It's my great pleasure to share with you the keen insights of Lise Haines as we shine a spotlight on her new novel When We Disappear. Here are a half dozen questions and her brilliant answers.
Q: I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?
A: I’m with you, Julianna. Inspiration is a gift but we show up for the job and dig in regardless. Finding a novel is about curiosity for me. In When We Disappear, one of the things I’m trying to understand is how someone commits a terrible act and lives with this reality. I’m certainly thinking about what trauma does to people but in this case, I’m even more interested in the person who has to stand in front of the mirror knowing what they’ve done. So it was a slow building fire rather than a bright flash.
Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?
For me it’s like swimmer’s high (or runner’s high) where I go into a zone. It’s one of the most pleasurable things I know. If I’ve cleared enough off my calendar, I can write for hours and days on end and find it hard to stop.
Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?
I’m not sure any novelist can say this unless they have ample funds or the kind of support that allows them to unplug from the working world for large blocks of time. It’s always a scramble and too much of my writing time is carved out of my sleep life. It has to come from somewhere.
Faith. Do you consider yourself religious? If so, how does that manifest in your work and/or your process?
No, not religious. I think a great deal about the spiritual side of life and I’ve been a meditator for decades. I do see it thread through my work. When I was in Prague recently, I had the chance to go on a ghost tour. The guide talked about his lack of belief in anything beyond the tangible but he said he was uneasy about the possibility of ghosts in this dark, cool underground passage. It might have been just a line, but he seemed awfully sincere. I can relate to the idea of belief and questioning that belief, in tandem. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the real and the unreal, and what it is to be a compassionate human being.
Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?
I care intensely about sense of place. I hope that comes through in my work. Two of my novels are set in Chicago where I grew up. It’s such a great and complex city. One of the protagonists in When We Disappear is a photographer. Chicago is a perfect place to wander with a camera. I just saw an exhibit at the Art Institute called Never a Lovely So Real, photography and film in Chicago 1950-1980 that was like walking into my childhood. Now I think of myself as tri-coastal. I live in Boston, and I spent years in Southern California. I often wonder where I’ll land in the end. I’m forever looking for where I belong, maybe that’s why it has to be so vivid.
What project of yours was the easiest writing of your life? And, flip-side, which one was the most like wrestling bears? (And could you tell before you started or did they turn on you, for better or worse?)
No, and I don’t think anyone could tell after the fact. My first published novel, In My Sister's Country, was the quickest. My daughter was very young and I wrote when she took long naps. When We Disappear took the longest. I could tease out many factors to explain the difference but mostly it comes down to time and support. A story I published in Agni, spring 2018, “The Missing Part,” had the kind of beautiful speed I delight in. My second published novel, Small Acts of Sex and Electricity became the book I tore down to a single chapter before I started anew. Girl in the Arena, my third, was one of the quicker books I’ve written. The bottom line is to get it right and to hell with time.
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Lise Haines is the author of four novels: When We Disappear (Unbridled Books, scheduled June 2018) for which Tom Perrotta writes, “Haines is a novelist of great empathy and penetrating insight;” Girl in the Arena (Bloomsbury), a South Carolina Book Award Nominee; Small Acts of Sex and Electricity (Unbridled Books), a Book Sense Pick in 2006 and one of ten “Best Book Picks for 2006” by the NPR station, San Diego; and In My Sister's Country (Penguin / Putnam), a finalist for the 2003 Paterson Fiction Prize, which The Boston Globe called “an authoritative fictional debut.” Haines’ work has sold foreign, film and TV rights, including options by HBO and Denver & Delilah. Short stories and essays have appeared in a number of literary journals including Ploughshares, Agni, PostRoad and The Barcelona Review. She was a finalist for the PEN Nelson Algren Award. Haines has been Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard and is currently Senior Writer in Residence at Emerson College in Boston.