Sunday, April 11, 2010
Q and A with Katie Crouch, author of Men and Dogs
What’s the backstory behind Men and Dogs?
My own great-grandfather disappeared while fishing in a river near Durham, North Carolina. No one knows what happened to him, but the family likes to hypothesize that he ran away to South America. I became interested in what happens to family members once they're gone—how they often become larger and more interesting in their absence than in their existence day to day. So I created a modern family, put the father on a fishing boat, and sent him out to sea. The rest of the book soon followed.
How did the title come about?
The book literally came from an image I had of a man in his boat with his dog. I scrawled the title on a notebook three years ago, and it never changed.
You’re from Charleston but now live in San Francisco. Did you go through a culture shock when you moved to the west coast? And how does it feel when you go back to visit the South?
By the time I got to San Francisco (I was 26), I'd been out of the South for a while, but going to college in Boston at 17 was a huge shock for me. In the winter, I literally could not get out of bed. Plus, I dressed up too much and everyone noticed my accent.
Now when I go back I feel like a flip-flop wearing leftist. I don't fit in at all. I will say, though, that my accent comes back after a beer, and I'm pretty good at re-adopting the slow, chatty pace of life. I still love it.
Speaking of setting, both Charleston and San Francisco play big parts in Men and Dogs. How important is setting in your novels?
I seem to be stuck on Charleston, despite having left almost 20 years ago. This is a compliment to the city, I think. There is something about it I can't shake.
Your characters are so well drawn and you create very authentic male characters. What comes first for you, the plot or the characters and how do you go about developing your characters?
Characters come first. If I know who they are and put them in a situation, then plot follows. It's like putting chickens --really smart, interesting chickens--in a pen together and watching what happens.
Did you encounter any particular challenges while writing Men and Dogs?
I had a hard time ending the book. I knew what had happened to the father, but I had to reconcile Hannah with that. I wrote the last three chapters seven times, trying to figure it out. I thought I was going to have a breakdown. But the characters and I figured it out together.
Men and Dogs is your second novel. Did you approach it a lot differently than your debut?
Not really. I'd like to tell you the second book was easier, but I think it's always a lot of hunting around in the dark.
Katie Crouch is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Girls in Trucks and the newly released Men and Dogs. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Observer, Tin House, Glamour, and McSweeney's. She received her M.F.A. at Columbia University, and was awarded a Sewanee Walter Dakin Fellowship and a MacDowell Fellowship. She currently lives in San Francisco