Margaret Atwood, award-winning author of The Handmaid's Tale, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, and many, many other novels, spoke at the Grace A. Tanner Lecture at Southern Utah University today. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions last night, too. She is a talented, spunky, and amazing lady with a great sense of humor. Below are my notes:
* When asked about her writing process, Margaret said she first starts writing with the original idea. "It might be a line, image, or piece of conversation." Not until after she has explored and developed the story does she try to plan the plot. "You can't make a structure in the abstract...Plotting emerges from characters and what these people are to one another."
* "The best detective stories give you a chance, but not an obvious one."
* On writing the first draft: "It's the rolling mirage. I write the beginning and start revising and adding to that until I'm done."
* About her publishers: "I never tell them ahead of time what I'm writing about because they would just think I'm crazy."
* When asked, "Where do you live?" Margaret replied, "Do I live? That's the question."
* "I take infinite pains with my covers. I have no contractual say, but I have a lot of say. It is the front door of the book."
* Margaret does "at least six drafts with the text before the editor sees it. I'm picky. That doesn't mean that all of the words are different. I'm moving stuff around and building stuff out."
* She told a story of riding on a train in Ireland: "I was listening to four Irish women who didn't know I was me, discussing my books. It was fun. One of them said the last one was too long."
* Her take on Las Vegas and Elvis impersonators: "However, I can tell you that there are many of those roaming the streets...and many other things as well."
* About all the awards she has won: "There is a running commentary in my house about which of those would make the best murder weapon. Some of them are very pointy."
* On the zombie craze: "There are other monstrous things you can turn into in literature where you get superpowers instead of subpowers." "No sooner has a new monster peaked, but we have to make it cuddly." (Talking about sexy zombies in the latest movies.)
* On apocalypse in the Bible: "People do come out of their graves. That's supposed to be a good thing. I'll leave you to judge."
* Discussing potatomancy as a divination method: "Maybe it would be a good cure for writer's block. After days of gazing at a sliced potato, your manuscript may begin to look more attractive."
* In 1955, the only place to get published was the high school newspaper with no pseudonym, knowing that your parents, teachers, and friends would read it. "So where were you going to put your throbbing vampire romance?"
* At the beginning of her writing career: "The most electrifying experience was selling a poem to people I didn't know."
* "If you're not all in, then you probably shouldn't be writing it."