Interviews
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  • The Believer, June 2009

    Any kind of serious work is full of drama and passion, yearning and disappointment, complicated choices, sacrifices, moments of bliss—and science is serious, wonderful work.”

  • One Story, December 20, 2008

    “It’s typical for me to be delving into several apparently unrelated areas at once; our lives and our interests aren’t divided into the categories of academia or card-catalogs and so I try not to let my characters’ interests be shoe-horned into those boxes either.”

  • Ploughshares, Fall 2007

    “Teaching stories, later on, made me realize that actually the stories I liked best, and wanted to write, were ones that did nearly as much as a novel but in a smaller space.”

  • The Paris Review, Winter 2003

    “What it feels like is that slowly, over time—a bit more with each book—I trusted my ability to bring alive characters from other times and places, who were interested and involved in things beyond the narrow confines of my life experience.”

  • New York Times, June 6, 2002

    ”Scientific questions are very precise and very directed. A scientist poses problems that can be answered if one works hard enough.” In contrast, writers ”pose question after question, and none of them get answered,” she continued, adding, ”A lot of what I write about in science and history serves as a metaphor for the discoveries we make as writers.”

Audio podcast
  • To the Best of Our Knowledge, July 2014

    “[What starts me writing a story] is not an idea—what is the ether of space?—it’s an image related to that idea. So it’s an image of, in this case, these gigantic, whirling machines made of iron that Sir Oliver Lodge used… It’s jellyfish pulsing in the ocean, and a line drawing of a gigantic jellyfish from the 1870s. That image leads me into the idea, and those two things together lead me to the characters in a story.”

  • Studio 360, November 2013

    “That idea of – what is evidence, how much evidence or data do you need to convince someone of a politically difficult or emotionally difficult position, that’s what really fascinates me, and I think that’s what drove some of the stories in [Archangel].”

  • Key West Literary Seminar, 2009

    “And because nobody was watching and there was no risk involved, what I chose to write about was the thing I actually loved the most but had never dared to write fiction about before, because who writes fiction about old dead scientists?”

  • NPR, 2007

    “Infectious disease exists at this intersection between real science, medicine, public health, social policy, and human conflict. There’s a tendency of people to try and make a group out of those who have the disease. It makes people who don’t have the disease feel safer. So I think it’s that moment that really interests me.”

Video
  • The Story Prize Reading and Awards, March 2014

    “One of the things [the stories in Archangel] seemed to to me to have in common was that sense [of] the great passion and love we can have for a theory that will turn out to be completely wrong – we can’t know that when we’re working on something, we love a wrong theory the way we love a right theory; it’s history that makes that judgment. But the people who have spent their whole life working so hard on something that turned out not to turn out well, that’s a difficult path.”

  • The Drexel Interview, 2007, Part I

    “It turns out to be a working scientist you need a whole other set of skills that I was really unaware of – you need to be able to make hypotheses, you need to be able to look at the world and be able to ask questions about it that are answerable. I look at the world and ask questions about it that aren’t answerable (laughs). And that’s not science, it’s metaphysics – or it’s fiction. It actually has to do with writing, but it took me a very long time to understand that.”

  • The Drexel Interview, 2007, Part II

    “My mother told me this story that really did start a section of [The Air We Breathe] in some way – when she used to go visit her mother [at a sanatorium], I think she was about eight then, and had a younger brother, and children weren’t allowed to visit inside the sanatoria, because it wasn’t healthy for them – so for a year, the way she saw her mother – her father would drive her to the parking lot and stand her and her brother up on the hood of the car, and her mother would come out on the porch, and they would wave at their mother on the porch.”