McQuade spoke in the Freeman Room of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL) on Wednesday evening. The talk was part of the Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Dialogue Series, which brings female authors to speak on campus.
Saffron Agrawal ’21, organizer of the Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Dialogue Series, said, “It’s definitely fascinating to hear about her writing process after having read the book…Hearing her talk about the eight years that it took to form this book and how she revised it over and over again makes sense because the writing is so beautiful and feels so perfectly curated and written.”
McQuade wrote the novel over the span of eight years. McQuade explained how one guiding line through her writing was taking inspiration from mythologies about dangerous women.
“In Greek myths and biblical parables, that means women like Helen of Troy, Lilith, Eve, the Sirens – women who want more than they have, and who are seen as destructive because of those desires. I was interested in looking at how similar mythologies play out in the lives of girls and women in contemporary America,” wrote McQuade in an email to The Phillipian.
She wanted the stories to be simultaneously mystical and realistic.
“I love stories that operate on both realistic and otherworldly levels. The trick is finding the language that works on both levels simultaneously. Like anything, it comes with practice. You start with metaphors…You move from there to analogies, which are basically more complex metaphors; you move from there to emotionally charged descriptions that seem to be about one thing, but are really about something else; you move from there to longer narratives that follow the same structure,” said McQuade.
Filled with descriptive language, her stories captivated listeners with their imagery, according to audience member Max Gundlach ’22.
“The image of the naked man at the bottom of the pond was very eye-opening and very descriptive. She was very strong with her words and powerful, but at the same time, charming and comforting. [She used an] authoritative tone [to capture the scene],” said Gundlach.
Grace Curley ’81, Faculty in Office of Academy Resources, also mentioned the effective use of precise language in McQuade’s writing.
“I’m intrigued by [the story] revolving around a girl’s friendships, and I have already been taken by some of the ways that she phrases things and describes them. She uses the same words that have always existed, but puts them together in new and different ways that make me want to read slowly and carefully because of how well she writes,” said Curley.
McQuade explained the difficulty of maintaining a balance between writing and her personal life, attending writers retreats to work on her novel, while also being there for her family.
Sophia Witt ’20 commented on how McQuade often brought up the importance of patience when writing.
“I learned a lot about the patience that’s required for the writing process and that it’s different for everybody. I learned specifically about her process as a writer, how she keeps it interesting, and what muses she uses in her storytelling, such as her students and how teaching contributed to her as a writer,” said Witt.