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"As If the Story Has a Magnetic Pull": An Interview with Nina Solomon

Nina Solomon received her BA and MA from Columbia University. Her novel Single Wife (Algonquin 2003) was optioned for film by Warner Brothers. Her second novel, The Love Book, will be published by Akashic Books in January 2015. She is on the faculty of Wilkes University where she teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA program. She was born in New York and has lived in the same zip code since she was five.

Her story, "Eclipse," appeared in Issue Fifty-Nine of The Collagist.

Here, Nina Solomon talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about internal spaces, daydreaming and New York City.

Please tell us about the origins of your story “Eclipse.” What was the spark that led you to conceive the initial idea?

I grew up in the Dakota in the 1960s, a time when the Upper West Side was a pretty seedy neighborhood. Streetwalkers and drug addicts were as ubiquitous in Central Park as parents with strollers or tourists are now. By the time I was a teenager, that all had changed. Men and women in formal attire were now being whisked away in black limousines. In 1979, I went to a fancy cocktail party in a massive eleven-room apartment one floor beneath ours. Totally out of my element in a linen skirt and one of my father’s white t-shirts, I wandered the familiar layout, walking down corridors and into rooms that bore absolutely no resemblance to the rooms my family occupied just one floor away. What struck me most and stayed with me all those years was how completely different the apartment not only looked, but felt. I’ve always been interested in internal spaces, mentally and physically, and the interaction between the two. Add to that my overall obsession with loss, and the story emerged.

One thing I admired about this story was how the setting, the characters, and their histories all seemed so fully realized and thoroughly understood. How much time did you spend plotting out the backstory of years before the piece’s present moment? Do you make outlines and/or a lot of notes for yourself?

I’m a daydreamer. For me that’s where my stories emerge most clearly. Once I have a germ of an idea, the unconscious kicks in and it’s as if the story has a magnetic pull. I write tons of notes. I have stacks of index cards, many of them written in the middle of the night when a connection suddenly becomes clear or a particular image comes to mind. I never outline. It reminds me too much of eighth grade. I guess I allow my characters the space to daydream too. Lining up the three timelines took a little tinkering, but mostly it flowed out of the characters’ inner dialogue. The present moment of the story was the trigger for the memories, but the three timelines are fluid.

Can you describe your revision process for this story? How much did it change from the first draft to the final one? Did you have to make any tough decisions?

This story was revised probably twenty times and it changed dramatically over a period of years. I was so close to the story that I needed some time away from it to figure out what I was trying to say. Only then was I able to pinpoint where to go deeper, what to cut. This piece, unlike most of my other work, was tricky. I didn’t want to tinker with it too much. I was afraid the scaffold would fall down.

Your website says you live in Manhattan. How does your location affect your life as a writer and a teacher? Does the clamor of New York City inspire your creativity, or does it distract, or both?

I can block out almost anything, so I can write anywhere. The city is a constant source of inspiration. Everywhere you look there’re stories. The downside of living in Manhattan for me is that there are few places to recharge or clear my head. At those times I wish I could teleport to the beach. But I love New York. It has been the central character in all of my work.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I have two projects currently incubating. One is a novel about a sleepwalker. The other is a psychological thriller told in two timelines.

What have you read recently that you want to recommend?

The Virgins by Pamela Erens.

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