Sunday, November 16, 2008

Porter Shreve

From a Q & A with the writer Porter Shreve:

Generally speaking, do you think of your fiction as autobiographical?

My three novels have all been inspired by family stories. The Obituary Writer goes back to my grandfather’s unlikely friendship with a young widow he met while working at the Cincinnati Post; Drives Like a Dream began when I was wondering how my mother must have felt when all four of her kids moved away from DC, where she’d raised us with an all-for-one, one-for-all communal spirit; and When the White House Was Ours is based on my family’s alternative school. Invariably, I begin writing a story as it actually happened, then characters and situations I can never anticipate appear out of nowhere and take over. Often the secondary characters, like the hippies Tino, Cinnamon and Linc in When the White House Was Ours create trouble for the protagonist and the clash has a transformative effect, rendering him or her less familiar to me and in the process loosening my imagination so that by the end of the story there’s little relationship to autobiography, at least in factual terms, though its emotional core remains.

* * *

Your title is certainly political. How did you come up with When the White House Was Ours? Did you plan to publish the book during an election year?

I began thinking about the novel during the 2004 campaign season, and was probably so urgent to see George W. Bush retired to his Texas ranch that when it didn’t happen in November I plotted my own small, personal retaliation and titled a book I knew very little about When the White House Was Ours. Like The Obituary Writer, I had the title almost before I’d written a word, and the title took me back to the alternative school, which was something I’d always wanted to write about, and then to the years 1976 and 1977. I remember my whole family standing in the cold on inauguration day watching Jimmy, Rosalynn and Amy Carter walk along Constitution Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. At first I didn’t plan for When the White House Was Ours to come out in an election year, but as the story developed and began to resonate with the elections of 1976, 2000 and even 2008, I realized I was writing both a nostalgic and perhaps even a timely book. The title gave me a firm deadline, too, something we writer/procrastinators are always grateful for.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Porter Shreve's website.

--Marshal Zeringue