Texas Book Festival 2017:
Jeffrey Eugenides and Claire Messud
For both award-winning authors, adolescence was important
By Melany Jean,
9:30AM, Mon. Nov. 6, 2017
The pews of Central Presbyterian Church filled early and completely for a conversation between lauded authors Jeffrey Eugenides and Claire Messud. Austin author Amanda Eyre Ward moderated this conversation on the process of crafting remarkable fiction.
Eugenides’ recently released collection of short stories, Fresh Complaint, served for a while as a constructive shift of focus from his career writing the intricate novels he is known for, including the Pulitzer-winning Middlesex. “When I wanted to remember what it felt like to finish something, I would stop and write a story,” he remembered.
Messud recalled the original inspiration for her gripping novel The Burning GIrl: a set of letters from old schoolmates in Australia sent to her after she moved to Canada as a child. In snippets, the letters told a tragic story of an old classmate. Upon rediscovering the letters, Messud was struck at the story told by the then-teenage girls as well as the unprovable nature of it. Already a novelist many times over, an idea for a novel was sparked and Messud set out to write a story on adolescent friendship.
Both authors agreed that adolescence and the real-life settings of their respective comings of age are deeply important and appear repeatedly in their stories. Speaking on his adolescence, Eugenides says, “Everything I write at some point circles back through it.” They consider the setting of a story a character of sorts, a knowable and often known entity to build characters upon as they work out their surroundings.
Zooming way out, the authors considered the conventions of the fiction writer throughout time. Alluding to Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dickens, and others, they discussed the monetary, temporal, and familial realities of authors today compared to those throughout history. Their joking and easygoing back-and-forth meant that even if all of their references didn’t register, the audience was still won over.
At the end of the conversation, satisfied fans bottlenecked at sanctuary doors before lining up to get their books signed.