Welcome to Part 2 in a series of conversations with crazy talented author H. P. Wood.
WWWW: What was the initial spark that led to Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet?
HPW: I stole the idea from the People’s Almanac, a book I bought at a library sale. It has lists of people who died on the toilet, that kind of thing.
There’s a story about a mother and daughter who went to Paris in 1900 for the World’s Fair. The mother became ill, and the hotel doctor sent the daughter on an errand for medicine. When the daughter returned, everybody at the hotel pretended not to know her, and they threw her out on the street. Supposedly the mother had the plague, and the hotel “disappeared” her because bubonic plague tends to be bad for business. This became the “inciting event” of Magruder’s.
I have subsequently been informed that Alfred Hitchcock used the same plot in that old TV show he had. If so, I’m comfortable with the company I am keeping.
WWWW: I bet Alfred Hitchcock would have loved your novel. I read that he supervised and guided his writers through every draft, insisting on a strict attention to detail. Does anyone read your first draft?
HPW: No one! Good grief. My husband gets to read things earlier than anyone else, but not even he gets it that early. Ultimately I let many friends read Magruder’s and they all gave me great advice—but first draft? No. Fifth, more like. Stephen King talks about writing “with the door open” versus “with the door closed.” My door stays closed for a while, probably longer than people think.
WWWW: How do you make time to write productively with everything going on at home? Do you have any special rituals to get into that necessary creative writing place? And, the big question, how do you shift your mind from thinking about the sometimes mundane tasks associated with family life over to the completely different mindset that goes into writing Magruders?
HPW: I wish I had an easy answer. The best thing that I do, but not very often, is I take off to a hotel for the weekend. I stay up all night and eat Five Guys in my room and basically turn into a maniac. I freak out the maids because I won’t let them in to clean.
For that period, I’m not a mom, I’m not a wife, I’m not a friend, I’m nothing except a writer. I get a LOT done—mostly first-draft stuff. In other words, I try not to spend that time editing or revising (which are more sane activities), but rather I spend that time coming up with big, crazy stuff that I fix later.
I can’t afford to do it all the time—and by “afford” I don’t just mean literally afford (although that’s a thing). I also can’t check out of my real life like that all the time. And the truth is I don’t even really want to! I like my real life.
But it does make me think about differences between men and women and how there are more successful male writers than female, and to what extent does that have to do with their willingness to take off to hotels and be maniacs whenever they want, family be damned.
WWWW: Unencumbered time is essential, isn’t it? To enjoy and be productive, get the mind juices flowing. So, what’s your creative process like? What’s the ratio of research to actually hunkering down and writing?
HPW: When I do research I am usually looking for something specific, and once I find it, I go back to my writing. So it’s not one phase followed by another—it’s back and forth.
For example, many of the plague-related events in Magruder’s (how people react, the various lousy things they do to each other) are my own versions of Black Death stories in Boccaccio’s Decameron and Daniel Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year. History often reveals far weirder, creepier events—not to mention worse human behavior—than I could invent.
WWWW: The back-and-forth of researching and writing birthed Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet and it’s intriguing characters. I have plenty of questions for HPW about that very struggle she handles so nimbly.
Part 3, here tomorrow.