An Electric Experience of Time and Space, an Interview with Rebecca Dinerstein, author of The…
I’ve found myself on more than one occasion talking about Rebecca Dinerstein’s debut novel, The Sunlit Night. Although during each conversation the elements I decide to underscore may change — the love story plot or the silky language — I always come back to one word: warm. It’s hard to read The Sunlit Night without feeling as though you’re enveloped in warmth, swathed by the author’s lyricism and imagery. The sensation is one unique to Dinerstein’s hand — and perfectly matched for the sun-soaked Nordic tale of lives intersecting at the top of the world.
Two days after the launch of her book — a reception at Brooklyn’s PowerHouse Arena that also couldn’t be described as anything other than warm, not coincidentally — Dinerstein took off for book tour to promote The Sunlit Night. That morning, we kicked off an email conversation…
Meredith Turits: The book’s officially out — all of your anticipation is now actually diffused into real momentum as your title sits on shelves. What’s an emotion you felt that you didn’t necessarily anticipate as the book became less of a concept, and transitioned into a tangible object that people could hold, read, walk around with, ask you to sign, and associate with you?
Rebecca Dinerstein: To be honest, working on a book for six years drums up such a range of emotions, there aren’t many that catch me by surprise anymore. As Feist sings, “I feel it all!” Relief, shock, excitement, bashfulness, bewilderment. More than anything I feel gratitude.
MT: Speaking of gratitude, I know two of the people to whom you’re grateful are two of your closest friends from graduate school, Julia Pierpont and Julie Buntin, who’ve also sold their books. What’s it like to go through the process of releasing a book side by side with your best friends, and to have a support system that can identify with specific things you’ve felt? And, at the same time, did you learn anything from contrasting your experiences to theirs along the way?
RD: I don’t know how I could have gone through it without them. This process is so full of surprises, challenges, and emotional turbulence — we have helped each other stay sane. We have answered each other’s questions, supported each other through edits and rejections, accompanied each other to libraries and publishing parties and late night Indian restaurants and panels and bookstores and all the places along the hustle route. Comparing our experiences has relieved some of the natural alienation behind publishing and it’s also taught us about the full range of possible experiences. Their company and their wisdom have been invaluable.
MT: What have your first few days on the road been like? Has there been a transition for you to seeing yourself as an author?
RD: Dreamy! I’ve woken up in a different city every day. It’s such an electric experience of time and space. I can’t say I fully think of myself as an “author” yet, but when I meet people across the country who have read and enjoyed the book, I feel like a member of a wider community than I’ve ever known before, and it’s thrilling. Book tour is very social, but it comes with a lot of alone time — you become your own common denominator as everything else around you shifts. I love traveling alone, soaking up that solitude and the views out many windows, and then enjoying all the energy and friends I find at each destination.
MT: I would imagine that you have a somewhat solidified view of what your book is — how the story elapses and exists, and what it means — after spending so much time with it. Now that you’re beginning to interact with other people who’ve dug into it, have you started to find that they’ve taken different things away from it than perhaps you did, or maybe found things in your pages that you didn’t even expect?
RD: I’ve heard the book’s Norwegian landscape descriptions called “psychedelic,” which I couldn’t have expected but does ring true, and I’ve gotten a variety of reactions to Yasha’s mother: some enraged, some enchanted. One man in Seattle gave me a piece of feedback I cherish — he said the book presents a special understanding of what beauty is. If that’s true, the book has achieved its goal.
MT: I love that. I have this special experience with this book — whenever I so much as think about it, I have a synesthetic experience: I always envision the color yellow. Now, that may be for obvious reasons because of some of the content within the book, but something makes me feel like it’s beyond just the art — there’s a warmth that the book gives out, its own special aura that makes it incredibly unique. Have you ever had that strong associative experience with a book or a word?
RD: That’s so nice! I associate Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse with foggy purple.
MT: I know when you were in Lofoten you had time and solitude to focus on writing as you pleased. How did your find your writing habits and processes change when you came back to New York and had to slide back into a schedule that demanded you balance between writing and the rest of life?
RD: In New York I had to be much more disciplined and ritualistic in order to get the same amount done. I’d wake up at a certain time, drink a cup of coffee, and work until I’d written a set number of words per day (in my case 1,000, but I was hurrying — I think any consistent daily output keeps things moving in a rewarding way). This was less “dreamy” than writing at 2 a.m. under the midnight sun, but it was also wonderful to be able to stop writing at 3 p.m. and go out into the Brooklyn afternoon, where I could find coffee shops and friends and the city’s many treats!
MT: How has your relationship to Norway evolved? You’ve written so much about it, but you also have some distance now.
RD: Great question. Norway has offered me many homes: it gave me a solitary getaway, a romantic relationship, my first publisher, a second language, the comfort of deep friendships, a summer job at a gorgeous rose garden (Baroniet Rosendal!), and a subject for both poetry and prose. I’m endlessly grateful for the variety of experiences it’s afforded me, and for the warm welcome and support I’ve felt from my Norwegian friends as I continue to adopt their country! Now that The Sunlit Night has come out, I do feel that a certain portion of the Norwegian adventure has ended. I’ve expressed my affection and admiration for that landscape, and now look forward to celebrating other subjects. But the next phase of the Norway relationship begins next spring, when the book comes out in Norwegian!
MT: I suppose this would be the best time to ask you what’s up next. I know there are rumblings of another novel — can you share some details? We’re on home shores this time, yeah?
RD: Home shores, I hope. I am working on another novel, and I’d like to focus more on psychology, relationships, and human drama this time, as opposed to travel. It’s in its early stages, and subject to change, but I’m exploring the history of poison, as it has been fatally discovered in berries and plants throughout the natural world. I hope to take the Adam and Eve story as my starting point, and investigate our relationship to the forbidden. I’m working out what “picking our poison” means. At the same time, some part of me wants to flip the Far North upside down and head out to Chilean Patagonia. Maybe that’s for novel number three.