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What do you think it takes to accurately portray a time period?

The Water's Edge | The Rooms

How do you balance telling the story and setting the historical scene? For me, I need to take an almost obsessive approach to research. When I'm at the writing stage, I pass through a kind of creative portal every day and feel like I'm really in that other world I've created, and so it has to exist right down to the trowel marks in the plaster, and I'm a stickler for detail. The saying "the devil is in the details" is absolutely right. This is your fifth book; what have you learned about your writing process as you gained more experience?

What stayed the same for you and what has changed? I've realized that I can't structure my work time and progress quite as rigidly as I would like to. For my first couple of books, I aimed for and got, even if it nearly killed me words a day.

Then I moved to words a day or eight hours, whichever came first. Now, I feel like if I show up for work and put in an honest day, I've done well. Because I can't force the creative process. Sometimes I am typing as fast as I can all day, and have to drag myself away because there's more to be done, and other times I stare glumly at my open file all day, which is okay, because I've come to realize that when I can't get any words out, it means there's something I need to figure out and change in the storyline and even if my fingers aren't busy, my brain is.

Before this book, I would have said Rosie, but now I have to say Maddie.

She changed so dramatically from what I imagined her to be--coming to life in the way that characters do--and she was so willing to look at things that she had never examined before, in an open-minded and big-hearted way, and she showed courage and resolve in a situation that was utterly impossible, and became increasingly so.

Zadie Smith spoke about using a computer program to block herself from the internet while writing her novel NW. How do you keep yourself from going down the rabbit hole of cyberspace? Then I used Zadie Smith's method--I know the program she's talking about--but I found a workaround, and so that ended up being no help at all. And just in case she ever reads this, I'm not going to say what that workaround is because I do not want to be singlehandedly responsible for the delay of a new Zadie Smith book.

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  1. At the Water's Edge in Canarsie!, Bed & Breakfast Brooklyn.
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Gruen is a natural storyteller. Is it a great story? Is it enough?

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  • As a child I read a series of historical novels named after girls — Emily, Sara, Susan — that chronicled the journeys of adventurous young women from different centuries; one pretends to be a boy so she can join the gold rush in California; another is a high-society teenager whose life is disrupted by war. Each book involved romantic liaisons with vaguely Christian undertones that played out in a way similar to the romance between Maddie and Angus, and there was comfort and thrill in that.


    My mother wants books that make her feel good about the world. I crave the thrill of original, beautiful language and surprising metaphor. The novel tells a gripping, compelling story, but the heroes and heroines are too virtuous, the villains too villainous, and the plot too easily unraveled.