Spinning wildly and loving it: 3Qs for Holly LeCraw, author of The Swimming Pool


Holly LeCraw's debut novel The Swimming Pool is the story of an unsolved murder, a forbidden affair, and a summer that pretty much blows everyone out of the water. We caught up with Holly and managed to wedge 3Qs into her busy book tour schedule.

Holly, thanks for joining us. How are you, dear girl? It took you a while to get here. Now that the book is launched, has it been everything you expected it to be? Or is your head spinning with the debut novel rollercoaster ride?
Definitely the latter. Spinning wildly. Which I did not expect. It is very, very odd to go from being a completely private person to an even slightly public one. I have been toiling in suburban-mom-disguised obscurity for a while and so this is a big change—complete and total strangers have opinions about my book! My book that I wrote all alone in my study! Of course that’s how it’s supposed to work. But it’s still weird. You lose control over this thing that’s been only yours for so long.

Also, promoting a book is essentially the task of an extrovert. And while I am finding I quite like the performance aspect while it’s happening, I am an introvert, like most writers. I recharge by being alone. So at the moment, after touring and all of that, I am craving solitude even more than usual. (Of course this is just as school is ending for my kids. Oh well.)

Publishing a book was a dream for so long. Sometimes it feels unreal—but more often it feels inevitable. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. But I had to train myself to believe that it would happen, because I needed that faith in order to keep going. So, on one level, I think, “Well, of course you did it; that’s what you always intended to do. So get your jaw off the ground and go work on your next one.”

How do you feel about the word "cougar"--in general and as it's inevitably being applied to Marcella?
First of all, I am much more fond of the word that was in the AARP Magazine review (!!!!)—“elderbabe.” I am so using that. When I’m older. Anyway, those are two very different questions. That word was not part of the zeitgeist when I started the book, by the way; and I think its sudden ascendance reflects the fact that there are just a lot more older women, in terms of sheer numbers—those pesky baby boomers—and they’re unwilling to abandon their sexuality. Maybe that’s threatening to some people. And so they get lampooned as animals of prey. So what do we call men, at all stages of life? Tyrannasauri reges? (Yes, I just looked up the plural.) I don’t know.

But in terms of Marcella—having an affair with Jed is not something she sets out to do. “Cougar” implies scheming and plotting. Stalking. But with Jed and Marcella, they let themselves fall into the affair as a part of their grief. It’s taboo, and yet it leads to healing. It’s complicated. It is a much more oedipal scenario. I read a review online recently where a reader was disturbed by their relationship and said something like, “It was even sort of oedipal!” Well, yeah.

I always felt I had the best of both worlds as a mom making a living as a writer. How are you handling the balancing act, and how do the two roles inform each other?
People always ask how I manage it, and I say that basically I’m a working mother, and there are lots of working moms, so I am hesitant to claim any special status. I agree with you—in many ways it’s the best of both worlds. It’s been a luxury to be able to pursue my art and stay home with my kids. But as you know, it can also be tough. When they were younger, there were days when I longed for an office and a boss who was setting deadlines for me, so it didn’t all have to be self-generated, and so I could work off-site! It’s very very nice, now, having a contract for the next book. It helps that I am accountable to someone. You know, I’ll get in trouble if I don’t do it. Always a motivator for a closet good little girl.

As far as the internal balance—I think in the case of a writer, or any artist, the main thing that is hard to come by is mental space. You crave the time to obsess over your project. I work when my kids are at school, but often it’s hard to only work from nine to two. It’s hard to stop. Which my husband understands, and so I periodically escape for a long weekend. I fantasize about a month at a colony or something. But I wouldn’t take that sort of time away. As the kids get older they are more self-sufficient, and yet parenting gets much more emotionally complicated—and also more interesting, frankly. You just need to be there. And, you know, probably the time pressure probably doesn’t hurt so much in the end. It just forces discipline.

I do think parenting deeply affects my work, although I’m not always aware of it. The Swimming Pool was obviously influenced by having small children at home. I was thinking about the overwhelming aspects of being a new mother—the physicality of it, the almost obsessive love. In my new book, part of what I’m looking at is how character is formed—how much of it is innate? How much is environment, and how much can we ourselves influence it? What is the role of the will? And probably that stems from having older kids who are on the road to adulthood.

Bonus question, if I might: What are you reading?
I always have several books going at once. I am reading later this month at my hometown field, Newtonville Books, with Jennifer Egan, which is just a huge privilege, and at the moment I am reading The Keep. I hope I’ll get a chance soon to dip into Goon Squad. I also read with Brady Udall at Square Books in Oxford in May, and I’m about a hundred pages into The Lonely Polygamist. They are both fabulous. I’m also finishing up The Infinities by John Banville; I am so intrigued by the structure of that one—the overarching first-person narration, by the god Hermes, which, by virtue of him being a god, is also omniscient. It’s having your cake and eating it too.

And I’m reading the poet Mary O’Donoghue’s debut novel, Before the House Burns. Gorgeous. You have to order it from Ireland but I got mine in two days! I hope it gets published here. It should. I also just finished The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford, for the dozenth time. I bought the Everyman Library edition at Lemuria Books while I was on tour and the introductions are excellent. That one is also all about voice. And I am still making my way slowly through How Fiction Works, by James Wood, underlining as I go. He is really sui generis as a critic, these days. A brilliant generalist, old school like Trilling or Kazin, and yet fresh. We need more of those. That book is like Aspects of the Novel for the twenty-first century. I am learning so much. The joyous thing about being a writer is that, hopefully, the learning curve never flattens out.

Click here to read chapter one of The Swimming Pool or skip directly to IndieBound and buy.

Comments

Terrific interview, and Holly, I think you've hit the nail on the head about the push-me/pull-you aspects of being a working mom who's officing at home. I'm glad I did this while my son was younger, but it was not without its challenges.

I heard someone on TV use "man-ther" as the male version of cougar. When I was a sweet young thing back in the day, I called them "jacuzzi sharks," but my college-aged son insists the correct version is simply "men."

Thanks for stopping by. Your book sounds like the perfect poolside read!

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