Monday, February 18, 2013

Christine Sneed talks about her stupendous new novel, Little Known Facts, celebrity, maintaining a good mood and so much more

As someone who frankly loves to read about celebrities and ponder their lives (hey, I write about books for People), I was absolutely entranced by Christine Sneed's novel, Little Known Facts. And after reading her responses to this interview, I was absolutely delighted by her, as well. 
Christine Sneed is a graduate of the MFA creative writing program at Indiana University and has published stories in Best American Short Stories, PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, New England Review, The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Pleiades, Glimmer Train, Massachusetts Review, Meridian,Other Voices, Greensboro Review, River Styx, Phoebe, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. 
She has been awarded an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in poetry and has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes and received special mentions in the Pushcart anthology for stories "Quality fo Life" and "Beach Vacation."  Along with a 2010 Los Angeles Times book prize, first-fiction category, for her story collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry, Portraits was awarded Ploughshares prize for a first book, the John C. Zacharis Prize, and was chosen as the Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association for traditionally published fiction.  It was also longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story prize. Thank you, Christine!

So much about this wonderful book is about our obsession with celeb culture. Why do you think we are and why do you think the cost or our obsession is so high?

Celebrities generally embody the sexual, economic, and social ideals that most of us learn from early childhood to aspire to.  They seem to live charmed lives: gorgeous, wealthy, talented people who can fly off to Nice or Tokyo or Paris at a moment's notice, first class of course, or on their own planes.  They don't have to sit in cubicles for any part of the day (unless they're making a film set in office...)they routinely get $300 haircuts, manage to maintain great biceps and sleek legs with the help of their personal trainers...I think it's clear why the mere mortals who populate most of the planet look at them with admiration and envy.  One thing I've been thinking about for a while is that everywhere you turn, there's proof that this charmed celebrity lifestyle is a mirage - there are celebrities getting arrested for DUIs, drug-dealing, beating up their family members (or worse).  I'm very interested in the dissonance between the fantasy and what seem to me the realities of celebrity, and Little Known Facts is the way I tried to puzzle out these preoccupations and contradictions.  

What's your writing life like? How do you write--outline, by the seat of your pen--?

In general, I don't outline short stories, but with novels, I've found that it helps keep me focused if I do sketch out some guidelines for subsequent chapters.  I generally don't have a set writing schedule either - I try to write every day or two, maybe four or five days a week, more if I have the time, usually for an hour or two, sometimes more.  IT depends in part on how much I'm teaching - the more teaching, the less writingno surprise.

There's so much in the book about how "we should be happy." Can you talk about that, please?

One thing I'm discovering as I get older is how hard it is to maintain a good mood, to maintain optimism and a sense of joyful (or semi-joyful) discovery.  From my experience, from talking to friends and family, I think that as we get older, a lot of us feel that life gets sadder and harder.  And that's just the way it is; you realize how complicated relationships are, how much your ego needs to be fed, how easy it is to offend and be offended, how are bodies are slowing down, how disappointing our political situation is, how disappointing people in power are...the ego is really a devastating, unforgiving, ravenous machine.  It does feel like a machine to me sometimes - no conscience at all.  I guess I'm getting Freudian here.  I think as I get older I'm also realizing how important it is to be kind and forgiving but finding forgiveness and kindness isn't as easy to do as it might have been when we were younger.  My characters in Little Known Facts are feeling guilty and at a loss because despite their enormous privileges, they aren't very happy most of the time. 
don't blame them - whatever great things you have, whatever gifts you have, however much money, there's still a fundamental unrest and a desire for something else (often mysterious) at the heart of our lives - this is the human condition, as I see it.  

How do you know what you know about celebrity and Hollywood? Did anything surprise you?

I have friends and a couple of family members who work in Hollywood who I pestered for answers to some of my technical questions but most ofwhat's here is fabrication.  Being a lifelong movie addict, I think I picked up a lot 
of things from watching films and documentaries too, as well as having fun imagining some of the irritations and pleasures of being a famous player in Hollywood.  I think i was most surprised about the kind of dough some actors are pulling down (even though this probably isn't a surprise to most people) - $12 million or more per picture for the biggest guysout there.  Damn, that's crazy, isn't it?  

What's obsessing you now and why?

I worry about the next book - I've been writing new work to keep my mind off of how Little Known Facts will be received.  I can't seem to relax and let myself enjoy its release the way I'd like to.  I'm thinking that other writers have 
had similar reactions to their own new books' releases - you worry about continuing to make ends meet.  I want to keep buying the coffees and chocolate croissants I've become addicted to lately. 

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Is this book about anyone in Hollywood specifically?  Harrison Ford was mentioned in some of the ad copy.  Is it about him?

It's not about Mr. Ford and his family at all, but it is about the kind of fame he has achieved and how it might affect those he's closest to - I was thinking of several actors when I was writing this book - Paul Newman, George Clooney, Robert Redford, Brad Pitt. 


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