Photo by Jennifer Waddell
Brief Interviews is a series in which writers discuss language, literature, and a handful of Proustian personality questions.
Abigail Thomas is the author of seven books, including Three Dog Life. Her latest, What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir (Scribner, $24), publishes March 24.
How do you feel as the launch of your new memoir approaches?
A little apprehensive. It's always a little scary. I guess since Three Dog Life was kind of successful, I'm actually hoping for success, which is something I've never felt before. But I'm looking forward to it. It matters a lot to me, this book. It took so long to write--seven years!
Why do you think it took you so long to write it?
I wrote it every which way and I just couldn't get it. And then when I thought I'd gotten it right, it was only half a book. Then my daughter, Catherine, got cancer and I couldn't write at all. She had been part of the original story, but I couldn't face her diagnosis, at least not head-on. One day my dog, Daphne, stole Catherine's favorite wig and darted through the dog door with it. This gave me a way of writing not just about her cancer, but also many other things that I hadn't faced before.
You have said that you wrote Three Dog Life to ground yourself after your late husband, Rich, was hit by a car. What were you looking for with this memoir?
I was looking for clarity. The anger I had attributed to somebody else I finally realized was my own anger. That was fascinating. You don't know what your feelings are until you start to write. Especially when it involves close relationships with people you love.
What have you learned in your 73 years?
I've learned that diving into darkness makes us lighter.
What do you consider the joy of being a memoirist?
The joy of being a memoirist is that you can write your way out of or into anything if you're willing to go to the darkest parts of your heart. And cop to feelings you'd prefer not to have had. But there they are. Once they're brought up to the light, they no longer have the power they had.
What comes next for you?
I don't want anything to come next. I don't want material for another memoir. I'm okay right here. Maybe I'll write a couple of little essays about what it's like to be 73, but I don't want material to write another memoir. Something horrible would have to happen and I don't want that.
So what do you want for the rest of your days?
I do want to keep writing. I want my kids to be okay. I don't want to be afraid of death. I want to be here for the people who seem to like my company. I don't know. I'm just having a good time right now. I like right now. I don't think of the rest of my life. I just think, 'What a nice morning this is.' I can just sit for two hours in the chair and not move. I'm okay sitting in the sun.
Stephen King calls you the 'Emily Dickinson of memoirists.' Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott love you. Ann Patchett says if we only read one book this year, we should read your new memoir. What do you do with that kind of praise?
Well, I'm afraid I do inhale. I love it. I'm so grateful. And I keep thinking, 'Who are they talking about?'