WRITERS TELL ALL
Matthew Turbeville: Hi, Sara. This is clearly going to be one of my favorite interviews ever—Claire DeWitt is one of the major influences that got me into crime writing (and reading and reviewing). I’m not saying I’m your biggest fan ever, but I’m also not saying that I don’t have you set as a google alert. It’s been a while since you’ve revisited Claire, at least as far as the public knows, so what brought you back to Claire—and I’m sure, as you know, any DeWitt novel is a literary event on par with Y2K.
Sara Gran: Ha, I remember Y2K very well, I strongly suspect you're too young to remember the silliness of it! Anyway. Yes, it's been a while. Life has intervened in my Claire DeWitt writing/publishing schedule. The good intervention has been working on scripts and in writer's rooms in H'wood, which is fun and lucrative, if sometimes frustrating. The bad intervention has been a remarkable amount of illness and death in my family. The value-neutral intervention has been my editor and I taking a really long time to edit this very unwieldy book, which I think paid off at the end.
MT: This may be a question unto itself, but how do you balance all of Claire’s character traits into making her a completely unique person all her own?
SG: That's in interesting question, and I think the answer is, I never try to balance it. I feel like as writers and as humans, we sometimes get into trouble when we expect people to follow patterns or logic or really any kind of order at all. People can have very disparate traits and they can rub against each other in interesting ways. We shouldn't hesitate to embrace that.
MT: When in the history of your career did you realize “I’ve made it”? And how does it feel (t least, in my opinion) to be such a fucking amazing woman who can walk circles around most male writers? It feels like you’ve opened up so many different paths for women with—from reading interviews of yours, etc—your sort of no bullshit attitude, which I’m so thankful for. It takes a lot of guts to own up to your true talent in a Trump-led America.
SG: Thank you! The weird shitty thing about life that everyone tells you when you're young, but you never believe until you're older, is that it never really feels like that. Not for more than five minutes at a time. You might have a great moment and feel like you have some big success and you're a big fancy star, and then you open your browser and see ten people who are bigger, fancier stars. So you have to kind of know who you are and what you're about in life, or you're stuck in a race that no one will ever win. It can't be won because if you get to the top – well, I know people at the top, and many of them are lonely, or feel like their work is profitable, but not adequately respected, or they get stuck in a hall of mirrors of their own praise and lose their souls. All that being said, in 2004 I optioned my book COME CLOSER to the Weinstein Co (not knowing, of course, what we know now about the Weinsteins) for a nice piece of money and I was able to quit my day job and move away from Brooklyn – that was a big deal for me.
MT: Out of all of the books you’ve written—especially, of course—which was the hardest book you’ve had to write and was there ever a book you almost gave up on? With Claire, was there ever a book where you really struggled to find the answer to the mystery you’ve set up, or do you always have the mystery figured out before you even begin writing? Is the reason there are such large gaps between Claire books because of lack of time, with your incredibly busy schedule, or did you really struggle with this last book? The Infinite Blacktopis one of the most incredibly intricate and complicated yet satisfying books I’ve ever read, and with some authors this genius comes so quickly, but others struggle with getting everything just right.
SG: This book was the hardest I've ever written for sure – the book is vast and complex, my life has been vast and complex, my publishing company is also vast and complex. At this point in the series, just keeping track of the characters and their timelines and their relationships could be a full time job, although I worked very hard to make it understandable and digestible for the reader – hopefully all that work remains behind the curtain. I also don't see any reason at all to rush. I make most of my income writing for TV at this point, which gives me a lot of creative freedom with my books, so I want to take advantage of that and push myself as much as I can to do something worthwhile. Sometimes in life we need money or other things and we have to rush or compromise– I'm fortunate right now to be able to do that absolute best work I can, regardless of how long it takes.
MT: Were you aware that people would respond so positively to Claire and her novels? How does it make you feel that for so many writers and readers, not just me, Claire has made such a significant change in their lives? One of my former mentors gave me the advice, “Never give the reader what she wants,” and I was wondering what you thought of that—if you go into writing a Claire novel thinking of what the reader wants, or what Claire’s storyline needs?
SG: The response to these books has been probably the best thing to ever happen to me in my life after meeting my boyfriend in 1990-something and being born into a relatively peaceful, prosperous, home. I hear from people all the time how these books have affected them and I'm just floored by that. It makes everything else worthwhile to know that my work has been of service to people on that level. It's been a complete shock to me.
As for giving the reader what they want, I've given up any illusion of thinking I know what people need or want (myself included), so that no longer plays into my work at all. I just do the absolute best I can.
MT: Your fan base is huge. I’ve heard some people describe it as “cult-like” and, I guess, I’m one of the cult-like followers. I’ve always described the Claire DeWitt books as a sort of Harry Potterfor the private investigator genre. There are so many people in awe of your books, in the way you envisioned this large, personal, epic world with each story only adding onto the landscape of Claire’s story. Is this how you envisioned the stories taking shape, or was this just another private investigator series for you?
SG: My fan base is not so huge! But it is devoted, for which I am so grateful every day. I have the best, coolest, nicest, most generous fans on planet earth. I always know the series would be more about the detective than the cases, which I think is true of a lot of detective fiction. I definitely did not anticipate the series becoming this giant complex world that has basically taken over my life! This was something I never imagined for myself. It just kinda happened.
MT: One reason I’ve always referred to your series as the Harry Potter of private investigator series is all of the mythology that plays a role within the novel—from a book within a book, to the history of detectives you’ve created, as well as, featured heavily in this novel, the story of the junior detective who helped define Claire. Why is this mythology so important when creating this series and Claire?
SG: Because it's so fun to do! This really is the most fun in the world for me – spinning out these different worlds/stories/characters/mythologies. I do it all the time. I love working in H'wood because the projects are so small (compared to a book series), and so I get to create whole new worlds all the time, which is delightful.
MT: What is the importance to the order in which the books appear? They clearly, at least to me, have a very specific order and unraveling and telling in order to complete the entire series, but I’m wondering if you’d elaborate on this for other fans? If you can give away any of the series’ secrets, that is.
SG: I get the impression that my methods seems more deliberate and well-thought-out than they actually are – that's good to hear! The books are very much about intuition and being true to one's self, so I feel a moral obligation to make sure those are founding principles in writing the series as well (wouldn't it be shitty/dishonest/hypocritical to do otherwise?). The big narrative thrust that I'm trying to serve is not the cases, but this one person's (Claire's) change in time as a person – I was going to say "evolution," but that implies a very specific, positive change that rarely reflects reality.
MT: You do a lot of work with television and, if rumors are correct, movies. What’s the major differences between cinema and literature, and what do you prefer? Do you think Claire benefits most from a book series or a potential television series? Will we ever see Claire on the screen, and if you have to imagine one actress taking on the role of Claire, who might it be?
SG: Screenwriting is candy – fun, collaborative, pays well, usually leads to nothing. Writing a novel is a healthy meal – more challenging, not as fun, infinitely more satisfying and rewarding and nourishing. I used to make a living selling the options to my books, but after optioning this series a few times and seeing what it looked like after going through the H'wood machine, I decided to hold onto the rights until I either really need money, or am in a position of power lofty enough to ensure the translation to screen is exactly as I want it. Neither of those are likely to happen soon. Nearly everything good in my life has come to me through my books; I owe them a lot and it's important to me to honor that by protecting them.
MT: One of the most interesting aspects of the novel, The Infinite Blacktop, is the idea of “Who are you?” How we break down ourselves, find out who we are outside of everything we think may define us. How do you define yourself in these terms, and do you ever find yourself as an extension of Claire or any of your own personality, etc, leaking over into Claire? An example I think of is how so many people have said Amy Sherman-Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls) clearly modeled Lorelai Gilmore in her image. Do you ever think of Claire in the same light?
SG: I think that most writers have a central question or conflict they keep coming back to in their work. I have two concepts I keep returning to, even when I don't know I'm doing it. First is: the world is not what you think it is. Second is: you do not know who you are. Identity of self and definition of reality are huge things for me. I'm not sure why. I like them, though – they continue to be interesting, worthwhile questions for me in my life and my work.
The relationship between an author and her characters is strange. Claire and I have a lot in common but some substantial differences, too. Of course I create the character, but the character influences me, as well – what I write needs to be true to the character, and often elucidates some aspect of myself or of life.
MT: I always ask writers this question, a quote that’s been attributed to a lot of different writers—it’s often attributed to Toni Morrison, among other writers, but essentially the quote is something like “Write the book you’ve always wanted to read but never been able to find.” Do you feel you’ve written this book, or do you think it’s already written, or do you feel that this book is still to come for you?
SG: This book is close to that book! If I were smarter I would have written that book by now. I'm coming close.
MT: I’m very much in shock that I have gotten the chance to interview theSara Gran, but here is the interview, and here it comes to a close. Sara, I am so thankful you’ve spoken to me at all, better yet granted me an interview. I’m even more thankful that you—in any and all of your forms of writing—have helped me get through some of the hardest times in my life. You and your immense, immeasurable talent is something that I am so incredibly thankful for. Thank you for speaking with me, and if you have any thoughts or comments, questions or suggestions, please feel free to let me know. Thank you again. I am so, so grateful.
SG: Thank you Matthew for the kind words and the great questions!