wrote Manhattan on the Rocks in the shadow of tragedy. One
of your brothers was killed by a drunk driver right after
you started the novel the other committed suicide just before
it appeared. How could you write a comic novel while living
Some days I couldnt. I didnt even
try. I just let myself grieve. But a lot of the time, my work
actually helped me. Distraction can be a blessing when you
are grieving. It doesnt take away your pain, but it
can take your mind off it. After a major loss, you also need
to know that you still have things that give your life meaning
and value, such as work, friends, or a strong religious faith.
Otherwise you might not be able to get out of bed each day.
You might just stay under the covers and cry.
many people who make us laughwriters,
to have had unusually difficult lives. Why do you think this
a saying, Comedy is tragedy in retrospect. In
other words, comedy can be an attempt to transform tragedy
into something easier to bear. But there may be a simpler
explanation for why some people with difficult lives turn
to comedy: If youve known tragedy, you want to stay
as a far away from it as you can. I certainly do. Comedy is
my way of putting distance between myself and pain. Id
be a wreck if I tried to write the kind of novels that, for
example, Joyce Carol Oates does. Instead, Ive become
a wimp about some subjects. You will never pick up one of
my novels and read about a heroine who feeds her fiancés
body into a wood-chipper.
people say that Jane Austen is the same kind of wimpher
novels have no real tragedy. Is why you like her so much?
part of it. But I also love her for other reasons. One is
that she is, at heart, a satirist. Jane Austen doesnt
kill her characters with knives or pistols. She kills them
are you like Laura Smart, the heroine of Manhattan on the
Im like Laura in that I rarely get depressed. Some people
say Im pathologically cheerful. And you could say the
same about Laura. She cant understand why so many people
in New York make a second career out of going to therapists.
But Laura is different from me, too. For one thing, she has
more patience. I would probably have dropped Nick long before
about Lily Blair of The Accidental Bride? How are you like
Lily is braver than I am. She got engaged three months after
she met her fiancé. I could never have done that at
her age. But Lily and I have a similar sense of humor, rooted
in the absurdities in everyday life. We also love the same
novels Middlemarch, Mrs. Bridge, The Portrait of
you have any writing rituals?
In my senior year of college, I put off doing my application
for Mademoiselles Guest Editor contest for so
long that I had to pull an all-nighter to finish it. I wrote
all through the night in a yellow granny nightgown with brown
lace at the collar and cuffs. After I won, I wore the nightgown
for years whenever I thought I needed extra luck with an assignment.
Eventually I wore it out and had to throw it away. But if
I could find another like it, I would probably wear it again.
It was my version of the lucky bra that Murphy
Brown used to wear on dates.
the best advice you ever got about writing?
My journalism professor, Donald M. Murray, used to say, The
perfect is the enemy of the good. He was right. So many
people never become the good writers they could be because
theyre trying become the perfect writers that none of
us can be. They get hung up an impossible ideal. Sometimes
they cant move beyond the first pageor first lineof
a manuscript because they cant get it right. I tell
those writers: If you cant get a line or page right,
move on to the next. You can return to the part that gave
you trouble. By the way, I think thats pretty good advice
about the rest of life, too.
2005 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
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