Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Interview with Elizabeth Percer

Last week I read Elizabeth Percer's lovely An Uncommon Education, about a girl's childhood and experiences at Wellesley college. I'm thrilled to share this interview with Ms. Percer on her writing, her book, and what she does when she's not writing. Read on to learn more and for another opportunity to enter a giveaway for her book!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

My VERY first? The first piece of fiction I can remember writing was about a girl whose father drowned at sea and returns to her as a ghost who insists she must save the world from certain destruction with help from him and his ghostly, sea-wrecked friends. I think I was eight when I wrote it. Can you tell?

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Yes. Most of my rituals or routines are designed to reduce the anxiety that always arises over asking my inner self to come out and play, no matter what kind of state she may be in. I try to walk or drive or do some other kind of physical activity before or after I write, just to get my breathing and attention into a more elemental, less critical space. I also like to work on soft surfaces (no desks for me), and to read the work of authors I admire when I get stuck. I can't work after the sun goes down because I'll stay up all night, mind racing, so I try to work in the morning or afternoon. If I didn't have three children, I'd love to be able to just wake up and write before I have to talk to anyone, but they have other plans for me.

Was An Uncommon Education the original title of your book?

No! It's original title was The Shakespeare Society, followed for a while by An Educated Woman.

As you were writing An Uncommon Education, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Yes, though if something I am working on doesn't surprise me, I usually set it aside. Surprise in writing is a little bit like a sign that your yeast is alive when baking (pardon my wacky metaphor): the writing has to bite back a bit, I think, in order to prove to me that it's got the crucial energy it needs to warrant the attention one must devote to a novel. AUE surprised me continually in this sense, but I think the first, most important surprise was Naomi herself. Originally, I thought the book would center around Jun's story, that Naomi would tell Jun's story a la the narrative structure of something like The Great Gatsby or Sherlock Holmes. Instead -- and this was the first, nerve-tingling/upsetting/thrilling sign that the book was coming to life -- Naomi's voice began to insist on more from me.

What was it like to revisit Wellesley through this novel? Have you been back to Wellesley since you graduated?

It was absolutely wonderful. I can't say that I loved every minute of my experience at Wellesley, but any education worth its salt should involve a healthy amount of growing pain. I grew tremendously there, and I wouldn't trade those years for anything. I was surprised that I remembered the layout of the campus as well as I did, and also surprised at some of the things I had forgotten. There was a room in the actual Shakespeare Society, for example -- off the first floor toward the south end of the house -- that had completely slipped my mind. I thought I knew every inch of that house like the back of my hand -- and should have, considering how much time I spent there!

I have been back to Wellesley a few times since I graduated, but only to walk through the campus. I think that if I still lived in Massachusetts (or somewhere in New England), I'd have visited much more frequently.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Read, run, and be present for my children. The latter involves making up a little parlor trick we like to do of making up songs on the spot on any subject suggested.

Read any good books recently?

How much time do you have? I'm a bit of a book slut, and read constantly. Right now I'm toggling between the Louise Penny series (I recently learned that my mother's family descended from the founders of French Quebec, where Penny sets her series), and A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer. I would recommend both of these authors enthusiastically. I'm also chomping at the bit to start the autobiography of William Carlos Williams I picked up while on book tour. In addition to being one of my favorite poets, he was also a doctor, and I'm eager to read his reflections on the intersections between these two worlds. I'm convinced that great science and great art are hatched from very similar paths in human thinking, and read anything I can get my hands on that will enable me to explore this idea further.

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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of An Uncommon Education to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 5/25.


  1. I read this one and thought it was pretty good ---especially the first half.

    1. I really enjoyed the first half, too -- I love reading about Boston and her writing about the Kennedy historical site made me itch to visit it!

  2. I loved reading about her first work of fiction, it sounds like it was so much fun. I also have to agree that soft surfaces are the best for writing, as that is where I do most of my work as well. I have also heard a lot of good things about William Carlos Williams, but have never even sought out one of his books, so I think that will be the next task on my list. Great interview today!

    1. Heather, WCW wrote that famous poem, 'This is just to say', that goes

      I have eaten
      the plums
      that were in
      the icebox

      I'm v curious about him -- he was in the same circle as one of my all-time favorite poets and authors, H.D.

      I can't work on soft surfaces -- I was amazed to read that as squishiness just inspires sleepiness in me!

  3. She is so right about education - it shouldn't always be comfortable, but it should always make you grow. Great interview!

    1. Exactly! My wife loved her experience at Wellesley, and when she says or does something I find staggering, she usually credits Wellesley with giving her the oomph do so!

  4. I like that she is a book slut and is okay admitting it. I also like the part about rituals. I know for me, I'd have to write first thing in the morning or it would all go to pot. Work, the kids... the hub would all be at me if I tried to write any other time.

    1. Ti -- My thoughts exactly! I always want to offer commentary on these interviews (mostly to squee and flail) -- that bit so got me!

      The time commitment is awesome/awe inspiring -- I am so impressed by anyone who can carve out time for themselves like that!

  5. I always love to see what these authors are reading. I've been meaning to read the Louise Penny series for quite a few years now, so I'm glad to see how enthusiastically Percer recommends it.