Interview: Alumna Sonja Condit Talks About Her Latest Book

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Last month, alumna Sonja Condit, graciously shared an excerpt from her book, The Banshee of Machrae with our blog, and it was sufficiently creepy and suspenseful enough to ensure that you all now own a copy.  But if you haven’t yet gotten your copy, and you would like to get it signed, Sonja is having a book launch party on October 22, 2018, at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC, from 6-8 pm.  Bring your book and get it signed, or pick up a copy or two for you and your book-loving friends. You can also order it online here.

Today, Sonja has agreed to share some of her experience and inspiration with regards to her latest release. So sit back and enjoy, and maybe learn something too!

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Converse MFA:  In your first book, Starter House, an actual house that you saw inspired you and informed your idea for the book. Is there some real thing/place/person that inspired this story?

Sonja Condit: I remember reading, years ago, about a couple of  teenage girls who went on an arson spree for reasons related to friendship and love, never entirely made clear. I don’t recall where it happened, although some part of my mind thinks maybe New Jersey. I also don’t remember any other details at all! Somebody once said that a novelist needs the gift of forgetting (I don’t remember who said it, though).

MFA: What’s it like publishing a second book? Did you learn anything with the first that changed/will change how you approach/approached things this time around?

SC: This time, I wasn’t surprised by how collaborative the whole process was, and found it much easier to take criticism and suggestions for change. The first time, I left editorial emails unopened for a couple of days while working up the courage to read them, and I was slightly devastated to learn that some parts of the first book would have to be cut. My general feeling was, well why not just take a chunk of my liver and maybe a lung and a few fingers while you’re at it? (The cuts were good and necessary, but they hurt.) This time, I was a bit more professional and not so whiny.

MFA: Why do you think you’re drawn to the spooky and otherworldly? Is that what you read primarily?

SC: I read all kinds of things, but I’ve always been drawn to the otherworldly, beginning with a childhood taste for folklore and mythology. I would like to write something naturalistic one of these days–but I’m working on a new one, and it’s definitely supernatural, so maybe those patterns are just hardwired into my imagination.

MFA: What are you reading right now?

SC: I’m partway through the Patrick Melrose series by Edward St Aubyn, but I can’t read much of it at a time because it’s too sad. It’s one of those books that makes you want to intervene in some way, just to make it stop.

MFA:  Who’s a writer you really admire and why? Is there a specific writer who really informs your writing?

SC: I rather love Tana French at the moment. I’m slowly re-reading bits of The Likeness.

MFA: How long did it take you to write this book, from idea to completion?

SC: This one came in bits. The first long story, “Flashover,” took a couple of months, and then I sat with it for a long time, trying to figure out which ending was right. The longer it sat, the more I kept imagining scenes coming as a result of all the possible endings. Finally I gave up and decided to write them all, in whichever order they occurred in my imagination, which was very random. All the rest of the book after “Flashover” took about a month. It was intense, three or four thousand words a day. This was during summer, so I had the time. Then I spent about a year rewriting, cutting things, and writing other things, and trying to put it in order.

MFA: What was the process like? (Both your personal editing and your editing with your agent and/or editor/publisher.)

SC: The writing itself was very fast. Then I spent a long time ruminating and thinking about how the stories fit together. I went through the book several times for the purpose of dropping snippets from stories into other stories so it wouldn’t be so chaotic. Occasionally I worried about continuity and consistency, but mostly I just let that go. It’s an unconscious kind of book; it fits together through dream logic, and there’s no real explanation for some of it. As far as publishing, I thought, this is just too strange, so I went to the competition route–I needed just one person who would read it and get it. It went to seven or eight contests, and came in second at SFK, and they decided to publish it even though it didn’t win.

MFA: Who are you writing this book for? Who is your ideal reader? What kind of tastes do they have? I guess I’m asking what some comps might be for your new book?

SC: I wrote this one for myself. My ideal reader is anyone who’s willing to come into this weird inner space and hang out with me for a while.

MFA: Do you work alone or are you part of a writing group?

SC: Alone right now, but groups are great!

MFA: Do you know the ending before you start?

SC: Definitely, but the ending I know at the start isn’t the ending that actually happens. This one doesn’t have an end; it has a sort of loop. There’s a story called “The End,” but it’s in the middle.

MFA: Can you talk a little bit about how you shaped this new book, which isn’t as linear and straightforward as your previous one? How do you think those decisions affect the story/mood/etc.?

SC: I let my inner poet off the chain for this one. My theory was, you can do anything if it’s eight pages or shorter. Also, I was completely done with chronological storytelling. Who lives chronologically, really? Don’t we spend a lot of time in our own heads recreating bits of the past in an order that is emotional but not chronological, and projecting ourselves into all sorts of different futures, and being unreliable narrators of our own lives and false omniscient narrators of the world? Emmy is a first person omniscient narrator. She tells all the stories, even the ones that go deep into other people’s minds or into things she can’t know, because that’s what people do. I can’t explain why I put the sections in the order I did; it just felt right.  Maybe it’s because that’s how I read. If I’m interested in a book, I’ll read the first chapter, and then the last chapter. If I need to know how the author got from the beginning to end, I’ll read the middle, but not necessarily in order.  Of course, I’m going back to chronological storytelling now. There’s a reason most books are written that way. But it felt good to do something else for a change.

Thanks so much to Sonja Condit for her generosity and time.  We love reading about your process and writing/reading life, and we are more than a little proud to have you as an alumna of our program.  Best of luck with your new book!

 

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