A Novel Approach: A Q & A with Rutgers–Camden English Professor and Prolific Author Lisa Zeidner

A Novel Approach: A Q & A with Rutgers–Camden English Professor and Prolific Author Lisa Zeidner

Lisa Zeidner

Lisa Zeidner, a professor of English at Rutgers–Camden, is
the author of five novels: Customs, Alexandra Freed, Limited Partnerships, Love
, and Layover, which has been translated
into six languages and is in production as a film. Published in September 2012,
her latest novel, Love Bomb, will be
released in paperback on May 28.

A resident of Cherry Hill, Zeidner has also published two
books of poetry, Talking Cure and Pocket Sundial, which won the
Brittingham Prize in Poetry, and has written screenplays for Universal Studios
and Focus Features. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in GQ, Mademoiselle,
The New York Times, Boulevard, Poetry, The Washington Post,
and other publications. Her creative nonfiction has been anthologized in
Salon.com’s Life As We Know It and
Tin House’s Cooking and Stealing.

Zeidner is the recipient of the 1993 Warren I. Sussman Award
for Excellence in Teaching and the Provost’s Teaching Award at Rutgers–Camden.
She is also the founding director of the university’s “Writers in Camden” series.

Your latest novel, Love Bomb, begins as a hostage drama set
during a wedding ceremony. The guests are unexpectedly taken hostage by a woman
wearing a wedding dress and a gas mask, armed with a rifle, and with a bomb
trigger strapped to her arm. What was the inspiration behind writing Love Bomb?

There were so many episodes of domestic violence while I was
writing the novel – but all of them were perpetrated by men. I was interested
in how we think about violent women. Do we assume they’re motivated by failed
love, rather than ideology? Is there something inherently absurd about a woman
yielding a weapon – remember Lorena Bobbitt? Many of my novels have featured women
behaving badly, but holding hostages is as bad as my women have gotten to date.

What is your main
message or theme that you are addressing in Love

We see violence every day – in the news, in the endless
parade of shows like Law and Order or
Special Victims Unit. Yet most of us
never experience situations like this firsthand. I was interested in how it
would really feel, as opposed to how it is portrayed in the movies, where you
just get this general, clichéd sense of panic.

Love Bomb features an expansive cast of original, memorable
characters. Where do you get your ideas for the characters that you create, and
do you fully know who these characters are before you begin writing the story?

The story takes place at a wedding, so I wanted to show a
spectrum of approaches to love: good marriages, nasty divorces, compulsive womanizers,
Fatal Attraction-style stalkers. The
two characters in my mind to start were the terrorist herself, who is about as
nutty as you get, and the bride’s mother, who is about as sane and balanced. The
challenge was creating credible and interesting backstories for everyone held
hostage in that room.

How did you conduct
research for Love Bomb, and how did
this research inform the direction of the story?

I did want the novel to be realistic, so I spent time with
some policemen, with a SWAT team, at a gun range, with a forensic psychiatrist,
and at a 911 call center. A lot of what I learned was important for plotting the
novel. For example, who would know, from the movies, that a SWAT team never
gets anywhere in less than 40 minutes, or that almost none of them are called
“SWAT?” The details matter.

In writing about
domestic terrorism in Love Bomb, you
did not shy away from employing “the terrorist of love” to tell a satirical but
thoughtful story. Are there issues or concerns that you are forced to think
about when creating literary art in a post-9/11 world?

I was told that using the word “terrorist” in a satire was a
risky move. But of course taking risks is what novelists like. If you’re asking
people to reconsider their attitudes towards safety and danger, you can’t be
too shy. The aim was a kind of tonal complexity.

Do you draw
inspiration or influences from other writers or artists?

I’m excited by the number of novelists who are now
experimenting with new forms – people like Jennifer Egan, whose A Visit From the Goon Squad won
the Pulitzer Prize, or Karen Russell, whose novel Swamplandia! was nominated for a Pulitzer. Both novelists,
incidentally, have been featured in our MFA’s Writers in Camden Program.

Speaking of the MFA
Program, how do you like teaching creative writing?

I love it. And I’m very excited by the work our students are
doing. Our first graduates are beginning to get stories and poems published,
win prizes, get agents, sell books. It’s very gratifying work.

Media Contact: Tom McLaughlin
E-mail: thomas.mclaughlin@camden.rutgers.edu