On April 30, Stewart participated in an online chat for The Nervous Breakdown’s book club:
Brad Listi (BL): Three minutes, ladies and gentlemen.
Stewart O’Nan (SO): Gotta warm up my Magic 8-ball.
BL: (He’s not referring to cocaine, ladies and gentlemen.)
SO: I was gonna say — not a Belushi reference.
[THREE MINUTES ELAPSE.]
BL: Okay…I believe we’ve reached the top of the hour. Let’s get started. I want to begin by thanking Stewart O’Nan for taking the time to be here this evening. It’s a thrill to have you, Stewart, and congrats on Emily, Alone.
SO: Thanks for having me and Emily (and Rufus).
BL: In this book, you’re writing an older female protagonist. The level of detail you’re able to deliver about that experience is pretty striking. I’m curious if you did any research here, or if you’re simply working from life experience and imagination.
SO: I did a fair amount of research. Handed out questionnaires to older folks at my library readings. And kept several notebooks to get closer to Emily and her world in Pittsburgh.
BL: Can you describe these questionnaires?
SO: I’d ask people how their neighborhoods had changed, and if there were neighbors who were no longer there whom they missed. I asked for three places they went to every week, who they wished they saw more in their lives, what’s become harder the older they’ve gotten.
BL: You tend to write about people “unlike” yourself, to work “from the outside, in,” as opposed to the other way around. Do you feel this is a fair assessment?
SO: Maybe. I mean, I think I share the emotional worlds of my characters even if I’m not like them in age, gender, race, class, or even region sometimes. I like to find out how it feels to be someone else, what they go through, what’s important to them — and I think that that is usually the same. We want to be understood by the people closest to us.