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Interview: Iowa Writer's Workshop Graduate Maggie Shipstead discusses her new novel

June 4, 2012

Lucy Walton of the UK website Female First interviews Iowa Writers Workshop graduate Maggie Shipstead on her new novel Seating Arrangements.

In this Female First interview, Shipstead sets the scene of her novel Seating Arrangements in New England, in what Shipstead describes as "über-WASP" culture: "lobsters, gin and tonics, island breezes, a drunken aunt who knows too much…and a dead whale." Shipstead drew inspiration for her setting through "a fictional mash-up of several New England vacation spots…it's most directly drawn from the island of Nantucket" where Shipstead spent eight months after graduating from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2008.

A native Southern Californian, Shipstead explains the subtle differences between how the upper class on the West Coast engages in "conspicuous consumption": "big, new cars; big, new houses; Hollywood-style clothes and jewelry and gadgets" whereas, on the East Coast, "they're traditionalists about their houses and clothes, which tend to be understated."

Yet, Shipstead's characters are intrinsically flawed. Shipstead seems most concerned with the act of second-guessing: "People who are second guessing are interesting to me because they're daring to open themselves up to regret." Though Shipstead's novel is centered around a wedding, Seating Arrangements is far from the traditional "wedding novel": "I think this book is on the darker side of a wedding novel. Characters behave badly and grapple with regrets and doubts. The action…lurks around the periphery of their celebration."

Seating Arrangements will be released by Knopf on June 12.