Jonathan Franzen describes how he used his own experiences to fuel his writing:

What made direct revelation impossible was partly my sense of shame and partly a wish to protect third parties, but it was mostly because the material was so hot that it deformed the writing whenever I came at it directly. And so, layer by layer, I built up the masks. Like with papier-mâché, strip after strip, molding ever more lifelike features, in order to perform the otherwise unperformable personal drama.

Over at the Book Bench, Macy Halford watches Franzen on Oprah and reports back: "oy."

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.