Last week I was interviewed by Daniel Goldin of Boswell Books in Milwaukee, where I’ll be reading on July 23. Since the interview focuses on my writing process for FINNY, I thought I’d share the transcript of the interview in today’s post:
Also, I’ve always enjoyed writing female characters. I’m not sure why — maybe because I’m only about 51% male. But I think it also has to do with the kind of fiction I want to write. If I talk about friendships and relationships and sex from the point of view of a woman, it helps me to cut myself out and universalize the experience — or at least bring up some useful observations about it.
Goldin: Many of your side characters have exaggerated mannerisms or distinguishing tics. Were you thinking more along the lines of character shortcut, or were they more exaggeration of type? I didn’t really see the book as satire, but I did notice the correlation between inner and outer beauty, which, in the case of this novel, is pretty much inverse. The most attractive folks tended to be the most shallow (and sometimes villainous), whereas the eccentrics tended to have noble stuff about them. Did I read this right? Care to comment?
Kramon: The exaggerated mannerisms and distinguishing traits you notice are part of the tribute to Dickens — who was the master at creating these slightly-larger-than-life characters, accentuating traits or themes he saw in people in his own life to bring closer attention to them. I wanted to try to blend that style with a more modern approach to psychology and interior thoughts and character.
The moral center of the book — and the correlations between inner and outer beauty — are also big themes in Dickens, but as you said, I wanted the correlation to be not completely straight-forward. I don’t think there are any characters in the book who are noble all the time. Even Finny puts the note under Poplan’s door and neglects to tell her brother about Judith’s history, partly because of her infatuation with Judith. Those moral issues are all part of the theme of coming-of-age in the book, but I hoped there wouldn’t be clear answers to every question.
Goldin: In Finny, there are some characters, such as Sarah Barksdale and Dorrie, that felt like they were more developed in your head than what you saw on paper. Was the book originally longer? If so, what did you have to cut?
Kramon: The book was originally longer — closer to 500 pages. I slimmed it down a lot, in order to emphasize only the most important plots. I wanted the book to be densely-plotted, so there are still a number of story lines, since that’s the nineteenth-century style I was writing in.
You’re right that some characters originally took up more space. It just turned out, as I revised, that I didn’t feel their stories were as essential to Finny’s story.
Goldin: Sylvan and Finny’s relationships with Judith and Earl somewhat parallel each other… Did you think Earl was ultimately a different character at the end of the book? …
Kramon: … I think Earl is not a perfect person, and there are questions in Finny’s mind all the way to the end. To me, that’s part of the growth in the book: the ability to accept those questions and move forward without necessarily resolving them.