Q&A with Sara Gruen, author of 'Water for Elephants'

Tuesday, October 2, 2007 | 10:39 p.m. CDT; updated 2:38 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Q. How did you decide to write a story about the circus?

A. I was a day away from starting another book when I saw an old circus photograph on the front page of the newspaper. The photograph just inspired me.

Q. You say that you wrote the first half of the book and then were interrupted. How did you get to the end?

A. I moved into my walk-in closet and finished the book. I made my husband move his clothes and I took my little long-suffering dog in there with me. I was in the closet for 3½ to 4 months.

Q. Why did you choose to set the story during the Great Depression?

A. From a conflict standpoint, I wanted to be able to have the financial struggle and have the circus go through hard times.

Q. How did you decide to make Rosie the elephant such a major character?

A. I don’t think I made the decision consciously. Elephants were really the heart of the circus back then. Is it obvious that Rosie is my favorite character?

Q. Were you intending to comment on animal abuse in the circus?

A. In 1931 there was no concept of animal rights. I wanted people to think, so I tried to neither praise nor criticize the circus.

Q. Did you plan the “surprise ending” from the beginning?

A. I knew the crisis going in.

Q. Was there ever any doubt about writing through the memories of an elderly man?

A. My husband didn’t tell me until after the book was published and doing well that he had concerns about my ability to write as an old man. I was just so caught up in all the excitement that I didn’t think about it. It was the only book I could write at that moment.

Q. How do you write?

A. I’m a typist. I type 130 words per minute. I can type almost as fast as I can think.

Q. What allows people to relate to your characters so easily?

A. Well, I do the warts and all. You have to let them misbehave on occasion.

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