Books

story behind the book | kate tuttle

The hidden machinery that makes fiction

david wilson for the boston globe

The author of eight novels and one story collection, Margot Livesey has spent years writing, talking about writing, and teaching writing (she’s currently a professor at Iowa Writers’ Workshop). But she had no intention of writing a book offering guidance to fellow writers.

Of “The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing,” Livesey said, “I don’t think I exactly decided to write a book!” Then one day she “began to produce these essays. And at a certain point I noticed that there was a common theme running through them, and it began to seem to me that I could shape them into a book. And I hope that turned out to be true!”

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In it, Livesey writes of her own early failures to connect the novels she loved to her own nascent writing life. “In my 20s I was reading passionately and devotedly, and trying to write fiction, but I wasn’t really connecting the two activities,” she said. “I began to think more about how how we, as writers, can learn more about our craft from reading and how we can learn to build a bridge between our reading and our own efforts when we sit down.”

Livesey is beginning work on her next novel, still in its earliest stages. “When you start a novel, at least for me, there’s a certain period of inchoateness or incoherence and then things begin to emerge,” she said.

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She tries to take her own advice, reading to help solve writing dilemmas. This is not always easy on the books. “They’re dog-eared; there are little notes in the margins,” she added. “There are signs of ardent coffee drinking.”

Livesey will read at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Newtonville Books.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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