Author of The Art of Waiting, Belle Boggs was kind enough to answer a few questions about her debut novel, The Gulf, which was released last week (4/2/19) from Graywolf Press. The novel, included on our 15 Books We’re Looking Forward To, follows writers Marianne and Eric as they establish a writing workshop for Evangelicals.
First of all, congratulations on your upcoming debut novel! With your past work being in essays and short stories, how has your process evolved with writing a novel?
Thank you so much, Lyndsie! The Gulf is written from four characters’ alternating points of view. Switching between characters helped writing the novel feel a little more like constructing a series of short stories set in the same world—though of course, not quite. I often tell novelists in our MFA program to approach their chapters like individual short stories—to think about the world of that particular chapter, the arc, the setting and tone—because I think it can be a more satisfying way to construct a novel, especially if you’re used to writing short stories. I love novels that feel like interconnected, intricately-constructed short stories, like Tommy Orange’s There There or Dylan Landis’s Rainey Royal.
The subjects of each of your books are so different. How do you transition to and from each project?
I actually wrote the first draft of The Gulf and had a contract with Graywolf before realizing that I wanted to write my nonfiction book, The Art of Waiting, first. Luckily my wonderful editor, Katie Dublinski, was very patient and accommodating, and we worked on The Art of Waiting (I’d send her chapters and essays every few weeks, before sending the entire manuscript). The Gulf (which way back then had an entirely different title) was just waiting forlornly in the wings for a long time! At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t want to go back to the novel, but with the (horrible) political situation and my growing fears about and interest in for-profit schools, rampant capitalism, and political manipulation, I found my way back in.
Your novel is about Marianne, a poet, whose ex-fiancé is a novelist. Why did you choose to write about characters who are also writers?
It was kind of required by the premise—a school for writers—but I was also interested in looking at some of the arrogance and anxiety that can surround the writing life. Eric, the ex-fiancé co-founder of the school, is kind of a terrible person. He’s so wrapped up in his ego and thoughts about his own career that he dupes everyone, including himself. The question becomes: will Marianne do the same?
Did research play a large part in writing The Gulf, as it did in The Art of Waiting?
Not nearly as much. I think fiction is mostly about paying attention to the world, thinking about character, and then thinking about character some more… I do have a (nonfiction) research project in mind and am excited and hopeful about getting to work on it soon.
What’s been the most enjoyable part of the path to publication for your novel?
Working with my editor, and hearing from people I love—my mom, former students who are reading with me on the road—who read early copies of the book. I’m also really looking forward to traveling with my family to some great independent bookstores, like Malaprop’s in Asheville and Books and Books in Miami. Every time I travel for writing I remind myself how amazing it is that I get to do this.
As this is a platform for emerging writers, what would you recommend to those who are starting out in writing?
Read as much as you can! Get off your screens as much as you can too, and into nature/the world. Be around people who are not apparently like you (we are all alike in some ways). Write to writers and artists whose work you admire. Share your talents and love for writing by reading or volunteering for a journal (like this one) or with an organization that works with kids who love storytelling, like 826.
Interviewed by Lyndsie Manusos