Interviewed by Andi
Audrey Niffenegger is the author of the best-selling novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. She has also written two visual books: The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress.
AM: You captured many a fan with your whirlwind first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. Why do you think the book struck such a nerve with readers all over the world?
AN: Apparently the combination of time travel and a love story is particularly potent. Also, I think people are attracted to the fact that Henry, the time traveler, can't change anything, and can't avoid time traveling. Also, lots of people, men mostly, seem to be very taken with the notion of visiting their wives as children.
AM: Some readers may not realize that you're an accomplished artist, and that it's sort of your "first career" as you wrote The Time Traveler's Wife on weekends and late into the night (as mentioned on your website). Your website lists your art-centered books as "visual books." Since I'm personally interested in graphic novels, what separates your work from graphic novels?
AN: The term "graphic novel" has come to mean long-form comics. Since these books are not comics I thought we should call them something else. Some people have accused me of being snobby about comics, but I adore them and am in the middle of making an actual graphic novel. I was trying to be correct and wound up perplexing people.
AM: What advice would you give to authors who are thinking of stepping outside of their comfort zone (or the comfort zone of those who devotedly read or view their work) and into a new genre or medium?
AN: If everyone would experiment more we would get some terrifc things. Why should our work be limited by other people's expectations? I love artists like John Wesley Harding, the musician who writes lovely novels under his real name, Wesley Stace. His first novel, Misfortune, has a soundtrack and the plot is intricately woven around ballads which are printed in the book and sung on the CD. If more people would cross back and forth between disciplines, new art forms would appear. So my advice would be that artists should experiment; that's what artists are for.
AM: When it comes to books and art I've always had some sort of epic battle raging inside me over which one is better, which one wins my heart, so to speak. So, for you, which one wins?
AN: Neither; I don't have to choose, so I don't. I love both, and love them best when they mix.
AM: Do you have any unbreakable habits or rituals that you stick to when you're creating a written piece? A work of art?
AN: Not really. I try to work under any circumstances. I don't have a schedule or a ritual. I have little things that sit on my desk and keep me company, but I can work without them. Coffee is always helpful.
AM: What is your favorite written narrative of all time? What is your favorite narrative image of all time?
AN: That changes from day to day. Today the written thing is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The narrative image thing is Andrzej Klimowski's wordless novel The Depository.
AM: In addition to your artwork and writing, you're also a teacher! What about teaching appeals to you? How would students characterize your teaching style?
AN: I teach graduate students, so they are already accomplished artists who are trying to become better at what they do. The program I teach in, the Interdisciplinary MFA in Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College in Chicago, is devoted to exactly the things I like, books and narrative, printing and paper. So for me the situation is ideal, lots of people all interested in the things I love, who want to be in a classroom thinking and talking and making things, letting me poke them and prod them into doing it a little better.
I tend to think I am a very laidback sort of professor, but I was told recently by a student whose thesis I was guiding that she'd chosen me as her advisor because I was always tough on her and made her work harder. So perhaps I am not as lax as I think.
AM: Would you mind telling the Estella's Revenge readers about your newest project? When can we expect to get our grubby little paws on it?
AN: I am working on my second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. It is a ghost story, set in London in and around Highgate Cemetery, in the present. Because I do work on several things at once (I am about to have a solo exhibit of my artwork in Chicago) it goes rather slowly. I hope to finish it in the next year or so, but really, it is hard to predict. I would prefer to do it well, rather than to get it over with. The great pleasure of writing is having the thing well underway, and eventually it wants to be done, and then you finish it. HFS is at the fun stage where I know what I'm doing but it can still surprise me.
AM: Do you often have time to read for pleasure? Do you have any new-to-you authors that you would recommend?
AN: I was completely enthralled by The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, by G.W. Dalhquist. The copy I had was the British galley, issued as ten thin books, a serial. And the thing is perfect as a serial, just like a weird Victorian movie you might dream just as you are waking up, with compelling villians and a heroine who is too curious for her own good and these blue glass books that capture people's memories. . . anyway, it's hard to explain, but I did adore it.
Thanks so much to Audrey Niffenegger for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer questions for Estella's Revenge. You can visit her website HERE.