Lydia Millet is the author of twelve previous books of fiction. Her novel Ghost Lights was a New York Times Notable Book; its sequel Magnificence was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle and Los Angeles Times Awards in fiction; and her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona. Visit her here.
NAW- Can you tell us about your forthcoming book, ‘Mermaids in Paradise.’ How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?
I’ve been obsessed with tropical places for some time now, our dreams of the tropics and our exploitation of them. This novel is about a couple that goes on their honeymoon in the island Caribbean and makes a startling discovery — live mermaids in a reef — which is then followed by a chaotic fight to save the mermaids from being turned into theme-park attractions.
NAW- Your last work Magnificence dealt with melancholy but Mermaids in Paradise is going to be humorous. How difficult is it to change the voice in two separate works and does the mood of the book you are writing affect your mood?
I like to write funnier books to lift me out of more serious work, at times, but I’d hate to write a book that was completely devoid of humor. I find such books to be devoid of soul. Mermaids and a companion volume called The Palms of Bora Bora were written as I worked on a longer-term project about language and the divine that’s been much harder going.
NAW- You are perhaps one of the few writers who have dabbled in satire, a very important genre for me personally. When you first started out, did you plan your career this way writing the material that you have?
I haven’t planned my career at all, I fear. I tend to just write what I want to write at any given time. I’m glad you like satires! A fairly unhip genre at the moment, and one almost guaranteed to win no literary prizes.
NAW- Did you face any struggles early on in your writing career?
I still face struggles. Is there someone who doesn’t?
NAW- How do you carry out research for your books?
Depends on the book. Some are the product of Google and Wikipedia, while in others I’ve gone places and talked to real humans. But I have no journalistic pretensions.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I work at my job, which also involves writing and editing, at an organization that litigates and does science and media over the extinction and climate crises.
NAW- When you are reading, do you prefer ebooks or printed paper books?
Paper, but I happily read ebooks when traveling or when desperate.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
Except with my children’s books, there’s little planning. I look at a blank page and see what happens. But I don’t mean to be flip — it’s less mystical than, I believe, sedimentary, like sand drifting into a dune.