Writer's Digest

THE WD INTERVIEW Andrew Sean Greer

Andrew Sean Greer, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his novel Less, gave a keynote address at the 2019 Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference wearing a bright red suit and angel wings, happily joining in on our Halloween costume party for the evening. What Greer may or may not have realized was that as he spoke about revising that novel and discovering in it symbols like flight and birds, the wings of his own costume silently underscored his point.

A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Montana and author of five novels and a collection of short stories, Greer is deeply interested in the craft of writing and explained his willingness to speak at the conference, “Usually I don’t talk to a crowd of writers, and it’s boring for readers to hear about our problems. They don’t want to know about that and they’re not interested in any technical kind of question. And all writers want to talk about or hear about or [ask is], ‘how did you do it?’”

It’s a question echoed in the opening pages of Less as the title character prepares to interview an author: “What does one ever ask an author except: ‘How?’ And the answer, as Arthur Less well knows, is obvious: ‘Beats me!’”

Just as his enthusiasm for speaking to other writers was evident in his keynote, Greer was generous with his time and went beyond “Beats me!” in speaking to the magazine as he considered the challenges of his unique revision process, facing rejection, and the benefit of writing retreats. But we began with the big question: choosing what to write about.

Some novelists stick with a common theme among their books, but you tackle varying topics. How do you approach choosing a topic or theme out of all of the possibilities there are?

I think my editors would disagree with you, or my agent would say I write the same book over and over, but in completely

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