So I have all these notes—actually, two sorts of notes that I take. The first happens during the writing, often in first year of writing a book, when I’m trying to figure out how the stories will dovetail and connect. I almost think of it as sort of architecture or woodwork, the way you lay pieces together and how the joints will kind of fit. Those notes are arrows with the character’s name. … These endless kind of pictorial descriptions of how these abstract ideas will relate.
The second form of note is a kind of mathematical calculation that happens later in the book, which is chronology. Because if you want two people meet on the boat, one of them can’t get on the boat in 1946 while the other one gets on the boat in 1947. But it doesn’t always work out that way when you first write it. So there are endless mathematical calculations—you know, 22 minus 13—and just desperately hoping that I didn’t make some massive plot mistake in all of my free association.
I really take great pleasure in that kind of architecture. I guess in life I have a very strong spatial sense. There’s something about how my mind works that has patience for the delicate complexity of how parts can fit together—and the great discovery of the whole, which you can only see as you walk away and look back on the whole thing. I don’t get a sense for the whole until very, very far into the writing.