Dana Spiotta grew up mostly in California. She graduated from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in 1992.
In 1993 she moved to New York City. She was the managing editor (with Jodi Davis) of "The Quarterly" for two years. Scribner published her first novel, Lightning Field, in 2001. The Los Angeles Times called it "The hippest, funniest, most urbane and heartfelt account of life west of the 101 and north of the 10 to come along in years." It was a New York Times Notable Book of the year, and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the West.
Her second novel, Eat the Document, was published in 2006 by Scribner. The New York Times called it "stunning" and described it as "a book that possesses the staccato ferocity of a Joan Didion essay and the razzle-dazzle language and the historical resonance of a Don DeLillo novel."
Spiotta now lives in a small rural village in upstate New York. She and her husband have a daughter, Agnes Coleman. When she isn't writing, Spiotta and her husband run their small country restaurant, The Rose & Kettle. The restaurant is on the ground floor of their home.
Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.
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"I have a three-year-old daughter, Agnes. She is totally unimpressed by my novels," Spiotta revealed in our interview.
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In the fall of 2006, fiction finalist Dana Spiotta took some time to talk with us before the National Book Awards ceremony about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Libra by Don DeLillo. A good novel should be deeply unsettling -- its satisfactions should come from its authenticity and its formal coherence. We must feel something crucial is at stake. In this respect -- and in all respects, really --Libra inspires me. It takes enormous risks and succeeds brilliantly. Libra is a book of boundless intelligence, but it is also deeply compassionate. It speaks about America and history and the human soul. It describes a complicated, contradictory world. And it is all held together by its formal perfection. Libra is a magnificent work.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
These books are special to me because reading them made me want to write. (They are responsible!)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner -- I think Faulkner really trusts the reader will follow him. In other words, the forward movement of the novel is driven by the language and not the plot. And it is beautiful and very sad.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Dubliners James Joyce
Ulysses by James Joyce -- When I decided I wanted to write, I read this book very carefully. It seemed to me a primer of possibilities. It made me understand a novel can do anything. And the last fifty pages are amazing. I love that the book ends with her.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D.Salinger
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I love so many films. Here are the big favorites. I've seen all of these movies many, many times. In no particular order:
The Conformist, Bernardo Bertolucci
Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick (all of his films, really)
Badlands and Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick
All the ‘70s films of Coppola, Scorsese, Polanski, and Altman
Faces, John Cassavetes -- All of his films, but particularly Faces. This film is uncomfortable and difficult. The relentless truth telling of Cassavetes is so impressive. He teaches you how to watch him, and then you become addicted.
Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni -- His films have the most mysterious compositions. He makes you understand the significance of placing a person in a landscape. Or letting a person walk out of frame. How powerful he is.
Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Made in U.S.A., Two or Three Things I Know About Her, La Chinoise, and Week-end, Jean-Luc Godard -- But especially Week-end -- I was very influenced by this film. Godard can be so incredibly funny. His sensibility is very ironic and unsentimental. It is quite over the top. The world still hasn't caught up with him.
Red River, Howard Hawks and The Searchers, John Ford -- I love the tautness of Hawks' film. Nothing is wasted or not of the case. He is very skilled. It is an engaging film, and yet there is this air of subversion to it, a real darkness. Both these films are sentimental in places, but both have a dark, rancid version of John Wayne.
In a Lonely Place, Nicolas Ray
Force of Evil, Abraham Polonsky
8 ½ and La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini -- I can't watch these movies enough. Maybe it is the bravura filmmaking, maybe it is Marcello Mastroianni.
Persona, Ingmar Bergman -- I think Bergman's sensitivity on the subject of women rivals Cassavetes. They are so fascinated by complicated women (which is not the same as merely desiring women).
Citizen Kane, Orson Welles
Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo -- This film influenced the writing of Eat the Document. It has the beatific-looking women with the bombs in their purses.
Dont Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker -- What can I say? Eat the Document is named after a Dylan film, the successor to Dont Look Back. In both Dylan is brilliant, beautiful, callow, nasty and brave.
A Hard Day's Night, Richard Lester -- I have always had a fanatical obsession with all the Beatles. I will never get over it.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I don't listen to music when I write. But I think about the book I'm working on while I listen to music in my car. Or setting the table for dinner. That sort of thing. I love all kinds of music.
Lately I've been listening to Donovan. Townes Van Zandt. Sir Douglas Quintet. Cat Power. And the soundtrack to Over the Hedge. And Dan Zanes -- my daughter loves Dan Zanes.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to buy books for the kids in my family. I guess that's why they call me the "mean" aunt.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I am forty -- a late bloomer, for sure. It takes a long time to write a novel when you have to keep interrupting your work to earn money.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
There are too many to name.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
I think carving out the time to write it is the most important thing. And the hardest thing, especially if you have to work another job to pay the rent. But you must. It really has to come before anything else. I try to save all my mornings for writing no matter what. It is very difficult. I am a great procrastinator. When the writing is going really well, the laundry piles up.
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