A conversation with Hester Kaplan Gambling plays an important part in straining your characters Mira and Owen’s marriage. Why did you choose this particular vice for your novel? I am no fan of gambling, but I’m interested in what drives people, particularly women, to the slot machines. In interviewing women who’d become hooked on the rush they get from the playing the slots, I was struck by how solitary, secretive, and severe their addictions were. Many of the women were still stunned by how quickly they’d gotten in trouble and debt, and how easy it was for them to lie, elaborately, about it to their friends, family, spouses. In The Tell, I took Mira to the slot machines precisely because it seemed so unlikely for it to happen to “someone like her.” But the truth is, you never know who’s going to get hooked, and Owen could not imagine it would ever happen to his wife. Mira
and Owen’s Victorian house plays such a pivotal role in THE TELL that it almost seems like another character in the book. And I know you have a Pinterest board (http://pinterest.com/hesterkaplan/explore-the-tell/) where you collect images of Victorian houses that inspired the atmosphere and rooms in the book. Can you talk a little bit about how these houses inspire you? I live in a city where my daily walks take me past many amazing and varied examples of Victorian architecture. Balustrades, spindles, gables, rounded porches, turrets, towers, rows of shingles—these are the fanciful elements and ornamentation that first catch my eye and spark my imagination. I imagine one of my characters standing at the window, wandering through empty rooms on the third floor, braving the basement, and sitting on the porch. The house is where they sleep and dream. The houses, in the way they occupy their site and face the street, once made a statement about their owners, the way they wanted to present themselves, and their place in the world. Today these houses can swallow their owners with their needs and upkeep, and out-of-date features. Mira wonders, does she own her house or does it own her? She feels captive and protector, servant and curator of the house that’s been in her family for generations. Memories and aspirations and the burden of responsibility lurk in the details, in the light that comes in through a rounded window, the dim and unadorned rear staircase. I moved Wilton into a large house next door that he fills not with his actual life, but with dreams of a fuller one. Sometimes on my walks, I still see him pacing his empty living room. Wilton Deere was once a well-known sit-com actor, but now he’s been mostly forgotten. Does he suggest something about our cultural obsession with celebrity? Celebrity fades fast. We have an endless desire for the next and the newest. And when a celebrity’s time is past? We forget he or she ever existed. Wilton Deere still wants to be recognized and admired, but he understands that he’s not known for his true self, but for the character he played on television. He struggles with how to unite these two parts of his identity. In the novel, Wilton has the chance to recreate himself, perhaps not to his die-hard fans, but to his daughter. Owen and Mira’s initial reaction to Wilton is awe. They find themselves easily wooed by the proximity of celebrity. But Owen also understands that his sense that he knows Wilton, that they have a unique bond—because he’d watched him on television—is false and misdirected. This is our relationship to celebrity; we accept the artifice of its public face, and the deception of our own attraction. You often write about marriage. Why? I am drawn to explore the dissonance between what society prescribes for marriage and what our natural inclinations and desires might be. Secrets are important in a marriage—they preserve for us our sense of individuality and agency—but they can also fuel approaching storms. Unspoken
rules and values guide every couple—but what happens when one half begins to question those assumptions? Marriage is a state of perpetual assessment, of self and other, and a rich world for any writer. You write novels and short stories. How does writing these forms differ for you? A short story is a date, while a novel is a marriage. The difference isn’t simply about the number of pages, but about how characters (and writer) take the short or long view of events. Characters in short stories are concerned with what is right now, with the decision in front of them or the one they just made, while characters in novels, live and change and understand through the accumulation of a thousand decisions. There is also a difference in how a reader gets to know the characters, either in intense moments of affinity, or in more gradual, unfolding ways. Short stories use images and memories and details to immediate effect, while
novels savor them. Whether I’m working on a short story or a novel, what remains the same is my interest in language, and how it can create mood and atmosphere beyond pure meaning.