The White Lie is the saga of the Salter clan and Michael Salter, who vanishes from his family’s aging compound.
You’ve mentioned that you enjoy jigsaw puzzles—did you use a storyboard or some other type of device as you worked out the timeline for the novel? How were you able to weave everything together?
I didn’t use anything to plot the story other than a notebook, in which I jotted down the timeline. Then I could play with it, and write about it out of order, while at the same time letting the driving narrative of what really caused the loss of Michael surge forward through the loops of time. That was fun to do. I approached it by writing down scenes at first, as scenes in the book came to me. I put characters together in rooms and let them talk to one another. Once I had fully imagined the characters—and I found it was important to do this physically, so that I could “see” them—they ran away with the dialogue and I had to be swift in catching everything they were saying. Once I had all the key conversations, I stitched them together with linking narrative and scene setting. I wrote about the house itself, the comings and goings of people. Finally I had a big jigsaw and put it all together. And then I wrote the end. And then, lastly, I wrote the beginning. It’s impossible to know how a story starts until you know how it ends.
Do the different family members honestly believe their own versions of the truth/omissions based on their memory, bias, and what they hope to be actually true?
It’s become the thing I write about, how memory, its subjectivity, determines what we think our lives have been and what the truth is—how we’re all adamantly sure what the truth is of what we’ve lived through. I lived through the three tough and beautiful years as a caretaker of someone with dementia, and saw how her memory remade her world every day. I realized then that we are only what our minds tell us we are; there’s no objective reality beyond that.
How long did it take you to write the book?
With me and the way I work, it’s all drafts, drafts, drafts, until I can more or less recite a book from start to finish, like an Anglo-Saxon warrior in a great hall. I work very quickly and often rewrite a chapter in a day: I don’t believe in too much introspection or editing until the whole book is done and then I return to the beginning and hone and hone, and do printouts and scribble all over them, and retype and print and do it all again. There were probably 15 drafts in the end, but the last version, the one that was printed, was a rewrite that was done in 30 days while the printer waited for it and my publisher tapped her nails on the table!