Q&A: Stewart O'Nan


Stewart O'Nan is best known for creating extraordinary prose about ordinary people coming to terms with the traumas and tragedies of everyday life. O'Nan has twice received the Connecticut Book Award in Fiction (Wish You Were Here, The Night Country); his latest novel is Songs for the Missing.

 CM: What is it like to be a writer?

O'Nan: Writing novels is really what I want to do. There's nothing better than being in the middle of a big book with a lot of characters and you don't really know what is going on.  

CM: How do you step away from writing a novel and come back into real life?

O'Nan: You try not to-you try to hold that other world within you. When you are writing a book, if it is any good, you should be always hoping to get back to that imaginary world that you are creating. That's what writing is. 

CM: In your writing, what has been important for you to portray for your readers?

O'Nan: Just people and how they sort of get through the day and how they get through some of the harder times. The difficulties that they have and what some of them can fall back on to get through those tough times. I guess faith and despair and endurance. 

CM: How did this theme of endurance become important to you?

O'Nan: I think getting to the middle of life-I'm now in my mid 40's-I see that in a lot of people and wonder how they do it, especially people who are alone. I wonder what gets them through the day, and that seems a bit of a mystery to me.

CM: How did you transition from engineering to writing?

O'Nan: My wife encouraged me. I thought she was crazy-giving up a good job to write literary fiction. I was already a writer in a way because I had a whole bunch of stuff, but always sort of in my basement, as a thing to do after work or on the weekends. 

CM: When were you finally able to write full-time?

O'Nan: I taught at Trinity up through 1998 and then I had enough money saved up to write for a year. So I decided to take the step off the plank. Every year, every book turned into another year. You hope that you will make enough to get to the next year. If it hadn't been for the Red Sox and Stephen King there's no way I could have sent my kids to college. 

CM: So what was it like to write with Stephen King?

O'Nan: To write a book about the Red Sox [Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season]-what a great gig. And then to write it with Stephen King was even better, and then to have them win it all that year, was just a dream come true. Sometimes you get lucky. I always tell my friends that the luckiest thing that ever happened to me was becoming a Red Sox fan. 

CM: You have received a lot of recognition for your work. It must be very gratifying.

O'Nan:  Oh sure, it's very neat. It's that feeling I would get when I was a kid, when I went to the library to pick a book out. I would take it home and it would be me and the book, me and the characters, me in that world. That intimacy, that common ground that we share there-that's the best thing in the world. To know that there are readers who are going to do that with my books-that's amazing.

Q&A: Stewart O'Nan

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