There is usually a degree of angst that surfaces in any interview with an author – either complaints about editors or reviews, or complaints about not having enough hours in the day. But talking with Jane Smiley, you sense that the joy of writing is always there. There’s a calmness in her speaking voice, a self-confidence that you unknowingly might attribute to her having won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres (Knopf) or having written 11 novels, but she is adamant: the Pulitzer didn’t change her life or her writing.
The day before this interview had been a long one – Smiley flying into Cincinnati from the West Coast and signing books until nine o’clock that evening. On the day of this interview, she was heading to Louisville, Kentucky. Her novel-in-progress, Horse Heaven (Knopf), is about thoroughbreds, and a Breeders’ Cup race is scheduled that weekend. She has work to do.
In 1996, after two decades of teaching literature and creative writing, Smiley moved to northern California to write full-time and pursue her new “second job,” horse breeding. She owns 12 horses, 3 of them stabled on the property where she lives.
Smiley writes for about two to three hours every day, usually in the mornings. “At the moment, I’m trying to write four [double-spaced] pages a day, but my normal pace is about three. I spend the majority of the day riding horses, taking care of kids, doing errands.” Most authors have lives, she points out; writing is just one part of that life.
“I can’t write all day – never did, couldn’t do it,” she says. “But I have to write every day. The result of that kind of schedule is that all my novels have a certain deliberate pace. Most of them are written in adagio rather than allegro.”
When starting a new book, Smiley sets aside the tendency to judge or analyze it. Her goal is to get the whole arc of the story on paper, and then to see the connections between the disparate elements. “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence,” she says. “The only way it could be imperfect would be not to exist.”
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