Because authors are basically paid to put words in the mouths of other (often non-existent) people, it seems perfectly reasonable that Bill Roorbach held an imaginary dinner party to celebrate his upcoming novel, The Remedy for Love. Obviously. The “guests” are real people, but then Bill gathered them and these questions together for this dinner party in his mind. He and his “guests” discussed topics large (weather) and small (crabcakes). Remedy is about two strangers trapped together during a vicious blizzard in Maine, so this (imaginary) conviviality took place in Hawaii. Naturally. Grab a (pretend) fork, pull up a chair and dig into this virtual feast of the mind. (No dishes to do afterward.)
Ellen Cooney, novelist: I’ve got a question for you: How did the title happen? At the start or later? I’m feeling the coolness of the “For” where one would expect an “Of.” Somehow it puts out a sense of something startling and totally genuine.
Bill (looking out over the Hawaiian surf to the horizon): Wow, thanks, I agree. The working title was Storm of the Century. Which isn’t bad, except that it was a Stephen King book some years back. And sounded a little too much like nonfiction, especially since the weather is just part of the story. My editor, Kathy Pories, and I batted around all kinds of ideas, a lot of laughs (Two People Stuck in a Storm, They Met in a Grocery Store, The Shining), but nothing great was emerging. Then I remembered my friend Liesel Litzenburger, who is a novelist herself, and a kind of title savant. I sent her a very brief description of the book via email, and not four minutes later she shot back a thorough reply (including citations), the story of Henry David Thoreau and his only love. Suffice it to say, the object of Henry’s affection shot him down. And he went home and wrote in his Journals, “The only remedy for love is to love more.” Liesel said, “So there’s your title, The Remedy for Love, but I don’t know if you’re woman enough to pull it off.”
Susan Gregg Gilmore, novelist: You get into a woman’s head and heart like no other male writer I know. How come you’re so damn good at that? Were you raised by older sisters?
Bill: I’m sure that’s the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in my career. I have younger sisters, two of them, who will probably laugh at this question. But I always paid a lot of attention to them, and to all the women in my life, and learned what I could, which is that we all have a little of the other in us, some of us a lot. Another great source of intelligence was twenty-five years of teaching college and graduate creative-writing classes (though I now write full-time). I got to glimpse the hearts and souls of a lot of very different young women (men too) who were talking about, re-creating, and even living through every imaginable disaster and joy. People are people, and much of the rest when it comes to gender is just a social veneer. Then again, vive la difference.
Erika Shepard Robuck, novelist: Bill, I really, really want to know why you write. Is your reader in your mind when you work, or are you satisfying a private impulse? Would you write if you couldn’t get published? Does writing help you figure out the answers to the questions you ask?
Bill (with a reflective gulp of white wine): I have often wondered this over a long career of ups and downs. I certainly kept writing when I wasn’t getting published. A capacity for suffering is a trait most writers need to cultivate. An ideal reader floats in and out of mind as I work (at least when it’s going well), someone who gets what I’m doing and appreciates what it costs, who laughs at what’s funny and cries at what’s sad. On bad days, the opposite, a kind of Wicked Witch of the West who keeps asking who the hell I think I am. Really, though, lately, all these years of battling away, I’ve gotten to where most of the pleasure is in the making. And maybe at long last I’m not so desperate to be loved. I type and I type, and with luck, someone reads.That’s enough love for me.