Saturday, January 30, 2010

Audrey Niffenegger

I can’t even remember when I first picked this book up. But, at long last, I finally finished it. It’s a nice love story, the concept was interesting, and the writing was good but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it. Some parts just seemed to drag so instead of reading on, I’d start on a new book. And I must have read at least a dozen books in between the first and last pages.

-from my review of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

My review of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” may not have been exactly full of praise but I do recommend it. Its success - a book club favorite and later turned into a movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams- was so huge that even if I didn’t like it, I would still have gone to see Audrey Niffenegger speak. She recently made an appearance at the Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing to promote her latest novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.”

I arrived thirty minutes early to find a surprisingly thin crowd. For such a bestselling author, I expected a larger audience- standing room only, in fact. But that would be later. Until then, I took the time to inspect the people around me which consisted mostly of middle aged women who looked like they belonged to book groups. Not that that’s a bad thing. There were also younger folks- both male and female- and I happened to sit in the same row with a bunch of high schoolers who had to write about attending a speaking engagement such as this.

She started out reading a passage from her newest novel and took questions from the audience afterwards. She had some sort of accent- perhaps from Michigan where she was born? For some reason, I thought Audrey Niffenegger would be a stuck up sort of person. Maybe because she had red hair and was an artist? Maybe, as a wanna-be writer, I was just jealous of her tremendous success? But she turned out to be quite likable and entertaining. The first question, not surprisingly, was about “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and how she managed to keep the chronology accurate. Her response to this, as well as to a later question in regards to how she kept her facts straight with “Her Fearful Symmetry”, was to give credit to her copy editors. In fact, she seemed a self-deprecating sort.

The most interesting thing for me was hearing her writing process. Her novels took her years to write. As a visual artist first, writing was really more of a hobby. No regular schedule. Tons of research. (With “Symmetry” she ended up becoming a tour guide for the Highgate Cemetary in which the story takes place.) She lived with the characters in her head and, once their stories were told, they would no longer exist for her but passed on to the readers. That’s why she would never write “The Traveler’s Daughter”, she joked.

Niffenegger talked about how writer's block was just an opportunity to change direction, to reformulate the situation. As an example, she mentioned how the original premise of "Symmetry" involved a male ghost trapped in his Chicago apartment and a woman who would visit him. She gave praise to independent publishers for giving unknown writers the chance to be read. "The Time Traveler's Wife" was rejected multiple times before becoming the bestseller it is now and led to a bidding war for her next novel which fetched her a five million dollar advance.

Niffenegger is currently working on novelizing what started out as a short story called "The Chinchilla Girl in Exile". I did remember reading about this a few months ago in a Writer's Digest article she was interviewed for.

I wasn’t really in a hurry to read “Her Fearful Symmetry” because of the so-called sophomore slump that every artists seem to get cursed with. After attending this event though I’m definitely looking forward to picking it up- as well as her other “novels in pictures”.

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