I first met Nina when she was at the Boston Phoenix, and she quickly became a go-to writer. You know, the ones whose stories you read as soon as you spot the byline – no matter what the subject was, even when it was “100 Unsexiest Men.” When she quit and I’d heard she became a carpenter, I remember thinking, “yeah, journalism – or at least the Phoenix – will do that to you.” (Full disclosure, I quit writing for a year post-Phoenix too. Or almost a year…) When that “time off” became the brilliant Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, the world made sense again. And now Nina is reinterpreting Ovid through the eyes of the female characters involved. Perfect, huh? Cannot wait for this book, which will be out on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
How does a book start for you?
I’ve only written two, and they’ve each begun in very different ways. With Wake, Siren, it came out of reading through Ovid’s Metamorphoses and wanting to get my writing muscles back in shape after a long season of carpentry. I decided to rewrite one of the stories from another perspective. It felt good. I did another, another, and then, quickly, there was a book. If there’s something consistent in the starts to projects for me, it’s the paying attention to the moment when that glittery electricity in the mind lights up that says yes, go, follow this, see where it goes.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most–and why?
Wake, Siren is made up of stories each told by a different voice, almost a series of monologues. I found it was less one particular voice that surprised me, though did shock me, but more the sound of them all together, the accumulation, the multi-sonic chorus of them and how they sounded all together.
When and where is your latest book set and is there a story behind the setting?
Wake, Siren re-tells Ovid’s Metamorphoses from the perspective of the female figures who are transformed. The time and place varies throughout the book. A rock club that might have some resemblance to one here in Cambridge, a mythic seaside cliff, in caves, forests, by sacred pools, in fields, in underworlds, and the sky.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the beginning stages of research for a new book project. I’m doing some final edits on a book of essays on the summer solstice that Black Sparrow is publishing next spring which originally appeared on the Paris Review Daily. I’m writing my weekly column on New England literary news for the Boston Globe, and doing the work involved with the lead-up to publication. After a lull, things are starting to feel quite full again. I miss being full sunk into a big project, but trust that will happen again soon.
What question should I have asked but didn’t?
Among the many kinds of writer you are, Clea, one of them I see you as is music writer, rock critic. So maybe, do you listen to music when you write, if yes, what? And I’d answer: normally no! But with this book, I kept atmospheric Brian Eno in my headphones the entire time.
I love it! Thank you, Nina. May have to queue up the Eno as I read Wake Siren…
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung, a re-telling of Ovid’s Metamorphoses told from the perspective of the female figures transformed, published by FSG/FSG Originals in November, 2019. Her first book was the acclaimed memoir Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. Formerly an editor at the Boston Phoenix, she worked for nine years as a carpenter, and is now a books columnist for the Boston Globe. Her work has appeared on or in The Paris Review Daily, The Believer, American Short Fiction, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, Meatpaper, and elsewhere. She carves spoons and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.