Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Ann Joslin Williams

In books, fiction, short stories, writing on March 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Ann Joslin Williams

Ann Joslin Williams. Photo by Liz Williams.

An introduction to the author of The Woman in the Woods, a collection of linked stories. She has a novel forthcoming in 2011 from publisher Bloomsbury, USA, and more immediately a story, “Squareball,” coming out in Arts & Letters, Journal of Contemporary Culture. Additional background on Williams is included at the end of this interview.

Quick Facts on Ann Joslin Williams

  • Home: New Hampshire
  • Comfort food: macaroni and cheese
  • Top reads: all of Anton Chekhov’s work, and Flannery O’Connor, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro
  • Current reads: Just finished Victor LaValle’s Big Machine. Also, a new novel by Dan Chaon, Await Your Reply.

What are you working on at the moment?

Well, I’m starting a new novel, or project. I call it a project, not a novel, because I don’t really know what it’s going to be yet. I’m also waiting for edits on my novel that’s coming out in 2011, so pretty soon I’ll just be doing revisions for that.

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

Hmm. I don’t really know. You hope it’s everyone. I don’t really picture readers when I’m writing. I think about would I like to read this?

Where and when do you prefer to write?

Usually in the morning, but not too early. It’s difficult while I’m teaching. Most real writing happens during the summer for me, and during the school year I tend to do more editing and revision work.

My computer is on my kitchen table. Sometimes I take it and sit somewhere with it on my lap. At home, though, definitely at home.

It’s been said writers can do their work from any place, where would you most want to live and write? Or, what do you like about working from where you currently live?

I like being in New Hampshire. My writing is often set in the wilderness of New Hampshire—certainly in The Woman in the Woods, and my forthcoming novel. I can’t seem to escape it. I really enjoy being in and around the natural world.

Otherwise, I would write in my dream office that’s in my dream house. A place with lots of windows and doors, where I could go in, shut the door and just write.

What do you listen to when you work?

I rarely listen to anything while I work. If I do, Mozart or something classical without lyrics. They say that Mozart helps your brain work. But generally, nothing.

Do you have a personal philosophy for, or an approach to, how and why you write?

I write literary fiction that’s realism. But, I love the idea that characters’ imaginations are fantastic. Also, the natural world is a big part of my fiction; almost it’s own character.

Which contemporary writers do you admire?

Aleksandar Hemon, Ann Patchett. A writer who really influenced me is Jean Rhys. I read her books in my earlier years and I really loved her writing.

Is there a quote about writing that motivates or inspires you?

A favorite quote is from Ron Carlson: “I always write from my own experiences, whether I’ve had them or not.” I like it because it’s funny and true in every sense.

There are so many great quotes. Here’s one from Flannery O’Connor, which is also good writing advice: “Fiction operates through the senses, and I think one reason that people find it so difficult to write stories is that they forget how much time and patience is required to convince through the senses. No reader who doesn’t actually experience, who isn’t made to feel, the story is going to believe anything the fiction writer merely tells him. The first and most obvious characteristic of fiction is that it deals with reality through what can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched.”

What advice would you give to young or aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Read everything. Reading can be your best teacher. Know who came before you as well as who is contemporary. Read closely.

Beyond reading a lot, I think that aspiring writers need to realize that all the writing they do, good or bad, is part of the process. You have to give yourself permission to write crap, or write yourself into corners in order to see what you’ve got, where you’re going, what’s working or not working. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out. If you write thinking that it has to work right the first time, forget it.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I usually try to go to the gym. I don’t know that I like it, but it’s part of my routine. If you mean hobbies, then hiking, climbing mountains—that kind of thing.

About Ann Joslin Williams

Ann Joslin Williams is the author of The Woman in the Woods, a collection of linked stories (Eastern Washington University Press, 2007), which won the 2005 Spokane Prize. She earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is also the recipient of a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her work has appeared in Storyquarterly, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Her first novel will be published by Bloomsbury, USA, in spring, 2011. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of New Hampshire.

(Interview first published on in March 2010.)

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Ann Joslin Williams.” Words With Writers (2010),]

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