Joy Fielding: What if a woman had written The Corrections
For more than 40 years, Joy Fielding has placed strong heroines at the centre of her psychological thrillers. In her own (less fraught) life, that role went to her mother who told the aspiring author at a young age that there was nothing she couldn't do well if she put her mind to it. Now, she is the best-selling author of 25 books, including the recent Someone Is Watching.
Below, Joy Fielding answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "Do you read other people's fiction while you write early drafts of your own? Why or why not?"
I very rarely read other writers' fiction while I'm working on my novels. I think it's a combination of not wanting the intrusion of another author's voice and a limited amount of concentration. When you're writing a novel, you're creating a world of your own, giving life to characters and situations and immersing yourself in it. It's very hard to allow anyone else into that world. Also, reading fiction requires a certain level of commitment — in a way that reading nonfiction does not — and I just don't have that level of commitment when I'm creating my own fiction.
2. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Who helped you most in becoming a writer? How?"
There were many who helped me, starting with my grade 3–4 teacher, Miss Knechtel, who instilled in me a love of fiction by reading to our class every day from a very adult book called Leiningen Versus the Ants (which later became the Hollywood movie The Naked Jungle). There were also several high school English teachers (Mr. Williams, Miss Ford) who were always asking me to read my stories out loud to the class, as well as the late John F. Bassett and Alistair Hunter, plus two agents at the William Morris Agency — Helen Barrett and Owen Laster — both very influential in shaping my early career. My good friend Larry Mirkin is a constant source of insight and good, practical advice. But who helped me the most? I'd have to say my mother, simply because she was always so supportive and loving. She never pressured me to go out and get a regular job. She didn't mind that I usurped the kitchen table (in a very small kitchen) and used it as my writing desk. And she always had tremendous faith that I would succeed.
3. Jane Urquhart asks, "Is there a difference in the way that male and female writers are valued by the literary establishment and by society?"
I think there's a definite difference. As with most things in life, the male of the species is more valued; there is more weight attached to the stories they tell and what they're saying. They are reviewed more and taken more seriously by critics. If a woman had written The Corrections, for example, I doubt it would have garnered either the attention or the praise it received. It would have been relegated to the status of a woman's novel because it deals with family and domestic issues. Why is this so? I'm going to generalize here and say that, as a rule, men aren't particularly interested in what women have to say unless it's about them. They don't think that they'll relate to a woman's point of view or be interested in a story about so-called women's issues, whereas women don't make these distinctions, are more curious, and are generally very interested in what men have to think and say.
4. Linden MacIntyre asks, "To what extent is Google becoming a substitute for experience, real research, and even the imagination?"
I'm probably the wrong person to ask about Google since I don't use it all that much, and when I do, it's mostly for research. In that capacity, I think it's been great. I'm not sure I understand how "research" differs from "real research." But as a rule, I don't do more research than I have to, preferring to "make up my facts." I don't think Google will ever substitute for either experience or imagination, and both are essential for being a writer.
5. Heather O'Neill asks, "What's the strangest thing you've done while researching a book?"
I once pretended to be a doctor in order to access the medical library at U of T. It was while I was writing See Jane Run and I needed information on certain medications and conditions. Of course, this ruse probably wasn't necessary, but it made me feel very wicked indeed. Of course now I would simply look this up on the Internet (see above question) or consult one of my doctor friends.
6. William Deverell asks, "Is there a surfeit of published books in Canada? Are too many authors competing for diminishing returns?"
The sad fact is that reading has never been a growth industry and most writers make very little money. You can't force someone to buy your book and no one knows what's going to sell. So publishers throw a bunch of things into the mix and see what sticks. I don't think there's a surfeit of published books in Canada, and another writer's success doesn't impact on my success or failure one way or the other. Ultimately it's the reader who will decide if there are too many writers.
7. Eric McCormack asks, "Honestly, what does your writing tell you — both the good and the bad — about yourself?"
I think writing tells you a great deal about yourself. The subjects you choose, the themes you develop, the type of books you write, they're all telling you about yourself. Someone once said, "We get the children we need." And I think that, as writers, we write the books we need to write. When I started writing, I never set out to examine a particular theme, but looking back at all my novels, I can see a definite pattern. While all my books are very different in terms of plot and even genre, they're all concerned, to one degree or another, with two consistent things: 1) a woman's search for identity and 2) the mother-daughter relationship. So clearly these things are very important to me. I guess I'd have to visit a therapist to find out why.
8. David McGimpsey asks, "If you were to pair your latest book with a signature cocktail, what is that cocktail called and what's it made of?
Not being much of a drinker, this is a tough question for me. The drink would probably contain some kind of peach brandy and either vodka or rum and be called "The Page Turner."