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Lauren Fox, author of Still Life with Husband – Page 2

Lauren Fox, author of Still Life with Husband, recommends some books...

READERSVOICE.COM: You have said in one interview that betrayal and friendship is a theme in your next book, too. What is it that attracts you to these themes?

LAUREN FOX: I think that our lives are all about betrayal and friendship — if we’re lucky, more of the latter and less of the former. But we are complicated beasts, I think, equally committed to kindness and self-preservation. That makes for an interesting mix.

RV: What were your stories in the magazines Utne, Salon, Glamour and Seventeen about?

LF: Well, the Utne essay was about being the daughter and granddaughter of German Jewish refugees who came to this country in 1938, and about the repercussions of the Holocuast and that dark history on my own life. The Salon piece was about visiting Germany with my American, non-Jewish boyfriend. The articles in Glamour and Seventeen were more along the lines of How to Tell if He’s Really Committed to You! and Is He Your Soulmate?!? and My College Boyfriend Dated My Best Friend! (Yes, that part of my writing career was a little bit schizophrenic.)

RV: What sorts of freelancing work have you done, and have you done much editing?

LF: See above! I’ve always supported myself by working as an editor, in various capacities. Like Emily, I did work for a children’s book publisher here in Milwaukee. They published mostly textbooks. I learned a lot about nature.

RV: What influence did this have on your fiction style?

LF: That’s an interesting question. I viewed these jobs as diversions from my own writing, simple ways to support myself, so I’m not sure they had much influence on my fiction style, but I am quite anal retentive about grammar and punctuation.

RV: I read that you had been in a writing group. Where did this take place and over how long?

LF: I’ve been in a terrific writing group here in Milwaukee for the past six years. We meet twice a month; we read ten or twelve pages aloud and get immediate feedback from each other. It’s low-stress and instantly helpful and gratifying. I like being able to take those comments home and immediately see clear ways to improve my work.

RV: Can you recommend any other titles, fiction or non-fiction, of books you’ve really enjoyed over the years?

LF: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon is one of my favorite books. It’s beautiful and complex and historical and fabulously plot-driven. I also love Enduring Love and Atonement, by Ian McEwan, for the way both stories spiral horribly, inevitably out of control, and The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor, for its sadness and its almost Gothic sense of ruin.

RV: Still Life with Husband is nearly 300 pages long. I was wondering how authors maintained the endurance to write a story that long. Do you approach it in a kind of episodic way, finishing one stage of the story, leaving it and starting another phase, or does the novel feel like a ball and chain?

LF: Um, both? No, SLWH never felt like a ball and chain — it wasn’t always easy for me, for sure, but it was a piece of my busy life (I had a baby during the time I was writing it) that lived in my head and was just mine. I wrote it scene by scene — I think that’s the only way I could have possibly kept up the momentum. It was a long marathon, but there were little, gratifying conclusions along the way.

RV: What got you started on the novel? What was the point where you realised you had something that could lead to a longer story?

LF: When my husband and I moved to Milwaukee, for his new job, I had just completed my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree, and I felt excited about starting something brand new, excited about the challenge of taking on a new project.

I was also conscious of really wanted to have fun with it, to find my voice, to incorporate humor, and to explore an interesting, if painful, subject. I think the timing was right, and it was a topic that was compelling to me and had been for some time.

RV: Had Milwaukee been written about much before, and was this one of the reasons you wrote the book?

LF: I don’t think Milwaukee has been written about too much. It’s a small city with a fairly industrial history, maybe not traditionally a mecca for writers. But it’s where I grew up, where I live now and where I was living when I started the book, so it seemed natural to set the book here. Also, it felt natural, since Emily is like me in so many ways (but unlike me in many others!) to place here in familiar surroundings.

RV: You’ve said you used a lot of details about your own life to add to the world of the character, Emily (although not the main storyline). Were many of the places mentioned, like Jupiter’s Palace of Cheese, real places that had a personal significance for you? Was the house of Emily’s parents similar to that of your own parents?

LF: Although the novel is set in Milwaukee, I felt no compunctions about completely changing things, making up places, and playing around with geography. So, yes, Jupiter’s Palace of Cheese is based on a real place (Mars Cheese Castle), but the real roadside cheese store is halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago, and that didn’t suit my story, so I plunked it down closer to Emily’s parents’ house. And, as for their house, yes, it is similar to the house in which I grew up, but it’s significantly different, too, in many ways. That’s the fun of fiction. Whatever works for me, I use, and whatever doesn’t quite fit, I can fiddle with, destroy, remodel a bit, or change completely.