20 writerly questions for… Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is a writer and a multimedia artist, who describes all her work as “fairy tales in one way or another.” She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two very fluffy cats. Her latest novel is The Night Circus.

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?

I would use a vaguely incoherent run-on sentence. It would involve the words “circus,” “nocturnal,” “Victorian,” “magicians,” “black,” “white,” “love,” & “choices” and also the phrase “shades of grey.” It likely wouldn’t do the book as a whole justice, though.

2. How long did it take you to write this book?

It was started as an idea in 2005 though I didn’t start really writing it until 2006 and then worked on it off and on (mostly off) for a few years. All told it took three or four years total.

3. Where is your favorite place to write?

I’m a homebody, really, so I do most of my writing at home in my studio/office space. It’s comfortable and familiar and I don’t have to wear shoes.

4. How do you choose your characters’ names?

It varies, sometimes a name just appears in my mind and it’s the right one, other times I have a feel or a sound or even a single letter to work from and I search through name databases until I find something that fits what I’m looking for. And then some, like Poppet and Widget, result from discussions about good names for cats.

5. How many drafts do you go through?

So many that I lose count, and they tend to overlap and go in stages of construction and deconstruction rather than proper drafts.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?

I’m tempted to pick one of my very favorites, like Einstein’s Dreams or The Secret History, but really, if I’d written them I wouldn’t be able to experience reading them, so I don’t actually wish it.

7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?

I’m trying not to think about this too much since it’s already a possibility and really, I like to leave these things to the professionals, but I did always picture Geoffrey Rush as Prospero so that would be my one solid actor pick. Everyone else I could name multiple possibilities, I’d mostly want actors who bring something distinct to each role.

8. What’s your favourite city in the world?

The ones that are closest to my heart are Boston and New York, but I haven’t visited terribly many so I may have new favorites in the future.

9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?

You know, I could come up with several inspiring writer choices and deep, insightful questions to ask of them and I’d probably learn a great deal but truthfully I’d just want Dashiell Hammett to whisper adverbs in my ear.

10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?

I do, and all sorts of music. Lately a lot of old jazz or electronica depending on my mood. I like music that creates atmosphere without being distracting.

11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?

It depends, the first person to see the new one I’m working on will be my beloved, brutally honest critique partner. I’m very much looking forward to that, since I’m certain she’ll find ways to improve it.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?

I’m more a guilty pleasure tv person, I’ve recently developed an inexplicable fondness for ghost hunting shows. When I read I like my pleasure guilt-free.

13. What’s on your nightstand right now?

My nightstand is overflowing at the moment. Lots of classic detective novels, particularly Hammett and Chandler, and there’s some Agatha Christie as well.

14. What is the first book you remember reading?

I have a lousy memory but the one that’s coming to mind is One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, which is odd because I didn’t read that much Seuss when I was little.

15. Did you always want to be a writer?

No. I always wanted write but didn’t think I’d end up being a proper writer, it seemed daunting. I wandered around through various theatre and art things trying to find a role to fit me and always came back to storytelling in one way or another, it took me a while to embrace it.

16. What do you drink or eat while you write?

Coffee or tea or red wine, depending on mood and time of day. I don’t eat much when writing but I am fond of popcorn, especially of the kettle or caramel varieties.

17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?

Desktop computer most often, laptop occasionally. And sometimes I switch to vintage fountain pens and unlined paper to get my brain working differently.

18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?

After asking my agent if he was serious I think I ran around my apartment for a while frightening my cats. Once I’d calmed down there was sparkling wine and a great deal of giggling.

19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?

I choose what feels best for the story. Most of THE NIGHT CIRCUS is in third person, the perspective shifts from character to character and I wanted it to have a fairy tale feel to it so third felt appropriate. There are also interludes in second person, chosen because the circus itself is best experienced first hand. The new manuscript I’m working on is in first person, because it needs to be in first person.

20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?

Time. It should really come in gift card form.


For more information on The Night Circus, go here.