Jean Thompson is the author of 15 books of fiction, including the National Book Award finalist Who Do You Love, the NYT bestseller The Year We Left Home, and the NYT Notable Book Wide Blue Yonder. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, as well as dozens of other magazines, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize.
She has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and many other colleges and universities. Learn more at JeanThompsonOnline.com.
In this post, Jean discusses writing her new novel, The Poet’s House, on its surprisingly comedic plot, and more!
Name: Jean Thompson
Literary agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner agency
Book title: The Poet’s House
Release date: July 12, 2022
Genre/category: Adult Fiction
Previous titles: 15 works of fiction, both novels and short stories, including The Year We Left Home, The Witch and Other Tales Retold, Throw Like a Girl, and A Cloud In The Shape of a Girl
Elevator pitch for the book: A young woman is introduced to poetry and a group of free-wheeling poets, a crash course in both literature and human relations.
What prompted you to write this book?
I’ve spent my entire adult life as a writer, long enough to have some thoughts about the enterprise of writing. I’m interested in our all too-human failings, the pettiness, vanity, frustrations, etc. But also in those moments when we manage to write something that transcends, at least for a time, our flawed and unremarkable selves. How does the creative process work? Some days the bear eats you, some days you eat the bear.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
It takes me about 18 months to two years to complete a novel, as this one did. COVID slowed everything down and added about a year to the publication process.
The idea for the book didn’t necessarily change, but a lot of plot possibilities and characters were revealed to me as I went along. First, I had to establish Carla, my narrator, as both a personality and a distinctive voice. Then I could better judge how she might react in any given situation.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Mostly that, again due to COVID, we are all at the mercy of the mysterious supply chain. And I am always impressed by how many people work hard and diligently to bring a book into being, editors and proofreaders and art directors (hello, Algonquin, I love my cover!), and all the post-production people responsible for
publicity and marketing and ushering the book into the world.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
It’s a book that depends on a more or less comic plot, something I had not attempted before. It surprised me to find out how much fun it was to concoct it.
And I had to pay particular attention to pacing and timing, keeping scenes moving at the same time I was filling the reader in on back stories or including passages of introspection or description. I wanted a lively pace, but not a hectic one.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope it demystifies some aspects of writing, which after all is produced by ordinary human beings, not immortals or geniuses. I hope readers will root for Carla as she struggles and makes mistakes, then finally comes out on top. And I hope it’s an entertaining ride for its own sake, one they’ll enjoy from start to finish.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
Persevere. Keep chugging uphill, like the Little Engine That Could.