Maria Flook, currently a Senior Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston, is the author of the story collection You Have the Wrong Man (1996); the novels Mothers and Lovers (2014), Lux (2004), Open Water (1995), and Family Night (1993); two books of poetry, Sea Room (1990) and Reckless Wedding, which won the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series in 1982; and the nonfiction works My Sister Life: The Story of My Sister’s Disappearance (2011) and Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod (2003), a New York Times bestseller. Her work has also appeared in, among other places, the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The New Criterion, and TriQuarterly. Family Night received a PEN American/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Special Citation and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year upon its publication. In 2007, Flook was recognized with a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Award in Fiction. She is also the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa. Prior to her appointment at Emerson, Flook taught at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Warren Wilson College, Rhode Island College, and the Graduate Writing Seminars at Bennington College.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
I write about the human condition, and I am especially interested in fringe populations, and the challenges they face. Estranged persons, who have disconnections, from family, from acceptable factions of society. I like to follow them as they face their problems and try to find answers or at least find refuge from whatever devils are chasing them.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
Some of my characters have become afflicted by addictions, both to drugs and alcohol, or sometimes to sexual obsession. I am careful to give background portraits of these characters to help us understand how they have been harmed or influenced by the hard knocks they have experienced, and how obsession and addiction flowers in negative settings, both in family life and in society.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
My personal experience has exposed me to individuals who have been stricken by addiction and alcoholism. I, too, have been an addict, and I understand certain aspects of that world on a firsthand basis. I was addicted to morphine and I wrote about that in my novel Open Water. I write about characters who interest me because of these challenges and I want to portray them with authenticity. That means giving enough information about usage—including criminal activity and betrayals between friends and family.
How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?
Drugs functioning in my work? Sometimes my depictions of characters using drugs and alcohol have comedic moments, but most often the use of drugs by my characters exposes their threatening situations and I want to portray how they are struggling to survive their weaknesses, if not to overcome them.
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?
I do NOT write about drugs and alcohol. I write about relationships between people, some of whom have drug problems. In contemporary America, many individuals have battles with addictive behaviors. My interest is in the whole realm of a character, and sometimes drugs are in the picture. I don’t think drugs are what drive my goals in my novels, but they are part of my attempt to explore human nature and to write realistic fiction.