Interview with Michelle Curry Wright ‘80 author of Wait and See, Annie Lee
You have done everything from hotel clerking to newspaper reporting, from picture framing to “miles and miles of restaurant work.” What made you decide to write a novel?
MCW: I started writing fiction in 1987. My back was injured that winter, and I was faced with plenty of empty days while the rest of the townspeople skied or went about their business (I was working nights then, too). I had inherited a a computer that fall—which I guess eventually looked enough like an omen to me to function as one. Weaving or soap making might have been more cheeringly productive (more profitable, too), but then you can’t get characters out of commodities.
Do you feel that this wide variety of life experiences helped you to create such unique characters and story twists?
MCW: Living in a small town (3,000 residents in the case of Telluride) presents challenges to the working person. You can be flexible and do a variety of things, arrive with a useful skill or an appropriate profession, or find something tolerable and stay with it. Though I went through the motley jobs at first, restaurants had several things going for them: they freed my days for writing and painting and later being with my child; they provided endless material; and they made sense to me. Though I love the idea of having a variety of observation posts, I actually think all stations of life are equally advantageous for writing. Some writers opt for seclusion and self-flagellation while others tirelessly drag their coffee mugs, journals, and favorite sweaters into the fray. Anything can work and anything can fail you—it’s desire and diligence that matter the most.
Do you have a strong identification with the title character and her dilemmas?
MCW: In a novel, you impose your predilections, view, and voice on the audience, and if that’s not autobiographical in a large sense, well, what is? More overtly, though, yes, I did use my town, my environment, and some personal details in Wait and See. I’m a painter like Annie Lee’s mother. My own mother is French. I suppose some of Annie Lee’s neuroses are my own. But I’m not her. Characters, though given birth by their authors, exist on their own in some remote but fabulously instantaneous firmament right above our heads or inside it, or behind our eyelids, or in the fourth dimension. Sometimes, it seems to me they’ve existed all along it’s just a matter of helping them reveal themselves.
What led you to write this particular story and how long did it take you from start to finish?
MCW: The first draft was entirely different from the finished product—but the inception was an actual occurrence of running over something shiny and gem-like while vacuuming after service. It got me thinking about luck—the idea of luck in our lives, how we cultivate this feeling of unlimited potential and, well grace. This grandiose idea eventually shrank to a single paragraph as the characters began to require all of my attention. I suppose it took three years or so—lots of revising, rethinking, rewriting and help from a sharp or caring editor.
Did you, during the course of writing, experience any of those “aha” moments—when some story-line or character suddenly shifted into place/focus or went a completely different direction then you had planned?
MCW: Yes, those blessed times when things seem to occur effortlessly. And then there you are, the lucky conduit, armed with the word processing skills you’re now grateful are honed to near robotic speeds. In my experience, this accounts for maybe 10 percent of the time: It’s a gift and you embrace it. In one of those fine John Gardner books about writing, he says a main character should, at some point in the story, do something surprising—break away from the expected, the plodding, the obvious, or the fated. I think this sort of thing happens via the subconscious or grace or aha or whatever you choose to call it. “Ahhh,” might be more my sense of how it feels.
Would you say the title is the advice or message of the novel?
MCW: My editor came up with the title Wait and See, Annie Lee, actually. It’s not something I would have come up with, but yes, I would say letting things play out instead of obsessively pushing them to their strained limits is a good little message. Perhaps even a recapitulation of my initial grandiose idea of cultivating this wait-and-see mentality, of holding still rather than forcing things, of having a little faith even for a brief moment in time. Clever editor.