Author Spotlight: William Loizeaux
Book: The Tumble Inn
William Loizeaux is writer-in-residence in the Department of English at Boston University. In addition to essays and stories, Loizeaux has published two novels for children and two memoirs. His memoir Anna: A Daughter’s Life was a New York Times Notable Book.
How did you come up with the idea for The Tumble Inn?
Probably like most people, I’ve often wondered about an alternate way of being. What if I radically changed my life, did something entirely different? The Tumble Inn, which begins with a couple abruptly leaving their usual circumstances in suburban New Jersey to become innkeepers in the Adirondacks, enabled me to engage in that fantasy—and without leaving my comfortable study.
What inspired you to choose the Adirondacks as your primary setting?
For many years, my wife and I have left our urban, academic lives every summer to vacation at an old inn on a lake in the Adirondacks. My wife’s family has long been associated with the inn. That’s where we were married—on the knoll overlooking the lake. That’s where our first daughter was conceived—in a tent on rooty ground beside the lake. That’s where we returned to stand on that knoll in the days after she died. And that’s where we brought our second daughter a few months after she was born, where we spent a large part of her childhood summers, where we hiked with her, where she learned to swim, and where she got her first job—at the inn. The inn, the lake, and especially the low, rounded mountains around it, are for me an emotional setting. I can’t look at that landscape without some tangle of feelings. And feeling, ultimately, is what drives the writing for me.
Are experiences in The Tumble Inn based on your own life or someone you know?
Both. A number of the events are imaginative extrapolations from things that have happened to me or to people that I know. For example, one central event of the novel sprang from my memories, thoughts, and feelings surrounding the tragic, accidental death some years ago of one of the innkeepers with whom my wife and I were acquainted.
What authors and books have influenced your writing?
I began by writing short stories, so authors like Chekov (Anton Chekov’s Stories), Bernard Malamud (The Complete Stories), Eudora Welty (The Collected Stories), and Tillie Olsen (Tell Me a Riddle) were helpful in showing me the shapes of narrative, how to write dialogue, the power of suggestion and concision. Later I gravitated toward fiction writers like Peter Taylor (The Old Forest), Andre Dubus (Selected Stories), and Richard Ford (Rock Springs), whose retrospective narrators often both tell a good story and think about it. Later yet, I became interested in literary nonfiction: E. B. White’s wit and humor (Essays of E.B. White), the pure lyricism of Annie Dillard (Teaching a Stone to Talk), and the attitude or voice that comes through Joan Didion’s prose (Slouching Towards Bethlehem). While his life was altogether different from mine, James Baldwin’s intelligence and passion also set the bar for me. Few writers that I’ve read get feeling into words quite as powerfully as he does. I read “Notes of a Native Son” at least a couple of times a year.
When and why did you decide to become a writer?
Though I didn’t altogether know it at the time, my interest in creative writing was born in a Herman Melville college seminar led by the fiction writer Frederick Busch. He read, and encouraged his students to read, like writers—so we heard the words and felt their poetry and power almost physically, it seemed. Moreover, in his comments on my submitted essays—essays that I have to this day—he said that I could write, which was incredibly heady to hear. Then a few years later when I was in graduate school, studying to be a literary scholar, I found that I was more interested in trying to write fiction than write about it—this, of course, without knowing a thing about how difficult it would be. That I discovered a year later, when I’d left graduate school, and began painting houses in the afternoons, while devoting my mornings to writing stories, which at first were terribly bad but eventually got somewhat better. I wouldn’t say that I ever “decided” to be a writer as much as I gropingly became one.
What is your writing process like?
It’s hard. I try to be disciplined. I try, but don’t always, show up for work each day to do my hours at my desk. I’m a slow writer. I struggle—even with straightforward assignments like this! Things seldom come right the first time, or the second or third. Discovery usually arrives, if it does, incrementally through the process of writing, rethinking, and revising, rather than beforehand. That’s why I have to show up and do my hours. That’s why I have to leave time between revisions, and let a few trusted writer friends, along with my wife, read drafts and offer suggestions along the way. In thinking about subject matter, character, and situation, I try to find some emotional vein, something that I feel strongly about, and then plug into it and follow where it takes me. Later I cut, add, rewrite, shape, and sometimes reconceive. The “process” is always different for each project in either my fiction or nonfiction. I’m afraid there is no blueprint, except to show up, find the vein, and remain open to the unexpected.
What did you enjoy most about writing The Tumble Inn?
When I hit that vein, it is wonderful while it lasts, and usually in The Tumble Inn it came when I was writing a moment, a particular scene, when I was fully inhabiting or feeling with the narrator and main character. There were a number of such moments in The Tumble Inn that, though they may not have come the first or second time, I knew, when they did come, that I had nailed them. The moment had come alive.
What was the hardest part about writing The Tumble Inn?
The passages between those fully imagined moments were the hardest to write—the connective tissue. One chapter in particular, which moves through many years of the main character-narrator’s life, I must have rewritten six or seven times, each time trying to make the narrative feel less like authorial summary and more like my particular narrator remembering and summarizing—and touching down briefly in particular moments—in his own unique voice.
What are you working on now?
I write and have published long- and short-form nonfiction, as well adult short stories and children’s fiction. This variety of genres, with their different constraints, challenges, and opportunities, seems to suit me—and I hope keeps my work from going stale. At the moment, I have a children’s novel on my desk, another one of those projects that requires more rethinking, cutting, adding, shaping…