In Mittelmark’s Written Out (Permanent, Nov.), a book editor descends into mayhem and murder.
Where did the plot come from?
I’d initially had an idea about a suburban hit man who specialized in elderly, ailing parents who stood in the way of their impatient children’s inheritance. I had a couple of friends who were in difficult situations with their parents, and there had been some articles around then about the generation caught in the middle between adult children who needed financial help and parents in decline, and it seemed like a rich, resonant, and potentially very funny setup. Once I got my lead, Roger Olivetti, to the first death, it was mostly a matter of pointing him in whatever direction seemed to have the greatest potential to put him in a funnier/worse situation, and then, after a certain point, coming up with ways to get him out of it.
Did you make use of your own advice from the 2008 guide you cowrote, How Not to Write a Novel, in writing Written Out?
There were certainly moments when I’d find myself writing something that recalled some part of the book, something my coauthor and I had specifically warned against, and I’d have to decide if I needed to change it or if it was just an irrelevant echo. For example, early in How Not to Write a Novel, there’s a passage that has a guy on a train looking out the window and reflecting on his life for 50 pages, which we put in there to warn against spending too much time giving us a character’s history before starting the actual story. It was impossible for me not to notice that my novel begins with a guy on a train reflecting on his life, but it’s only a couple of pages, and I’m going to go ahead and say it works. Ultimately, though, most of the advice in How Not to Write a Novel comes from things I’d internalized long before we wrote the book, so while I do use the advice all the time, I’m not thinking about it, it’s just how I write.
Why have Roger’s wife become a better novelist than him?
I had the experience Roger does, when my wife handed me the first few chapters of the book that became The Country of Ice Cream Star, and I realized it was better than anything I had ever written, and possibly better than anything I would ever write. I thought it was an interesting situation, particularly for a guy like Roger with one foot in the 20th century and the other in the 21st, and I wanted to play around with that.