SL: A story about a student having an affair with her professor has become cliché. So you took it to another, more unexpected level: the student has an affair with the professor’s wife. And not only that, the student instigates the affair. What was the thought process in your head, about creating a story, that got you to that idea?
SC: I really didn’t plot it out much in advance; I was thinking, primarily, about all the changes in my own life as a result of ‘growing up,’ if I ever have. How having kids made my twenty-something, pre-kid self, seem so much more like a kid than an adult. At that time, I thought my adulthood was well underway, but looking back I just couldn’t believe how…young I was, and not in the best way. I was naive, irresponsible, self-centered, really not mature at all. I liked kids fine but had no real conception of them as human beings; they were foreign to me. I wanted to explore that through a character, Regina, who thinks she’s all grown up but who really has very little experience. Confronting her with an older woman, who’s in a totally different stage of life, was an obvious way to do that. Their having an affair wasn’t obvious at first, but it came to seem inevitable once I was writing.
SL: What I love the most about this story, it’s not just a simple plot like characters meet, they have an affair, they break up. The characters keep circling each other. Just when you think it’s over, the characters reconfigure into other relationships and then they do it again and then they do it again. How did this idea come to you?
SC: It wasn’t as if a single idea: ‘let’s have the characters keep getting involved with each other in different ways,’ came to me, in some sort of flash of inspiration. I start with characters, and then I start writing, and then, if I’m lucky, things start to happen. I’ve never written a book with an outline, or a predetermined theme. It’s only in retrospect that themes or subjects become identifiable. That’s the fun of it: discovering what’s next. I’m often surprised by plot developments I would not have dreamed of, starting out, but that, in the course of the writing, come to seem inevitable. The relationships between these characters were inevitable. All four of them are so intimate with each other, whether through loving or betraying each other, that it’s like they’ve been stuck together in an elevator for years: it’s a bond. Even if they want to hate each other, they feel closer to each other than to anyone else.
SL: This story would make a great film! As I was reading it, I kept seeing Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) as Professor Brodeur. His character of a professor in the TV series "Perception", a much darker and more complex character than in "Will & Grace", seemed a lot like Nicholas Brodeur. What’s your idea of who should play your characters?
SC: No idea! I’m glad you think it would make a great film, though.
SL: Tell your agent she should be pushing this for a film, or a series on Showtime or HBO.
SC: I certainly will!
SL: Do you have a favorite book or a favorite movie that portrays a same-sex relationship?
SC: Yes to both book and movie. The book is Allan Hollinghurst's exquisite, "The Line of Beauty", one of my top ten favorite books of all time and the direct inspiration for “My Education” (although they could not be more different). The movie is "Brokeback Mountain", no contest. Again, one of my top ten favorite movies of all time.
My Education by Susan Choi is published by Viking Adult and available from your favorite book purveyor.