Saturday, July 26, 2014

Maggie Shipstead

Maggie Shipstead's newest novel is Astonish Me.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Your novel is so different from your first, Seating Arrangements, moving from sharp comedy to the haunting tragedy of what might have been. What was the writing like for you? Did it feel different to switch gears? What surprised you about this particular book?

Astonish Me was probably the most pleasurable writing experience I’ll ever have, mostly because I didn’t set out to make it a novel. I had a fellowship at Stanford for two years, and in my second year I wrote a short story about a retired ballet dancer named Joan and her rivalry with her next door neighbor in California. At the time, I’d also started working on what I thought would be my second novel. After I was done at Stanford and done with edits for Seating Arrangements, I took a break from the novel project to revise the ballet story, and the story started to expand. By the time I finished my initial “revision,” it was ninety pages long, which I think we can agree is a little bit lengthy for a story. I showed it to my agent, and she saw room for more expansion, so I went back to work. It was only about five months between when I started to revise the story and when I finished the sale draft, and for most of that time I felt like I was somehow cheating on my so-called real novel (which has since died) with this funky ballet side project. But then my publisher ended up buying it two weeks before Seating Arrangements was published, and I thought, oh, okay, it’s a book. The accidental nature of the whole process gave me a lot of freedom: I was really writing for my own enjoyment. Astonish Me’s tone is meant to mimic that of a ballet, especially toward the end, and that was a refreshing departure from the prickliness of Seating Arrangements.

Astonish Me is a great title, and though it was said, I believe, by a ballet master, it resonates for lots of other things going on in your novel. Can you talk about this, please?

Yes, Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes, would tell the artists working for him to “√Čtonnez-moi,” which was sort of a command and sort of a dare and sort of a rallying cry. I think that’s what we...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue