Who Are You?
I’m author Kelly Loy Gilbert, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
What Do You Write?
I write fiction about complicated people at critical junctures of their lives. I love to write novels that explore messy family dynamics, longtime friendships or relationships, how characters face themselves after they did something they promised themselves they’d never do. My forthcoming novel, EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW, is about a family of famous influencers who are imploding from the inside after close friends leak private gossip to People magazine.
I am a third-generation Californian on my mother’s side–my grandmother was born to an itinerant farmworker and opium dealer in Northern California and grew up in a home for Chinese girls, and a second-generation Californian on my father’s side–my grandparents left the Pacific Northwest to raise six kids in apricot orchards slowly becoming the tech hub of the world. And in many ways, I think my stories are very California: they explore what it means to be rooted to a place, what it means to devote your life to a craft or a dream you care so much about it threatens to consume you, about what we owe one another and the world around us.
Where Do You Write?
I write horribly hunched over my laptop on my bed, the couch–a terrible habit I’ll probably curse my younger self for one day. But for years and years the only time I had to write was my childrens’ naptime, so I would always write with them sleeping nearby. I am religious about writing with Pages because I’ve developed this whole complicated organizational system that only works with unadvanced software that isn’t trying to autocorrect or better organize me, and I write and sometimes voice record long notes to myself whenever I have ideas while going about my day.
When Do You Write?
I have small children, so I usually write in the interstices of the day (and–mostly–night). When I’m early into a project, which I currently am, I have to find little ways in to my bigger goals: what will the plot here be? Where is the story going to go? Who, are their core, are these people the story’s about? I’m more resigned now to letting myself fumble around for a long time in the early stages, so in my writing sessions I try to write towards a place where there’s some kind of heat or energy. Maybe that happens right away, maybe it takes days or weeks or even months–I try to just keep going, moving forward, rather than setting specific goals. As a project takes shape the goals morph and shift: I’ll work towards a major plot point, for instance, or when I’m revising I’ll work towards certain changes I’ve listed for myself.
Why Do You Write?
Stories are the way I’ve always made sense of the world, and in our post-truth culture, in some ways I think stories are more necessary than ever–a story might not have happened, but it needs to be true. I often write for young people, people who are on the cusp of everything, and I think that’s such a rich, complex, difficult time–who are you going to be while everything’s changing around you? What’s still true when the rest of your world collapses in big and small ways?
How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?
I think writer’s block is like a rip current—you can’t struggle against it. Just let it take you, and don’t fight. The story will come back and one day writing will be fun again. When I feel stuck, overwhelmed by big-picture things like structure or what could possibly be the point of this novel I theoretically want to write, I work on very small things: describing a character’s room, a restaurant they love. I find descriptions of physical places, which make up the backbone of a novel’s world, are always more writers-block-resistant than character or plot work.
Bonus: What Do You Enjoy Doing When Not Writing?
I enjoy dinner parties, going down research rabbit holes, visiting museums with my kids, and lately I’ve been obsessed with gardening. There’s something so incredibly therapeutic about plants.
My thanks to Kelly Loy Gilbert for today’s interview.