I liked it a lot better this way, than going from novelist to screenwriter, mainly because there’s a level of discipline and economy that you just can’t play with. In a screenplay you’re locked into an industry-established standard of length—and so whatever story you have to tell, you’ve got a hundred pages or so to tell it in. You have to learn how to say a lot with a little. In a novel, you can get off the highway here and there, you can go to some interesting places that there just isn’t time to do in a movie, when the clock is always running. Plus there’s the freedom in a novel to get inside someone’s head, to think along with them and all, when in a movie script you can only show behavior—only what you can see or hear someone actually doing, and you have to make the reader understand their reasons for doing things without having access to their thoughts. But even though screenplays seem to have a lot of these restrictions, I still find a lot of freedom within the form—and it’s actually great training for any storyteller, in any medium, to be able to do what screenwriters have to do, which is to be able to boil a story down to its absolute essence, and then make it feel like it’s full and complete. With the novel I had all kinds of freedom, and I went all kinds of places with it—I think my first pass through it took almost six hundred pages. Fortunately, editing is my favorite part. The hard part, for me at least, is coming up with a story in the first place that I can tell coherently from beginning to end. Once that’s done, when the whole story is told but it’s still an absolute mess—that’s when the fun starts for me.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read Attachments?
I think we all get to certain points in life where we look back at the roads we took and wonder what might have happened if we hadn’t made those choices and made different ones instead. Also, by a certain age we’ve all experienced the death of someone we love, and who really mattered to us. And at every stage, whether we admit it or not, we could really use some guidance—and if we’re lucky enough, the right person shows up with the right guidance, and those are the people we remember forever. We remember the people who hurt us and the people who helped us. And maybe the biggest part of growing up, of becoming a full human being, is learning how much of our own happiness and well-being depend on whether we’re willing and able to let go of the things we’ve been clinging to all this time—not the things that other people did to us, but the hold that so many of those things can have on us years and decades after they actually happened. And what ‘Attachments’ is, is a story about these very things, the messiness of life and the stuff it takes to come through all that with your heart and your dignity and your relationships intact. It’s a book about people who are going through those exact experiences, and dealing with them in the now. So, for anybody who resonates with that, here’s your book.
The story is told in alternating voices and two different time frames. How did you choose an approach like that?
I had a friend in high school who wrote a short story, and he used the alternating voices thing. I loved that technique and filed it away in case I ever got a chance to use it some day. When I got the idea for this book, I remembered my friend’s story and those alternating voices and it just seemed the perfect marriage of what this story was and how it needed to be told. Thanks to Facebook, I found the guy again, and when the advance review copies came out, I called him and told him about the book and asked him if he remembered that story he wrote, almost fifty years ago now. He said he did, that he’d won some award with it, and that he’d gotten the technique from William Faulkner. So we both stole from the best. I wonder who Faulkner got it from.