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Jennifer Epstein interview


This interview with Jennifer Epstein was conducted in November 2007. Jennifer Epstein is the author of The Painter from Shanghai.


Where were you born and raised?Jennifer Epstein picture

I was born in Hartford, CT and raised in Wellesley MA, outside of Boston.


What was it that first got you into writing and when did you start writing?

I think my love of reading was what got me into writing--I as a bookworm pretty much from the time I first learned to read, and spent much of my childhood making uneven little stapled books filled with stories about princesses and talking ants. 


Which writers have influenced you the most?

There are hundreds. Of the ones that come to mind immediately (and somewhat chronologically): The Grimm Brothers, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, JR Tolkien, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Edith Wharton, James Joyce, Henry James, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Michael OndaatjeHaruki MurakamiArundhati Roy, Alice Hoffman, Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Cunningham, Pearl Buck, David Plante, Hillary Jordan, James Canon, Joanna Hershon, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Helen Schulman, Jennifer Egan. 

What kind of things do you write?

Short stories about family angst, and sprawling novels about historical fiction. My first novel, "The Painter from Shanghai," is about the pioneering Chinese artist Pan Yuliang, and her astonishing journey from prostitution to post-Impressionist icon.  

Painter from Shanghai coverWhat are you working on now?

An article for Nextbook on Pearl S. Buck, and my next novel--which will (I think) be set amid the firebombings of Tokyo during World War II


What is your writing day like?

These days it's pretty easy--I usually wander to one of my writing spots somewhere before noon and stay until 3 or 4, unless I'm on deadline. Before I could afford babysitting I used to get up and work between 5 and 9 a.m., since that was the quietest time in the house. Then I'd write whenever my babies napped, which (thankfully) was often, as they were lousy sleepers at night. It's fairly safe to say that I wandered around in a state of sleep-deprived psychosis for about six years.  

What’s the most exciting thing about writing for you?

At this moment, probably the firm grounding it gives me in a life completely of my own making, one that's almost wholly tailored to my own, selfish interests, indulgences and schedule. But I also love the intellectual and imaginative escape it offers. And, of course, that sense--when people like what I've written (or even when they don't)--that I've connected somehow with other people. As E.M. Forster famously said, "Only connect." 


What’s the most frustrating thing about writing for you?


The fact that I can't ever, ever perfect anything--no matter how many times I rewrite it I always find a million ways to make it better. I think my printers at Norton are a little annoyed with me because I keep making changes that seem inconsequential to everyone else but myself--even four months from publication!

What’s the best piece of feedback that you’ve had from your audience?

My friend Scott Snyder--a hugely talented writer--recently told me he had to put my book down for a day because one of my scenes (a murder in a brothel) upset him so much. 


Do you write for a particular audience, or is your first priority to satisfy your own creativity?


My own creativity--I try to write what I like to read. Although of course, after I've written (and re-re-re-re-written it) I'm generally so sick of it I can't stand looking at it anymore...

Do you have a homepage? Do you have any short stories or poems published online? (If so, please provide the URLs): I don't think any of my short stories are available anymore online, but I'm planning a new round of submissions so hopefully that will change!

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