Interview with Ellen Boyers Kwatnoski
What would you say your genre is? Where would your books sit on the shelf?
It’s so hard to pigeonhole one’s work. A story is a story, right? But if forced to, I’d say my work straddles the commercial and literary line, what some call up-market fiction. Still Life would be happy sitting on the shelf next to Zoe Heller’s The Believers. Three Graces and Charlie, a tapestry of four interwoven lives, could be described as The Witches of Eastwick meets the Big Chill. And, like the works of Liane Moriarty, this ensemble piece blends three voices and a silence to reveal secrets, lies, and longing.
What are your literary influences?
All those geniuses of psychological investigation: Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene. Not that I want to imitate them, nor could I, but I’m drawn to their willingness to go beneath the surface, plumb motivations, pry into secrets, reveal obsessions, and tell the truth in the face of sentimentality. Contemporary idols include Alice McDermott, Jane Smiley, Anne LaMott, Ian McEwan, Michael Cunningham, and Jeffrey Eugenides. They all explore the complexities of family relationships and find ways to infuse commonplace events with emotional power. They also expose human weakness and hypocrisy while finding the comic in our brief existence.
How does art influence your writing?
Art is central to both stories. On a symbolic level, art is the wellspring of love, connection, and expression we all seek in life, whether we’re visual artists or not.
Have you written all your life? What made you start?
I came across an “autobiography” I’d written at 13 and discovered that I’ve wanted to be a writer since then. The urge went underground for decades and burst out with a vengeance about twenty years ago. Now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. And wouldn’t want to.
What’s in the works?
After completing two novels, I’m trying to learn to write short stories. News flash: it’s harder than it looks. See what you think: “Like with Like” in the Northern Virginia Review