“Memories are rooted in place: a lifetime of kitchens, backyards, porches, and patios. Our bedroom and our best friend’s bedroom, the street where we played until dark and our parents called us inside, the park where we picnicked, the swimming pool with its aquamarine water smelling of chlorine or the pond on the farm with its muddy banks. If you want to enter a memory, enter a room in your grandmother’s house. Remember an incident, and the place where it happened will figure prominently in the story. Everything happens somewhere, and if you want to bring the memory alive, be in the place where it occurred.
One of the best things about friendships with other writers is getting to celebrate their successes. My dear friend and a terrific novelist, Gwendolen Gross recently published another novel (her fifth!) and I’ve been wearing my party hat ever since. I’m delighted that she agreed to do a Q&A session for my blog.
When She Was Gone is a novel about what happens in a community when a young college-bound girl disappears. It’s told in multiple points of view, with the addresses of the neighbors as chapter headings, which makes the community a characters as well as the various individuals–the girl’s mother, her neighbors, her ex-boyfriend and a curious eleven-year-old boy.
JR: First, I want to say how much I love this novel. The first chapter draws the reader in with beautifully crafted details and revelation after revelation of the characters and the situation. Where did the idea for the book come from?
Gwendolen Gross: Thank you! I had hoped, from the very beginning, to write about the hole that someone leaves when they disappear, rather than writing about the disappearance itself, exactly. I also am fascinated by the idea that we all look out of our windows at the street, but we have our lives, our secrets, our slightly different perspective and very different narrative that goes with the view. Character often dictates point of view for me–I decide how close I need to be, and how much fish-eye lens I need to see the character the way I want to see. Writing is all about those lenses, and it’s amazing how you can explore the same subject given different points of view. Often in my workshop, I’ll have students write a paragraph in first person (if I want it to be really complex, I’m make them write about a liar), and then the same paragraph but in third person, or even second, changing lenses.