Janet Fitch Reading in LA

Despite that Paint it Black is a book with suicide at its center, the talk at the Los Angeles Central Library was refreshingly funny. Rachel Resnick kept it light by cracking jokes and by her repertoire of hyperbolic expressions (laughing face, shocked face, impressed face). Janet Fitch was composed, thoughtful, wearing a black leather skirt with high heels, and her mother and father were there to support her (her mother was listed as “Mother Fitch” on the reservations list). Other than an audience member that demanded to know whether White Oleander was based on Fitch’s relationship with her mother and subsequently inquired about her marital status, the night went smoothly. Here were some of my favorite quotes from Fitch during the evening.

On developing characters:
“I am a very ear-driven writer; I hear a character before I see them.”

On the order of writing:
“Plot comes last. Hearing the character comes first. The ending is also last because the ending is what shapes the meaning.”

On how just-published writers claim not to have unpublished books in the drawer:
[pantomimed a growing nose] “That’s just a crock.”

On her inspiration for depressing tales:
“You don’t get to decide the substance of your creative source. I just seem to have come from a dark place. When I was young, my brother would read me Edgar Allen Poe. So I didn’t sleep from when I was six until I was twelve.”

On making suicide realistic:
“One thing I did was to go to web sites for bereaved people every day or two, to remind myself, this is happening right now and I need to get it right.”

On how she picked a type of suicide for her character Michael:
“I really went through the metaphorical connotations of suicide: someone who takes pills wants to sleep. Someone who hangs themselves is suspended. Someone who drowns wanted to drown themselves. Michael – with profound self-hatred, and because he’s an intellectual – shoots himself in the head.”

On having a moral obligation to her readers:
“How do you reconnect people to the entire range of human possibility? They want to play happy all the time and when they feel something else they feel like they’re doing something wrong. So we need the whole range of human emotion. My moral obligation is to reconnect people with being human.”

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