Subjects Discussed: Chatty people named Ed, imagining the proper format for an illusory veterinary log, husbands who claim prodigious memory, how little bits of anecdotes help fiction, the virtues of limitations and structure, the candor in Here They Come vs. the candor in The Call, seasonal cycles, working with editor Maya Ziv, how fiction can be inspired by thinking about things in a car, the national economical environment, sensing possibilities without having a sense of time, publishing a book as a paperback original instead of a hardcover, crackpots who telephone you at home, earning the right to know the name of the character, the unanticipated origin of fictional spacemen, being asked by Dave Eggers to contribute a “sci-fi story,” Kirk Maxey and sperm donors, inventing thoughts of mice, flies, and other animals, judgment in contemporary fiction, avoiding cliches while pursuing earnestness, independent will and work, balancing ambiguous and precise description to relay the observational spirit, injecting life into side characters, and characters who read within a novel.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I was really honored to identify with the Ed who likes to talk with people. I don’t know if I was possibly an inspiration. That might be presumptuous of me. But it was nice to see a very chatty Ed in your novel.
Murphy: Okay. Well, you might have been at the back of my mind, but…
Correspondent: The rearest. First off, I wanted to determine where the daily log format arose from. Call, Action, Results. This is what is the framework of the book. I’m wondering if you consulted specifically with log books — your husband is a veterinarian — and whether you scoured through that. Did you try varying formats before you found something that was just right? What of this?
Murphy: Well, I think the idea came from the fact that my husband doesn’t keep any call logs. And I’m always wondering why not. That would be something I would do. I would know who I visited on what date and what I did to actually treat that specific animal. And he says, “No. I don’t need that. I just remember this stuff. Or, if I don’t remember it, it really isn’t relative to the next case that the animal may have or that I’m treating the animal for.” So I think it arose out of my disbelief that he doesn’t have this kind of system.
Correspondent: How does he stay organized?
Murphy: He’s pretty organized.
Correspondent: Just no log.
Correspondent: He’s one of those people who remembers. And I always thought, “What if he had a call log? What would it look like?” Because it certainly wouldn’t look like what I think it should like. It probably would look more like the book, or how the book is written. Where it’s his ruminations on the world and ruminations on just driving around and who he meets. He loves to talk with people and he really has a knack with the New Englanders. Even though they tend to be stoic, he can draw out their life stories. So what I find really fascinating is when I go along with him on those visits and he engages people and gets them talking and it’s this kind of windfall for me. Because I get to hear their stories that I would never dare to ask. Because I’m more shy than he is.
Correspondent: Well, this leads me to ask two questions. But let’s talk about these stories. How many of these anecdotes did you make up? And how many of them came from your husband’s chronicles?
Murphy: Most of them came from his chronicles. Some were mixed up with others. I think very few I had to imagine completely. There was a little bit of inspiration behind all of them that was based on a real incident.
Correspondent: Yes. So having little bits of the story helped to have your imagination fire up and invent further?
Murphy: Right. Right.
Correspondent: Well, what about the actual log format itself? If you had no logs at home, did you consult any veterinarian associations? Other veterinarians?
Murphy: No. No. I just started writing. Okay, what is the reason the veterinarian is going out on the call? Well, I’ll call that THE CALL. And then, okay, ACTION. What did I do there? RESULT. How did that end up? And then when he would leave that particular farm, then it was what I saw on the drive home. WHAT THE WIFE COOKED FOR DINNER. So I was able to integrate his home life with his work life that way.
Correspondent: What’s interesting though is, as you read the book, you find that he isn’t able to compartmentalize as much as he thinks he can. I mean, we start to see that even though he starts to think of something, it then goes into describing the action. And what’s also interesting is that, when you have WHAT THE WIFE SAID, you often have him interjecting. It’s almost as if WHAT THE WIFE SAID is like an open quote with which to carry on here. And so I’m curious. To what degree were you conscious of this design? Or did this just happen through the course of a sentence in this book in the early draft?
Murphy: Well, I knew partway in — maybe a couple pages in — that the structure had to be a little more wieldy than what I had set up. I knew that I was going to run into trouble really fast and that I had to have as much fun with it as I could. So when you set up a structure like that, sometimes you can have a lot of freedom with it. Because you’re in the structure. So you can see where places are that you need to jump out of. It actually — for some reason having the imposition of a structure actually liberates my writing a lot more. So I know that as long as I stay within that framework, I can say anything I want to say. Which makes it a lot more fun.
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