Photo of Susan by Adrian Kinloch
Hello folks! So after a bit of a break I managed to pause long enough in the US to interview the very lovely American novelist Susan Choi. Susan is the author of The Foreign Student (winner of the Asian American literary prize), American Woman (nominee for the Pulitzer Prize), A Person of Interest (winner of the PEN/W.G. Sebald award) and My Education, which comes out in paperback in the US on May 27. She is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Arts, and teaches undergraduate students at Princeton University.
During our conversation, which was conducted at Susan's charming home in Brooklyn, Susan was kind enough to share with me her side digressions into acting, what her experience of a fiction MFA was like, taking her time with developing ideas for her novels, how her writing process has changed over the years, and what she thought about the current landscape of publishing. Susan was intelligent and warm, and after the interview, was kind enough to chat for a bit in the hallway, beside her new paperbacks lining the walls, before I ventured off into the rain.
One of the things that struck me most about Susan were her comments about research. Although her earlier books were research heavy, these days she tends to stick to finishing a draft first before completing research, for a more efficient pass at a draft:
It’s weird to say I faked a bunch of the story and then went back and kind of fixed it, but it was more efficient in a way, I have to say, because I had enough of a sense of what I was talking about to feel like if the research proved that my plot was completely untenable I felt like I could go in and do the repair work internally without actually dismantling the whole shell of the plot.
Now my preference is to do just enough research to fake it, and then fake it for long enough to get a draft, even if the draft is like a disaster. Researching on the basis of a draft is so much easier than researching on the basis of an idea. ‘Cos when you’re researching on the basis of an idea you could research forever, you know, you could truly come up with an infinite amount of things that you don’t know. But if you have a draft you can think like oh I didn’t need to research that model of powerboat, cos no-one’s going to drive that powerboat in my book, as it turns out.
As someone who is knee-deep in the quagmire of research, this approach was very novel to me, and gave me a lot to think about as I sloshed my way to the subway.
As always, please share or like on Facebook or Twitter. And although I will still be moving around over the next few months, if there are any guests you are keen to have on board, let me know in the comments or online!