I’ve always done the writing first. I would get the kids off to school and do the chores that had to be done, and then I would take the rest of the morning for my writing and jam everything else I had to do into the afternoon and night. It all gets done if it has to be done, but if you try to get all the work out of the way first, you end up with no time left to write.
Though you never met your famous literary grandfather, do you feel the pressure of his masterful editorial hand on your shoulder?
I think I probably spent some time with him when I was a baby, because I lived in New York until I was two and a half. I have one memory of him being in the next room talking to an uncle of mine. I must have been about two. But his editorial presence has been very helpful to me. When I was working on The Simple Life, I knew I needed an editor. I sent the manuscript to lots of publishing companies, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to advise me. Then I thought that I could teach myself to edit myself. It ought to be possible for someone who was related to Max Perkins. And he always said that he never needed to edit Hemingway because Hemingway was good at editing himself. So I studied the book of Max’s letters, Editor to Author. I also read books about Max and his writers and while I was working on The Simple Life, my aunt, Bert Frothingham, and I put together a book of Max’s letters to his daughters. I believe Max taught me how to write and how to edit.
You really capture Vermont and its residents beautifully in Ordinary Magic, were your characters inspired by real people?
Everyone’s characters are inspired by real people to some extent. I think the difference is whether you take a person whole into your story, or whether you take certain portions of different people and put them together. That’s what I try to do. Sometimes I can find a photograph of a person I don’t know, and by looking at it long enough and hard enough, I feel as though I know the person. I found the photograph that became Cal in a junk store.