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new england writers at work

Lily King keeps good writing reminders close by

In what may be the snuggest room in her  Yarmouth, Maine, house, Lily King writes her novels by hand using a pencil.

Greta Rybus for the Boston Globe

In what may be the snuggest room in her Yarmouth, Maine, house, Lily King writes her novels by hand using a pencil.

Greta Rybus for the Boston Globe

King's notebooks.

Lily King’s first novel, “The Pleasing Hour,” named a New York Times Notable Book, took place in France, while the following two, “The English Teacher” and the Maine Fiction Award-winning “Father of the Rain” were set on the domestic front. For her latest, “Euphoria,” based loosely on the life of Margaret Meade, out this month and already getting raves, King went farther afield — all the way to 1930s New Guinea, in fact. She lives and writes in Yarmouth, Maine.

OUTSIDE THE LINES: I was reading this biography of Margaret Mead . . . and that’s how [“Euphoria’’] came to me. I originally thought I would trace her life and color within the lines . . . but the minute I started really doing the research, I started getting all these ideas of what could happen in a purely fictional novel. I borrowed what I needed from her life and my research, but I took the story in a very different direction . . . I didn’t dig up her archives because I didn’t want to be too beholden to her life. I needed to know things, but I didn’t need to know everything because it would weigh me down . . . the whole time I was doing the research, I needed to have a creative channel open so that details would trigger fictional details, and I could build on what I was reading. Now, when people ask me if [something] is true, I don’t know.

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IN TOO DEEP: Every book has its own little universe. The critics always want to track things and show some sort of narrative arc of your career, but that’s something that I can’t really see. When you write a novel, you’re plunged down into a really deep hole, and you can’t really connect it to any other hole you’ve been in.

THE DAWN CHORUS: I work on the third floor of my house in probably the smallest room in the house. In an ideal world, I would get up at 5:30 every day and work until lunchtime. Most of the time, I have to make lunch and breakfast for my kids and get them to the bus. Then I’m ready to eat my cereal and read the newspaper, and then I go to work. When I’m really feeling the pressure, I wake up at 5:30 and get an hour in before the kids wake up. I’m on tour, and I wish I could write. I read an interview with David Sedaris, and I know he gets up at 3:30 in the morning if he has a morning flight to the next city [on his book tour], but I haven’t managed that yet.

Greta Rybus for the Boston Globe

A biography on Margaret Mead inspired her latest novel, “Euphoria,” set in 1930s New Guinea.

MADE BY HAND: I write by hand with a pencil. It’s the way I’ve been writing ever since I wrote short stories in high school for a class. It comes out differently when you write it out by hand. I also love the revision process — really, a rewriting process — because I’m not just transcribing, I’m rewriting the entire thing. It’s very different from cutting and pasting. When you’re typing it in, you can get into a rhythm that you can’t get when you’re writing fresh, and you can’t get when you’re revising on the computer; you really start to hear it and feel it. Sometimes I let it go and have a whole Staples notebook full of handwritten chapters, and then I find myself typing for two months because I’m a really slow typist.

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DOWN TO BUSINESS: I really have to force myself out of the kitchen and up the stairs. That transition between writing and not writing is the hardest transition on earth. At the end of the day, I’m just desperate for more time. At the beginning of each day, I’m theoretically excited to work, but when it comes to the actual moment, I can feel intimidated. Even if it was going really well before, it’s hard to start again and make that leap, especially when you’re dealing with a first draft and a blank page.

ROLE MODELS: I always have a copy of Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” and Shirley Hazzard’s “The Evening of the Holiday” on my desk, and my latest addition is Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth.” I turn to them all the time. I pick them up and open a page and remember what really good writing is, and what I aspire to. They have been true companions to me.

Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson @gmail.com.
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