Author Mary Gaitskill, at Drew, Talks Characters and Stories
She reads from her latest novel and takes questions from students.
April 2016 – Author Mary Gaitskill appeared at Drew University to read from her latest novel, The Mare, offering a glimpse into the distinctly different personalities of her main characters.
After the reading, she reflected on her writing. Responding to questions from students, the author of three novels and three collections of short stories—including Because They Wanted To, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist—spoke at length about how she develops characters and builds stories. Here’s what she shared.
How do you find the voices of your characters?
“I find that getting into a person’s body is for me very good that way—it’s kind of how I can put myself in their mind. Also, people as they think and they talk are really reacting to things around them all the time, whether they know it or not. It just kind of happens physically. So, that’s just really helpful for me.”
What inspired you to write “The Devil’s Treasure“?
“Well, I actually did have a dream like that when I was about six years old. It was nowhere near that vivid or that detailed. I could never remember something like that. It was much simpler: that there really was a captor in my backyard and I went down and I see the devil sitting there and I stole his treasure . . . In my mind, it’s a story of both innocence but also evil.”
Where did you get the idea for “Mirrorball“?
“It was inspired honestly by something pretty trivial. A woman said to me she had met a guy and they had something and he wanted to see her again. He happened to be a famous writer whose name I won’t mention. But she wasn’t sure if she wanted to see him again. She saw a psychic and the psychic said, ‘Don’t get involved with that man. He will steal your soul.’ And it just struck me because it’s such an old-fashioned thing to say. I just appealed to my imagination and I was like, ‘What would that look like? What would that look like to steal somebody’s soul?’”
Which of your stories is your favorite and why?
“I liked “Secretary” a lot, actually. And I almost didn’t include it [in the collection Bad Behavior]. I was embarrassed by it. I really think it describes a real core thing in people that you don’t see much of. Don’t ask me what it is. But it’s not just the masochism, either. It’s normal stuff.”
Gaitskill’s April 6 appearance at Mead Hall was organized by Writers@Drew, a program from the English Department and Casement Fund. Past Writers@Drew speakers include Kathleen Graber, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gerald Stern, Tiphanie Yanique and William Giraldi.