New England Writers At Work

Cambridge author Mameve Medwed relishes revisions

Novelist Mameve Medwed in the third floor study of her Cambridge home.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Novelist Mameve Medwed in the third floor study of her Cambridge home.

Mameve Medwed has written five novels known for their wit and crackling dialogue. She will follow her last, “Of Men and Their Mothers,” with a new novel she’s calling “Minus Me,” which she is writing presently. She lives and works in a closet-sized office on the third floor of her home in Cambridge.

RETURN TO THE WOMB: My husband and I used to share an office. That was a disaster — I had a desk at the window, and he had a desk. He was at work during the day, but I’d look back at his desk, and it was such a mess . . . I thought I’d like to be away from everybody, and now I am. When the doorbell rings, I have to go down three flights of stairs. Other than that, I really like being up here — it’s really womblike, and I’m not distracted by anything . . . I have been in that space probably 25 years. The kids are grown, and they have their bedrooms up there, and every so often I think I could take over one of their rooms, and then I’d have many more bookcases, and I could even have a little sofa to stretch out on or something, but then I think: I can’t leave my space; it would just feel too big.

NO SUN: I taught for a long time, and every once in a while I still do. But really I was spending so much time on other people’s manuscripts and that was another excuse not to write. Figuring out what worked and what did not just with other people’s work satisfied my need to write, so I stopped . . . I miss getting dressed and going out into the world, because now days can go by without seeing the sun.

A paperweight holds down edited pages in the study used by novelist Mameve Medwed.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
A paperweight holds down edited pages in the study used by novelist Mameve Medwed.
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TAKE A WALK: I need to get out during the day. I spend all my time at Porter Square Books. I go there for coffee; I go there to talk to the booksellers and to buy more books. If I haven’t been in for a few days, they’ll call me and ask if I’m OK.

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FUNNY GIRL: My novels are funny, but I don’t start out trying to be funny; they just come out that way. In fact, when I write them, I’m really serious. That people find them funny is just amazing to me. I never laugh . . . I would love to make a little campaign for the comic novel, because I always feel that people who write funny stuff are considered sort of, you know, light — l-i-t-e — and are relegated to the children’s table. All of us who write comedy deal with the same stuff that the deep, heavy, dark people staring in the abyss deal with: love, friendship, death, sorrow, all those things. We just look at it in a skewed way.

EAVESDROPPERS ANONYMOUS: Almost every writer is just an eavesdropper. I’ll be out for dinner with someone; I’ll be listening to the people at the next table; and I’ll suddenly go into a kind of zone. [An idea] will start when I hear something. If it stays with me, then my mind starts . . . and all of a sudden I have a few characters and a few lines of dialogue, although I never know exactly where I’m going to go until I sit down and actually start writing.

A sculpture of a pumpkin made from a dictionary for novelist Mameve Medwed which she keeps in the third floor study of her home.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
A sculpture of a pumpkin made from a dictionary for novelist Mameve Medwed which she keeps in the third floor study of her home.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: I never know how a book is going to end. It was Robert Frost who said no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. If I knew exactly what I was going to do, it would be boring.

UP THE HILL TO HEAVEN: Writing a first draft is just horrible. It’s Sisyphean. I’m pushing this log up a hill, and it’s just horrible. But once I have 300 manuscript pages, I’m in heaven. I love revising. I love spinning sentences around. That’s the best part of it. Other writers love the initial rush of the new ideas. Not me.

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