Novelist (also: journalist, critic, professor, painter) Carol Anshaw has been capturing the complexities of women’s relationships—and relationships in general—since her 1992 debut, “Aquamarine.”
Where are you based?
Your last novel, “Lucky in the Corner,” came out in 2002. What have you been up to since? What are you working on these days?
I have a new novel coming out early next year from Simon & Schuster, “Carry the One.” I worked hard for a long time on this book; it’s more complex than anything I’ve done before. I also have a deeply Chicago story coming out in the next issue of New Ohio Review [NOR]. What I’m working on now is the beginnings of a novel, “The Map of Allowed Wandering.”
You teach in the MFA writing program at SAIC. What’s your approach to teaching fiction? If your students walk away from your classes with one thing, what do you want that thing to be?
While I try to be encouraging, I want them to realize that writing fiction is more difficult than they thought, and it’s probably going to take them longer than they’d like to get any good at it. In a weird way, I think this liberates them. They can be more patient with their progress, see themselves as entering an apprenticeship, of being on their way rather than already there.
Take me through your daily writing routine—do you work on a set schedule, X words/pages/hours a day, or do you binge-write when inspiration strikes? From home, the library, a coffee shop, a “space”?
I have a studio away from my house. I don’t have Internet there, or my delightfully distracting partner, or my “why write when you could be playing with me?” dog. I get over there as many times a week as I can, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. Optimal is four-to-five hours at a time.
Best place to get inspired in the city?
A good place for me is the big dog beach between Montrose and Wilson. I take my dog Tom over there in the morning and watching all those dogs playing gives me a feeling that all’s right, if not in the world, at least on this small patch of it. This puts me into an “anything’s possible” frame of mind that’s a good place to start writing from.
In an alternate life, the one where you aren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
Definitely tree-trimming. With a crew and a cherry picker and a wood chipper, and one of those pulley-and-sling contraptions to get me way up high with my chainsaw. I like the look of organized nature.
Word or phrase you find yourself over-using?
I scan for these when I suspect they’re lurking around and get rid of two-thirds of them.
Which (existing) book did you not write but do you wish you’d written?
You asked me about an extant book I wish I’d written, but really I don’t think authors think that way. We’re too egomaniacal. We might want to be as good as so-and-so, but to write our own books with all that talent.
Anything coming up in Chicago—literary or not—that you’re especially excited about?
One of the best things about summer here is Summer Dance, which are free dance lessons in the park south of Millennium Park. They’re every Thursday through Sunday night. I used to bring my father before he died. He was in his nineties, but there are also people there who are four years old. Everybody loosens up and has a good time. It’s pretty hilarious.
—Interviewed by Rachel Sugar