Wednesday, 16 March 2016


Claire Needell is a graduate of Brown’s MFA Program, a middle school teacher, and the author of two books of poetry. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Sunday Review. Her debut novel The Word for Yes is a moving look at date rape and its aftermath.

You have chosen an important topic— Date Rape— to write your debut novel. Congratulations. Tell the readers about your journey.
I began thinking about The Word for Yes as a book about sisters and how different our paths can be, even when we start our journey in the same family.  Because date rape was prevalent in my teenaged years, I thought that this would be a resonant story today.  I also felt it was important to tell this story in a way that didn’t make it all too tidy, too easy for the reader to demonize the boy.  We know he has committed a rape, but we also see what his thinking was at the time, and how what he yearned for was actually a consensual relationship.  We tend to think that “boys are just after one thing.”  In fact, you can be pursuing something quite humane in an entirely inhumane manner.
Did you find out something about your creative process while writing the novel The Word for Yes, which you didn’t know earlier?  
I learned a lot while writing The Word for Yes.  I wrote a draft very quickly, put it away, and then wrote a series of short stories, which became the collections, Nothing Real, also published by HarperCollins. I learned a lot about how a story is shaped by cutting some material and adding other scenes.  This was critical since the book contains so many different perspectives. I also saw how writing and then leaving the book for a time helped me see the work more clearly.  I sometimes write very quickly, so I get the shape of a story, but then I need to work on each scene, each turning point, quite a lot.  My first drafts tend to be sketches, really, that require added dimension.
When did writing flow the best? 
Writing flows best for me early in the process.  As the book develops, the work becomes very precise, so naturally there’s a lot of small additions and deletions that seem to carry a great deal of weight.
When does your creative muse seen NOT to work?  
I tend to work a lot less in the summer, when the kids are around and there’s no regular schedule.
When do you feel freshest and most original as a writer? 
Hmmm.  I guess I feel most authentic when I am totally inside a character’s head.  I never think am I being original? I think more like am I capturing the sorts of very particular things people say and do?  If I think about what I am doing as a writer that is a black hole.  I think about what the other people are doing—the characters—at least as I am writing, then of course, when I edit I try to be ruthlessly honest with myself about what works and what doesn’t.  An editor once told me that you should always find the line or paragraph that you feel the best about and delete it, because that’s probably the least convincing thing you’ve written.  I find this to be true a lot of the time—it’s like when we think we’ve been really amusing at a party, but everyone else thought we were totally obnoxious.
What was the best day of your life as a writer? 
Wow. I suppose it’s a pretty great feeling to know you have a publishing contract, but I think actually the days I have been the most excited are the days the writing goes well.  Every time I figure out how to fix a problem is a great day.  Every day I feel playful and honest is a great day!

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Kirtida Gautam is a clinical psychologist and an author. 
Follow her on Twitter @KirtidaGautam  

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