LOVE. In it she talks about her visit to Bali. It was so coincidental that she talks about the Balinese naming tradition that all their children are baptized with the same 4 names.

So when I read WHEN THE WORLD WAS STEADY, it felt like deja vu when Emmy learns about that Balinese naming convention. What are the chances of me reading both books in the same summer?

I'm here in the Boston area, and I know Somerville very well. I love to hang out in the newly "chic" Davis Square.

I guess this wasn't really a question, just a conversation opener. I'm looking forward to learning more about you and your marvelous work.

IBIS
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Jean_G
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

Hello, Claire Messud. Will you tell us a little bit about your approach to writing? Do you write an entire draft and then go back and rewrite numerous times to hone, or do your incredible capacity to observe the telling detail and your elegant style emerge naturally? I read the book when it first came out and often go back to open it and just enjoy the language. "How does she do that?" I ask myself. As a struggling novelist, I find it quite daunting. How do you balance getting the plot to move forward with making each page so vivid? P.S. Trust me, I am not ordinarily a gusher.
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Walrus
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

This is my first book by this author.. The title interested me, however, I found the first half of the book somewhat boring and tedious reading. It almost as if two different people wrote different chapters. One chapter and/or page had so many ( etc.) and the next so many ------that I had to keep going back to see what the sentence started with. There were also words I had never seen before in my life. Why use them??? No one knows what they mean- let alone could pronounce them. I almost gave up and put the book away,but then slowly got curious about what would happen. I am not finished yet and think perhaps someone will die by suicide??? or murder????? I did not care at all for Ludovic, the evil genius, where does he get his money from? Both girls were insipid. Murray was a cheat. Annabel the best but so far too little said about her. Maybe next book tell the story from her point of view. Looking forward to the end and will tune into Mon. discussion. Walrus - had to use this name after many tries with sensible names since all werealready taken and happened to see newspaper article about baby walrus today.
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Walrus
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

I finished the book in a hurry to be ready for Monday ? time.. And I did like it more than I thought I would. Have some questions for author. 1. Why did Ludo marry Marina? Was it to spite Murray? 2. Why did Murray "hit on" Danny? Because he couldn't get Marina? 3. Why were both girls so friendly with Julius who did not seem to have many redeeming qualities? 4. Why was Bootie so cruel to his mother to make her think him dead? Would Danny ever tell her? or the family? It was apparent that some one would find him in Miami- I thought his mother would relocate to a warmer climate. Would she be eligible for reparation money? 5. Why would an educated, professional lawyer( annabel) stay with Murray when she knew he cheated? 6. It seemed the book had people paired with their similar selves ie. Bootie/Murray--------Marina/Danny----Julius/Ludo-------Judi/Annabel
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bobzyeruncle
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

Hi Walrus,

Please be careful about posting spoilers for those who haven't read as far as you.

An easy way to do this is ** Spoiler Alert ** or some such before you give away plot details before their time.

It's great that you've been able to finish before the discussion starts, but some of us will read the book over the month.

Looking forward to discussing the book with you.

Kind regards,

Bob
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Bob
www.bobzyeruncle.com
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ClaireMessud
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud



Jean_G wrote:
Hello, Claire Messud. Will you tell us a little bit about your approach to writing? Do you write an entire draft and then go back and rewrite numerous times to hone, or do your incredible capacity to observe the telling detail and your elegant style emerge naturally? I read the book when it first came out and often go back to open it and just enjoy the language. "How does she do that?" I ask myself. As a struggling novelist, I find it quite daunting. How do you balance getting the plot to move forward with making each page so vivid? P.S. Trust me, I am not ordinarily a gusher.


Hi, everybody, & welcome to the book club. I, too, am new to this -- so I hope I don't break rules -- entirely possible, seeing as I don't know entirely what they are! I'm sure that Rachel will help out those, like myself, who are a bit lost...

Thanks for your questions so far. I'm not sure I can answer all of them at once, but wanted to reply to Jean's kind words by saying 'thank you', first off; and wishing you all the best with your own writing. It's so hard to articulate why I write the way I do -- in a funny way, it's not as if I have a choice. I know that Walrus was feeling put off by the long sentences & the many digressions; but I write that way because that's the way my brain works. My experience of life is circular, or at least rounded, somehow; and language -- in sentences, at least -- is linear. So I'm always trying to reconcile the experience in my head with the way we have of expressing our experience -- a bit like pushing a round peg into a square hole.

I think that everybody has a different rhythm, a different breath: some people write most naturally in long sentences, some in short; some write poems, & some write long novels, & some write something in between. For me, at least,it's a matter of finding the form (on every level, from the sentence on up to the story or novel) that is natural to me, & that fits the content, the subject matter of what I'm trying to say. In that sense, my writing style is consistent up to a point, over the course of my books; but different in each one, I think. (Also, of course, we're always growing & changing, thank goodness, so our styles are bound to change.) I don't know if that answers any of Jean's questions or not...

I know that Walrus, also, was wondering why the book uses words that aren't necessarily familiar to everyone. The answer is surely not 'why?' but 'why not?' We're incredibly lucky to have one of the richest languages on earth, with a huge & elastic vocabulary (in English, we can make nouns into adjectives or adverbs really easily, which most other languages can't do). Why reduce ourselves to the bare minimum, when there are so many expressive & precise & meaningful words to choose from? Shakespeare used 10 times as many words as his French contemporary, the playwright Racine: English just has more words to play with. For me, a love of language is one of the reasons I've always loved writing. I don't know if that seems a sufficient answer, but it's the truth.

My sense is that I ought to steer clear of plot discussions, at this juncture at least -- so I'll refrain from answering all those questions about marriage & relationships, for now.

best,
Claire


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bobzyeruncle
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

[ Edited ]
Hi Claire,

Thanks for jumping in early. I've only been in one other online workshop with a book's author and found it fascinating.

I have a couple of questions.

I'm wondering if your process involves writing for a specific audience, and if so, who were you writing this book for?

Sometimes when I'm working on a story, I'm writing for 'myself.' Other times ... and often when I'm playing with scenes ... I'll write for a specific audience (eg my sister, or a friend that I want to tell a story to).

Any thoughts on this? Do you find your narrative voice changes when working on different stories / novels? Is it a conscious choice for you or something that evolves as you work and rework your drafts? And am I splitting hairs by asking about 'narrative voice' as opposed to the 'writing style' you speak of in your post?

Also, I read that you set out to write a historical novel. Did you have a specific work or set of works in mind that you chose to emulate (ie Mrs Dalloway --> The Hours, Howard's End --> On Beauty)? It might be just because I'm in the midst of it, I get a certain Middlemarch feel (which I'm really enjoying) about TEC. I get this from A) the narrator's tone and B) the sense that the story is a social commentary on a diverse cast of characters coming together in the what could be described as the 'village' of pre-9/11 Manhattan.

On the other hand, I could be totally off base. I think the intriguing thing about group discussion is how many different viewpoints arise based on the individual readers' own experiences.

All the best,

Bob

Message Edited by bobzyeruncle on 10-02-2007 01:44 PM
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Bob
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Jean_G
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

Yes, you've given me some good things to think about. Re the "roundedness," yes, I do agree, and it is the effort to find a way to convey as much as we can of that roundedness in linear form that most of us struggle with, or else the writing is, well, flat. Re the idea that each of us has a different natural breath and sentence pattern and form, thank you for that. A reminder that though we always strive to improve, we can and need only be the writer we are.
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Peppermill
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

Claire -- thank you for participating in B&N's "Talk with Authors" series.

I enjoyed The Emperor's Children.

My question, why Watertown, NY? Do you know people from there? Have you spent time in the town?

I appreciate the chance to pose these questions, since they were ones that I wondered about at the time I read your novel.
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Walrus
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

I had a great idea for the author ,but do not know whether she would be interested and whether she would even consider---- why not write a sequel. We were all left hanging somewhat. What happens to these people now. It would be a great chance to continue to develope and round them out and see if anyone gets their just deserve. The mills of God grind exceedingly slow etc,etc. As an added category we could submit possible story lines of how we see it could or how we wish it would happen. What do you think? You could call it --Thru the Looking Glass.( if not already a title).
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ClaireMessud
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud



Peppermill wrote:
Claire -- thank you for participating in B&N's "Talk with Authors" series.

I enjoyed The Emperor's Children.

My question, why Watertown, NY? Do you know people from there? Have you spent time in the town?

I appreciate the chance to pose these questions, since they were ones that I wondered about at the time I read your novel.




In reply to your question 'Why Watertown?'- it's not a place I know intimately, but a place I've traveled through countless times. My mother is Canadian, & we moved to the States when I was a teenager. For years, with my parents & without them, I've driven back & forth from Connecticut &, more recently, Boston, to Ontario. My parents have a house near Kingston, Ont, & this means we drive through Watertown. I've stayed overnight there a couple of times. I spent a year studying down the road in Syracuse. So I know what upstate NY towns are like;and I know the center, & certain outskirts, of Watertown pretty well, by sight. Upstate New York has such a rich history, and is such a forgotten, almost abandoned, area in our time. It was very striking, in Syracuse, to visit the amazing art gallery, & to know that there used to be a wonderful symphony orchestra, to see the glorious old architecture, and realize that the grandeur of the city had been completely lost. Watertown, as an even smaller & more remote outpost, seems even more forlorn; and yet the scale on which is was built is very grand. It seemed an appropriate place for Bootie -- and indeed Murray -- to hail from.


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ClaireMessud
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud



Walrus wrote:
I had a great idea for the author ,but do not know whether she would be interested and whether she would even consider---- why not write a sequel. We were all left hanging somewhat. What happens to these people now. It would be a great chance to continue to develope and round them out and see if anyone gets their just deserve. The mills of God grind exceedingly slow etc,etc. As an added category we could submit possible story lines of how we see it could or how we wish it would happen. What do you think? You could call it --Thru the Looking Glass.( if not already a title).




Thanks, Walrus, for that suggestion. It seems as though maybe you should write a sequel? Or a book of your own about a different set of characters? I'm afraid I'm unlikely to write a sequel about these characters - I've sent them out into the world to have their own lives, now, rather like grown children; and while I'm always interested to hear what other people think will happen to them (& thrilled when people can be bothered to imagine what might happen to them), I just can't imagine, myself, stepping back into their world right now. Thanks for the suggestion, tho'.


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Peppermill
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud


ClaireMessud wrote:


Peppermill wrote:
Claire -- thank you for participating in B&N's "Talk with Authors" series.

I enjoyed The Emperor's Children.

My question, why Watertown, NY? Do you know people from there? Have you spent time in the town?

I appreciate the chance to pose these questions, since they were ones that I wondered about at the time I read your novel.




In reply to your question 'Why Watertown?'- it's not a place I know intimately, but a place I've traveled through countless times. My mother is Canadian, & we moved to the States when I was a teenager. For years, with my parents & without them, I've driven back & forth from Connecticut &, more recently, Boston, to Ontario. My parents have a house near Kingston, Ont, & this means we drive through Watertown. I've stayed overnight there a couple of times. I spent a year studying down the road in Syracuse. So I know what upstate NY towns are like;and I know the center, & certain outskirts, of Watertown pretty well, by sight. Upstate New York has such a rich history, and is such a forgotten, almost abandoned, area in our time. It was very striking, in Syracuse, to visit the amazing art gallery, & to know that there used to be a wonderful symphony orchestra, to see the glorious old architecture, and realize that the grandeur of the city had been completely lost. Watertown, as an even smaller & more remote outpost, seems even more forlorn; and yet the scale on which is was built is very grand. It seemed an appropriate place for Bootie -- and indeed Murray -- to hail from.

Claire -- thank you for your response -- very insightful.

I happen to know that city, alleged source of the Woolworth chain, quasi-well, so was most curious about your selection. Its Victorian homes and downtown storefronts, as well as proximity to Lake Ontario, still create their own ambiance.

http://www.watertown-ny.gov/planning/walkingtour.html
http://www.watertown-ny.gov/history/history_more.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watertown,_New_York
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Square%2C_Watertown_NY
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paddock_Arcade
http://www.wheelockgenealogy.com/wheelockweb/pages/OtisLeonardWheelock.htm
http://www.watertown-ny.gov/history/history_more2.html (hover over picture for earlier view of the same site)
http://www.watertown-ny.gov/history/history_more3.html
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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Rachel-K
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud

Peppermill,

Thanks for the links. Very satisfying to scroll through them after reading Claire's response, and the images seem so full of the character of the fictional Watertown we have in the novel!
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Peppermill
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Re: Questions for Claire Messud


rkubie wrote:
Peppermill,

Thanks for the links. Very satisfying to scroll through them after reading Claire's response, and the images seem so full of the character of the fictional Watertown we have in the novel!

Thanks, Rachel -- it was my hope that they might be useful to someone currently reading the novel.

I almost want to pick The Emperor's Children up again and do some comparisons myself, but I read a library copy when it first appeared on the NEW BOOKS shelf and I have so many other things going right now that I am simply enjoying all the comments here.

Incidentally, your profile has some authors I don't know at all -- if it weren't so late (early?), I'd go explore!
"Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." -- Leo Tolstoy
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