By Kate Gavino
Image: Kate Gavino

Image: Kate Gavino

Do you like to find your characters from real life or imagine them?

I think it's probably a composite. When I was [writing Blonde, a fictional Marilyn Monroe memoir], obviously, I had to imagine her language and how she dealt with her mother, her love affair with John F. Kennedy, and many other things. I didn't invent much of her life, but I still had to imagine some of it, so it was some kind of combination of the two.

I mentioned [this] in my talk about people like James Joyce and Marcel Proust who wrote about themselves. They wrote almost exclusively about their own experience. Hemingway did a lot of that too. They're absolutely great writers, so you can have a subject that is yourself, and you don't have to make up much if you have a lot to say and connect with other people. The memoir is a very strong genre today. The idea of a memoir is that you're talking to people without any intermediary, just sort of talking honestly. People really relate to that.

For [We Were the Mulvaneys], I got the idea of the father, who becomes irrational, from King Lear, who was the quintessential older, tyrannical father. My own father had been a very loving man, but then he got to be in his eighties and he had illnesses. His personality started to change, and he wasn't quite as loving as he had been. I remember being just stricken to the heart and being so hurt and so wounded. I was an adult woman, but I felt like a girl at ten years old. I thought, My father doesn't love me! All of that is in the novel, and it was kind of a complicated inspiration.