Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How scary do you think it would be if you were the highly respected book editor of Glamour and then you wrote your debut? Not so terrifying after it becomes a smash! Elisabeth Egan talks about her acclaimed debut: A WINDOW OPENS, her bronze Addidas sneakers, Cheez-Its, and so much more!





 Elisabeth Egan is the books editor at Glamour. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in Self, Glamour, O, People, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Huffington Post, The New York Times Book Review, LA Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times; and Newark Star-Ledger. And like me, she's a Jersey girl. and loves Cheez-Its. I'm thrilled to have her here to talk about her debut, A WINDOW OPENS. Thank you so much, Elisabeth!


I have to ask you the “why now” question that I always ask authors because I always think that something is prodding at them, or haunting them, so they have to write a particular book at a particular time. Was there anything like that for you?

I was about to turn forty and writing a book was at the top of the list of things I’d always wanted to do but never had the guts to try. Also, like many writers, I wrote the book I wanted to read. I kept coming back to the idea of the middle-aged coming of age—the possibility of reinvention long after your life is supposedly “set.” My life never feels that way, which is both liberating and maddening, so I wanted to explore the world of another woman who felt that way, too.

I ALSO have to ask because you’re the Books Editor at Glamour—how scary was it to write your own novel? 


Scary is an understatement. Other words that come to mind: humbling, humiliating, embarrassing, exasperating. It’s so much easier to read other peoples’ books than it is to write one of your own! But I think the experience of writing one made me a more careful reader. This is a weird parallel, but when I was a babysitter, I remember looking at frazzled, exhausted parents and thinking: why is this so hard for them? How hard is it to keep decent junk food in the house, or to teach your kid not to draw on the walls? Then I had kids of my own and I got it: loving and launching a human being requires gumption, courage, a sense of humor, an endless reservoir of patience. It’s a leap of faith, just like writing a novel. Now when I pick up a new book, I know I’m holding someone’s dream in my hands. I approach with kindness and respect (and also, hopefully, with Cheez-Its).

So much of this funny, smart book is about trying to do it all, especially in a city as complex as New York City (where I was once actually stopped by someone because I “was wearing last year’s boots.”) What I especially loved was how Alice’s plans always go into reverse, and what she thinks is going to happen, doesn’t—but sometimes, something better does. Do you try to operate that way, as well, taking things easy and seeing where they go, or do you feel a need to have at least some control? (I’m totally obsessive compulsive and I over-organize everything
.)

I’m the worst kind of person: I’m a control freak, but I never quite manage to get things under control. Does that make sense? Like Alice, I have big dreams and grand plans…and I tend to botch the very things I’m most excited about. I’ve ruined more than one surprise party by showing up a week early. However, I definitely subscribe to the theory of “When a door closes, a window opens.” (Hence, the title of my book.)

Scroll, the hip new bookstore that is going to change “the future of reading” was hilariously depicted, as was Alice’s job at the magazine. Why do you think business people sometimes get things so weirdly off?


This is a good question! I think the world needs less of thinking like a Business Person and more thinking like a Person. No need to hide behind weird lingo; just talk to me in a language I understand.

When you discover what it is you want, do you think you can have it—even if it is a four-part answer?

I believe if you want something badly enough, it’s possible that you might be able to make it happen. There’s no guarantee, of course, but the experience of writing A Window Opens  taught me a little bit about breaking a big goal into small parts. I felt overwhelmed by the idea of writing 80,000 words, so I focused on writing 500 words. I couldn’t imagine telling a big, important story, so I started thinking in terms of small moments that were important to me. I didn’t have eight hours a day to write, but I did have 45 minutes while I was commuting to work. I boarded the train, laptop in hand, and plowed ahead from there.

What kind of writer are you? Did you know how Alice’s story was going to end up when you started? Do you map things out or just beg the Muse to help you? And what surprised you in the writing of this novel?  Did you have a moment when what you thought you were writing about began to turn into something else? What did you learn about yourself?

I’m a disciplined writer in the sense that I know how long I have to work every day, and I stick with that plan as if I’m a runner training for a marathon. I won’t go out for coffee, I won’t return my mom’s phone call, and I won’t fold the mountain of laundry on the dining room table even if that task is infinitely more appealing than stringing together uninspired words. So I’m disciplined about my schedule, but not about the story I’m writing. I don’t do an outline or a storyboard. I knew where Alice would start and where she’d end up, but how she’d get there was murky at the start. I like to be able to follow a tangent—sometimes it’s a gigantic waste of time, but otherwise, you end up somewhere unexpected and fun. What surprised me: that I stuck with it (I’m the doyenne of the unfinished knitting project). What I learned about myself: you can teach an old dog new tricks.


What’s obsessing you now and why?

My new bronze Addidas sneakers. I feel like I’m really going places when I wear them.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

You forgot to ask about my cats, Kevin and Arthur. They’re a handsome duo, and the best writing partners I know. Pictures provided upon request.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

And now, reason 9 million why I love Algonquin Books and Mary Laura Philpott at the amazing Parnassus Books







Five Reasons to Read & Recommend Caroline Leavitt's Cruel Beautiful World
by Mary Laura Philpott, Parnassus Books

That Smokin' Hot Cover
The front of this book pretty much says, “Welcome to the time machine. Splash on a little Love's Baby Soft and step inside.” Detail after sensory detail, Leavitt holds readers in thrall to her story and keeps us immersed in the era of peace, love, and simmering danger.

A Family Both Recognizable and Unique
The relationship between sixteen-year-old Lucy and her older sister, Charlotte, epitomizes the big sibling–little sibling dynamic: deep love mixed with jealousies and misunderstandings. The family structure here is a little unusual—the girls are parented by a much older woman named Iris, and there's a backstory as to why, of course—but the ties that bind are universally relatable.

Get Out of Unwanted Weekend Plans!
Cancel brunch. You're not going anywhere until you find out where Lucy went and what happens next. The plot unfolds at a pace that hooks you from the first page to the last.

The Writing—Oh, the Writing
The story itself is entertaining enough—who doesn't love a disappearance drama?—but if you're a reader who writes (or just one who digs good prose), you'll appreciate this book on multiple levels. Don't be surprised if whole sentences stick in your brain.

It's a Crowd Pleaser
I read it. My husband read it. My younger co-workers read it. My older colleagues read it. Everyone loved it. Keep Cruel Beautiful World in mind as a go-to when a reader comes in and asks, “What's something good I don't know about yet?” Hand this over and rock their world.

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt * October 2016 * 978-1-61620-363-4

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What if you discovered that your parents were the true-life love triangle in Graham Greene's The Quiet American? Danielle Flood did, and turned it into THE UNQUIET DAUGHTER





Danielle Flood  is an extraordinary journalist who has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, the Associated Press, the Daily News and so many other outlets. In her memoir, The Unquiet Daughter, she turns her journalistic skills to finding the truth about her past. I'm honored to host her here. Thank you so much, Danielle.


Danielle Flood, --circa 2012 -- rests in Aix-en-Provence, France, not so far from the area where her mother’s family came from, documented for some 250 years from about 1700 to the mid-twentieth century as the owners of a huge old limestone farmhouse – called in the South of France a mas – and surrounded by grape fields in St. Paulet de Caisson; it’s called Mas de la Prade. Photo by Jim Morin.


The Unquiet Daughter has been called a new version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Can you talk about this please?

It has been a delight after working alone for some eleven years on a story, that so affected my life, to have a Graham Greene expert of several decades read it and come along and stand by me, along with Kurt Andersen, the novelist and host of NPR’s Studio 360. The expert is Michael Shelden, a Pulitzer finalist and author of a masterful Graham Greene biography and several others. Of The Unquiet Daughter, he has written:

"Passionate and unflinchingly honest, this is a fascinating memoir that explores the tangled connections between Graham Greene’s fictional version of wartime Indochina, and the real people there whose actions have haunted the author for most of her life. Danielle Flood is the child of an affair so much like the one described in the love triangle of Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, that she is perfectly right to make her startling claim, ‘I am a sequel he never wrote.’”

Frankly, when I first read his comment, I danced around the room with relief.

So you ask: is The Unquiet Daughter a new version of The Quiet American? It would be more accurate to say that The Unquiet Daughter includes the original version – i.e. the original story – upon which The Quiet American was based and its sequel: me. I am, and what happened to me, the child from the original love triangle, the sequel that Graham Greene never wrote; but he knew about me.

My parents were in Saigon before Greene got there. He arrived in early 1951. My stepfather, Jim Flood, arrived about a week before Greene; things happened; there was a love triangle; Greene heard about it and the marriage. For him to have known about that, the marriage, he had to have followed the story – some of the time from abroad – for about 18 months because for a U.S. Foreign Service Officer to marry a foreign national when posted overseas, he had to get permission and that took a while, and in this case, a long long while. That was such an interesting nugget. Of course there’s much more to the story. 

What event made you search for your father?

The Unquiet Daughter is a memoir but written also as a mystery story. The answer to your question would be a spoiler. But I can say it was something that made me more angry than I had ever been in my life; it made me understand how people could do murder, though I could never do that; I understand it to my core.

What made you need to write about it?

First, I felt I needed to respond to Graham Greene’s authorized biographer, Norman Sherry, who described my parents’ love triangle in The Life of Graham Greene Vol. II (of three), but then I thought about it for a while.

Then, I am an obstinate sort, I suppose. The moment that I realized it was possible that I might never be able to get the information I needed to write it, I knew I had to go get it. That moment came in the wake of 9/11. I had three uncles, part French and part Vietnamese, living in France and they had information and historic photos from French Indochina where they were born and grew up with my mother that I needed.

I really think you had to remember the fear some of us had in the first few weeks after 9/11. Some of us realized that it was possible we might never be able to travel freely to Europe again. I expressed this to my daughter and she said, “Mommy, Go.” And I did. I remember I was sleeping during that trip in Marseille airport for a bit, half an hour or more, waiting for a plane when I woke up and said, “Osama Bin Laden.” My saying his name woke me up. And the security people were really hyped – they took away my lavender soap, saying a bomb could be made with it. So that was the beginning of the massive work involved in investigating why my mother didn’t want me to know what I found out.

The pain involved in realizing – which took years – that I was/am illegitimate, born out of wedlock, caused me to prevail, persist in the getting the words down; it took years; also, I wanted to share with others – others who were born out of wedlock and others who take their mothers and fathers for granted – what happened to me so that others under similar or related circumstances would not feel so alone. The subject needs to be talked about. The number of single mothers has been rising significantly for the last fifty years. In The Unquiet Daughter I say the following, at a certain time in my life, which was a large period of years -- decades -- when I had no father:

“I know it shouldn’t matter that I have no father in my life, but it does: To have someone stand up to the world and say: she’s mine, I love her, someday she’s going to do something that matters and I care about it. The biggest luxury would be to have a father – and a mother – who says: I care about her even if she doesn’t make a big mark in the world; I just want her to be happy."


Imperial Citadel, Hue, Annam, French Indochina, circa 1951. – The author’s stepfather, Jim Flood, right, was compared to The Quiet American character
by Graham Greene’s authorized biographer. Another Greene expert, Michael Shelden, says Flood, and the author’s mother, Suzy Jullien, and her lover were in a triangle “so much like the one described in the love triangle of Greene’s novel that she is perfectly right to make her startling claim, ‘I am a sequel he never wrote.'" Here, Flood is with his boss, U.S. Legation attaché Leslie Snowden Brady, center, and Tran Van Tuyen, at the time he was secretary of state for information in Emperor Bao Dai’s cabinet. From the collection of Danielle Flood.


You’ve been a staff writer for various newspapers, and I’m curious how your journalistic skills helped you in your quest to write this book and to find answers?

Journalists are taught techniques of the interview. There is an interviewing device, which is to ask the same question twice, even thrice, to see if the interviewee answers it the same way, or not, possibly indicating that the interviewee is lying. I think insurance people, lawyers and the police also use it when asking someone to retell a story. When I used this on my mother one time, she answered the same question with two different responses. I knew she wasn’t telling me the truth that time due to that device. It made me furious.

There is a great deal of information that is available in the public record. Journalists know this. I wish non-journalists were more aware of that fact. I guess we are trained from the outset as journalists to befriend librarians. They are researchers’ or writers’ or investigators’ best friends. Being familiar with public records helps, and some family records are similar in foreign countries, though some give more or less details than others. I had to do a lot of international reportage. I was grateful when email existed in order to have documentation of some records, such as the curator of the French archives stating that not only did the French authorities not have the details or documents surrounding the double-car bombing that happened in Saigon on January 9, 1952, but she stated, she didn’t know where they are if they still exist.

I was taught by my mentor at a young age 19, 20, that you know when a story hangs together. And it’s true. And you know when there is a hole or there are holes in it. It’s instinctual some of the time and some of the time you figure things out because of logic.

I’m grateful that I had had a lot of experience interviewing people by the time I slammed straight into this story. Because no matter how emotional you feel about the subject matter, as a journalist you have to produce, so there’s still that bothersome bird on your shoulder saying: Did you get everything? What’s your lead? What’s your ending? What’s the feeling you want to convey in the beginning? What’s the feeling at the end? Does this make sense? What’s missing? What colors are there in the story? Smells? You have those things bothering you until you get everything you need. I can’t sleep until I have as much as I can get for a story. Finally, you get that quiet, digested feeling so you can write.

To be accurate, though, I should mention that I was trained to be eyes and ears in the walls; as a journalist I was trained to stay out of any story I was covering unless it was absolutely necessary for me to be in it to tell it. I am not alone in such training. Many other journalists have been trained this way. So it took a long time and it was very difficult for me to write this story. And I think I edited or proofread it around 25 times over eleven of the last 15 years. 

What surprised you while you were writing this book?

There were lots of surprises, details that all three parents withheld from me, though some of them were the result of an investigative journalist having been exhaustive; I think it’s normal for people to edit their lives for their children or families. I was especially surprised to learn that my mother was a mistress, and before that a sergeant chief grade in the French army, though delegating work seems to have been second nature to her anyway. I was surprised to find how much violence played out in Saigon after World War II and before the French lost Indochina at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. I grew up a great deal of time in America, in New York, so I had the perception that Vietnam was full of violence during the American Vietnam war, but not before that, during the French war for Indochina. But there was a great deal of violence between 1947 when my mother got to Saigon as a young sergeant and 1953 when she left; there was a great deal of terrorism; a shopping trip on the rue Catinat could end your life.

Did it change how you thought about your past?

Yes, Who I was and who my parents were became more clear and more complicated and more interesting, with many more shades of gray.

Do you see things differently?

Yes. They are not as nebulous anymore. I am not maybe a half British person and part Vietnamese and French. I am half Scottish and half English, one-eighth Vietnamese and three-eighths French. In fact, it was brought to my attention that my great grandfather owned and died in a castle in Scotland. I'm going to visit it. Good-looking castle, too. It's called Crossbasket Castle, in Lanarkshire. I'm not blue-blooded; they were just very wealthy, from their textile business.

What's obsessing you now and why?

I'm writing an essay in my head that has become ripe to put on paper. it starts writing itself early in the morning while I'm sleeping and so I wake up with the words frothing and so I need to write them down on paper by the bed. I'm worried about getting what I have to say just right; my stepfather, Jim Flood, used to tell me to fight to be precise and it is a struggle sometimes but it's also beautiful when you win; you feel good about it; you know that. You must know that.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

How did this story affect my life?  It's thought-provoking to say someone comes of age, or finds himself or herself as the result of a quest because it is as if he or she is being described as someone who holds still, when we are constantly changing, every day, every second. So I changed when I learned each new bit of information about my heritage and who I was, which includes my reaction to my heritage. And I'm still changing. I know because I should have written the essay I mentioned a long time ago, but it wasn't ready and so if I could change, or grow a little more for a few days, it will all come out just fine, I hope.


French Indochina, circa 1939-the children of Aymond Jullien, the author’s grandfather, who left France and went to Asia in 1896 and married the tutor, Marie Jeanne Jarno, who was half French and half Vietnamese. Marie Jeanne usually dressed her children in matching clothes and periodically had them photographed in a photo studio in Hanoi. The author’s mother, Suzanne, is the second from the right. From the collection of Danielle Flood.  

French Indochina, Christmas, 1952 – The author, Danielle Flood, practicing walking at the first Christmas Party the American Embassy celebrated in Saigon; it was elevated from a Legation during the summer, 1952. Flood’s mother, Suzy Flood, is to the right; her friend, the daughter of a career undercover CIA officer at the embassy, is to the left. From the collection of Danielle Flood.






What if you discovered that your parents were the true-life love triangle in Graham Greene's The Quiet American? Danielle Flood did, and turned it into THE UNQUIET DAUGHTER





Danielle Flood  is an extraordinary journalist who has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, the Associated Press, the Daily News and so many other outlets. In her memoir, The Unquiet Daughter, she turns her journalistic skills to finding the truth about her past. I'm honored to host her here. Thank you so much, Danielle.


Danielle Flood, --circa 2012 -- rests in Aix-en-Provence, France, not so far from the area where her mother’s family came from, documented for some 250 years from about 1700 to the mid-twentieth century as the owners of a huge old limestone farmhouse – called in the South of France a mas – and surrounded by grape fields in St. Paulet de Caisson; it’s called Mas de la Prade. Photo by Jim Morin.


The Unquiet Daughter has been called a new version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Can you talk about this please?

It has been a delight after working alone for some eleven years on a story, that so affected my life, to have a Graham Greene expert of several decades read it and come along and stand by me, along with Kurt Andersen, the novelist and host of NPR’s Studio 360. The expert is Michael Shelden, a Pulitzer finalist and author of a masterful Graham Greene biography and several others. Of The Unquiet Daughter, he has written:

"Passionate and unflinchingly honest, this is a fascinating memoir that explores the tangled connections between Graham Greene’s fictional version of wartime Indochina, and the real people there whose actions have haunted the author for most of her life. Danielle Flood is the child of an affair so much like the one described in the love triangle of Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, that she is perfectly right to make her startling claim, ‘I am a sequel he never wrote.’”

Frankly, when I first read his comment, I danced around the room with relief.

So you ask: is The Unquiet Daughter a new version of The Quiet American? It would be more accurate to say that The Unquiet Daughter includes the original version – i.e. the original story – upon which The Quiet American was based and its sequel: me. I am, and what happened to me, the child from the original love triangle, the sequel that Graham Greene never wrote; but he knew about me.

My parents were in Saigon before Greene got there. He arrived in early 1951. My stepfather, Jim Flood, arrived about a week before Greene; things happened; there was a love triangle; Greene heard about it and the marriage. For him to have known about that, the marriage, he had to have followed the story – some of the time from abroad – for about 18 months because for a U.S. Foreign Service Officer to marry a foreign national when posted overseas, he had to get permission and that took a while, and in this case, a long long while. That was such an interesting nugget. Of course there’s much more to the story. 

What event made you search for your father?

The Unquiet Daughter is a memoir but written also as a mystery story. The answer to your question would be a spoiler. But I can say it was something that made me more angry than I had ever been in my life; it made me understand how people could do murder, though I could never do that; I understand it to my core.

What made you need to write about it?

First, I felt I needed to respond to Graham Greene’s authorized biographer, Norman Sherry, who described my parents’ love triangle in The Life of Graham Greene Vol. II (of three), but then I thought about it for a while.

Then, I am an obstinate sort, I suppose. The moment that I realized it was possible that I might never be able to get the information I needed to write it, I knew I had to go get it. That moment came in the wake of 9/11. I had three uncles, part French and part Vietnamese, living in France and they had information and historic photos from French Indochina where they were born and grew up with my mother that I needed.

I really think you had to remember the fear some of us had in the first few weeks after 9/11. Some of us realized that it was possible we might never be able to travel freely to Europe again. I expressed this to my daughter and she said, “Mommy, Go.” And I did. I remember I was sleeping during that trip in Marseille airport for a bit, half an hour or more, waiting for a plane when I woke up and said, “Osama Bin Laden.” My saying his name woke me up. And the security people were really hyped – they took away my lavender soap, saying a bomb could be made with it. So that was the beginning of the massive work involved in investigating why my mother didn’t want me to know what I found out.

The pain involved in realizing – which took years – that I was/am illegitimate, born out of wedlock, caused me to prevail, persist in the getting the words down; it took years; also, I wanted to share with others – others who were born out of wedlock and others who take their mothers and fathers for granted – what happened to me so that others under similar or related circumstances would not feel so alone. The subject needs to be talked about. The number of single mothers has been rising significantly for the last fifty years. In The Unquiet Daughter I say the following, at a certain time in my life, which was a large period of years -- decades -- when I had no father:

“I know it shouldn’t matter that I have no father in my life, but it does: To have someone stand up to the world and say: she’s mine, I love her, someday she’s going to do something that matters and I care about it. The biggest luxury would be to have a father – and a mother – who says: I care about her even if she doesn’t make a big mark in the world; I just want her to be happy."


Imperial Citadel, Hue, Annam, French Indochina, circa 1951. – The author’s stepfather, Jim Flood, right, was compared to The Quiet American character
by Graham Greene’s authorized biographer. Another Greene expert, Michael Shelden, says Flood, and the author’s mother, Suzy Jullien, and her lover were in a triangle “so much like the one described in the love triangle of Greene’s novel that she is perfectly right to make her startling claim, ‘I am a sequel he never wrote.'" Here, Flood is with his boss, U.S. Legation attaché Leslie Snowden Brady, center, and Tran Van Tuyen, at the time he was secretary of state for information in Emperor Bao Dai’s cabinet. From the collection of Danielle Flood.


You’ve been a staff writer for various newspapers, and I’m curious how your journalistic skills helped you in your quest to write this book and to find answers?

Journalists are taught techniques of the interview. There is an interviewing device, which is to ask the same question twice, even thrice, to see if the interviewee answers it the same way, or not, possibly indicating that the interviewee is lying. I think insurance people, lawyers and the police also use it when asking someone to retell a story. When I used this on my mother one time, she answered the same question with two different responses. I knew she wasn’t telling me the truth that time due to that device. It made me furious.

There is a great deal of information that is available in the public record. Journalists know this. I wish non-journalists were more aware of that fact. I guess we are trained from the outset as journalists to befriend librarians. They are researchers’ or writers’ or investigators’ best friends. Being familiar with public records helps, and some family records are similar in foreign countries, though some give more or less details than others. I had to do a lot of international reportage. I was grateful when email existed in order to have documentation of some records, such as the curator of the French archives stating that not only did the French authorities not have the details or documents surrounding the double-car bombing that happened in Saigon on January 9, 1952, but she stated, she didn’t know where they are if they still exist.

I was taught by my mentor at a young age 19, 20, that you know when a story hangs together. And it’s true. And you know when there is a hole or there are holes in it. It’s instinctual some of the time and some of the time you figure things out because of logic.

I’m grateful that I had had a lot of experience interviewing people by the time I slammed straight into this story. Because no matter how emotional you feel about the subject matter, as a journalist you have to produce, so there’s still that bothersome bird on your shoulder saying: Did you get everything? What’s your lead? What’s your ending? What’s the feeling you want to convey in the beginning? What’s the feeling at the end? Does this make sense? What’s missing? What colors are there in the story? Smells? You have those things bothering you until you get everything you need. I can’t sleep until I have as much as I can get for a story. Finally, you get that quiet, digested feeling so you can write.

To be accurate, though, I should mention that I was trained to be eyes and ears in the walls; as a journalist I was trained to stay out of any story I was covering unless it was absolutely necessary for me to be in it to tell it. I am not alone in such training. Many other journalists have been trained this way. So it took a long time and it was very difficult for me to write this story. And I think I edited or proofread it around 25 times over eleven of the last 15 years. 

What surprised you while you were writing this book?

There were lots of surprises, details that all three parents withheld from me, though some of them were the result of an investigative journalist having been exhaustive; I think it’s normal for people to edit their lives for their children or families. I was especially surprised to learn that my mother was a mistress, and before that a sergeant chief grade in the French army, though delegating work seems to have been second nature to her anyway. I was surprised to find how much violence played out in Saigon after World War II and before the French lost Indochina at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. I grew up a great deal of time in America, in New York, so I had the perception that Vietnam was full of violence during the American Vietnam war, but not before that, during the French war for Indochina. But there was a great deal of violence between 1947 when my mother got to Saigon as a young sergeant and 1953 when she left; there was a great deal of terrorism; a shopping trip on the rue Catinat could end your life.

Did it change how you thought about your past?

Yes, Who I was and who my parents were became more clear and more complicated and more interesting, with many more shades of gray.

Do you see things differently?

Yes. They are not as nebulous anymore. I am not maybe a half British person and part Vietnamese and French. I am half Scottish and half English, one-eighth Vietnamese and three-eighths French. In fact, it was brought to my attention that my great grandfather owned and died in a castle in Scotland. I'm going to visit it. Good-looking castle, too. It's called Crossbasket Castle, in Lanarkshire. I'm not blue-blooded; they were just very wealthy, from their textile business.

What's obsessing you now and why?

I'm writing an essay in my head that has become ripe to put on paper. it starts writing itself early in the morning while I'm sleeping and so I wake up with the words frothing and so I need to write them down on paper by the bed. I'm worried about getting what I have to say just right; my stepfather, Jim Flood, used to tell me to fight to be precise and it is a struggle sometimes but it's also beautiful when you win; you feel good about it; you know that. You must know that.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

How did this story affect my life?  It's thought-provoking to say someone comes of age, or finds himself or herself as the result of a quest because it is as if he or she is being described as someone who holds still, when we are constantly changing, every day, every second. So I changed when I learned each new bit of information about my heritage and who I was, which includes my reaction to my heritage. And I'm still changing. I know because I should have written the essay I mentioned a long time ago, but it wasn't ready and so if I could change, or grow a little more for a few days, it will all come out just fine, I hope.


French Indochina, circa 1939-the children of Aymond Jullien, the author’s grandfather, who left France and went to Asia in 1896 and married the tutor, Marie Jeanne Jarno, who was half French and half Vietnamese. Marie Jeanne usually dressed her children in matching clothes and periodically had them photographed in a photo studio in Hanoi. The author’s mother, Suzanne, is the second from the right. From the collection of Danielle Flood.  

French Indochina, Christmas, 1952 – The author, Danielle Flood, practicing walking at the first Christmas Party the American Embassy celebrated in Saigon; it was elevated from a Legation during the summer, 1952. Flood’s mother, Suzy Flood, is to the right; her friend, the daughter of a career undercover CIA officer at the embassy, is to the left. From the collection of Danielle Flood.






Eleanor Brown talks about success after THE WEIRD SISTERS, writing THE LIGHT OF PARIS, her wonderful big laugh, and so much more











You can't help falling in love with Eleanor Brown--both her AND her writing. I don't remember how we first met, but I remember the moments, and they always make me smile. Going out to dinner with a bunch of other writers and celebrating that we both made the New York Times Bestseller List--she for her amazing novel, The Weird Sisters.  Being at the Pulpwood Queen's Girlfriend Weekend together and she had the best, best, best costumes of all of us (We were supposed to dress like clowns for a circus theme.) And I saw Ron Charles of the Washington Post interview her at the fabulous Gaithersburg Book Festival. We email. We bond. I adore her. She's smart, funny, full of heart, and her new novel THE LIGHT OF PARIS is wonderful. And I'm so happy to have her here. Eleanor! Come to our house and visit!

The Weird Sisters was an incredible sensation, shooting you justifiably into fame. Did this help or hinder writing your second novel and why?
It hindered it terribly, but that was 100% my problem. I know it sounds like whining from the penthouse, but following up a success is stressful in its own right.

I was also very determined not just to put out another book – I wanted to put out the right book. A good book. So I’m glad I waited until I had that. And whatever happens now is out of my control, so I can just enjoy people connecting with Margie and Madeleine, which is really the main reason I write – so we’ll all feel less lonely, me included.

What is it about Paris for you?

Ironically, I am not a big fan of Paris. (I KNOW! I’m just not a big city person.) But that actually makes me even more interested in it – what the hell is it about Paris?
In the story, Paris is a symbol more than anything, of the life we want to live. Because when we think of Paris, we think of wearing elegantly tied scarves and drinking coffee in cafés and wandering slowly across the bridges of the Seine and writing fantastic poetry and making beautiful art. We think of our best selves, of the people we would be if we didn’t have to worry about paying bills or doing the dishes.

And I think that’s a good thing to consider – the person you would be if you were in Paris, and then ask yourself how you can get closer to that while still managing to pay your mortgage and go to the gym.

I love that your books are always so full of sparkling humor—but how do you do it? Are you naturally funny? Do you laugh out loud?
That is a sweet thing to say! With The Weird Sisters, I think I was startled to find out people thought it was funny, but I guess that’s just my natural voice. With The Light of Paris, I did make a conscious effort to be funny, partially because poor Madeleine is having such a tough time of it I didn’t want readers to get depressed!

But I do love to laugh, and I’m fortunate to have a sweetie who makes me laugh like no one else. I’ve also been told I have a great laugh, so you all should come to one of my tour events and tell me a really funny joke so you can hear it.

How the past impacts the present—and the future—is a big theme in your novel.  Do you think we can ever escape who we came from? (Especially in the light of new scientific research that shows that  emotions and experiences can be passed down in our DNA?)

Ugh, that is such a huge question (clearly, I just spent 300 pages in The Light of Paris trying to answer it. And in The Weird Sisters, come to think of it).

I do think we always carry our histories with us, and we can’t escape them. But I do think we can make conscious choices about how we want those things to affect us. We had a few really hard years and I found myself becoming sadder and more negative, so I’ve made a really active effort to reclaim my natural sunniness – recording blessings in my journal, doing things that make me happy, finding new friends.

The past is the past, but we get to decide our own future.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Justin Trudeau. I mean.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
 
Where I’m going to be touring! I really love being on the road and meeting readers, so I hope folks take a look at www.eleanor-brown.com/events and come see me if I’ll be near you (and if I won’t be, ask your local bookstore or library to invite me for the paperback release!).

I also keep folks posted at www.facebook.com/eleanorbrownwriter and post happy-making things there, so you can come say hi.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mrs. Wyatt Earp? Now in paperback, Thelma Adams extraordinary THE LAST WOMAN STANDING!






Love, loss and making history on the page. Thelma Adams tells the astonishing story of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, exotic, Jewish, and in love with the notorious Earp.

Adams is a novelist, movie critic, journalists a writer and leading New York-based film critic. Her debut novel Playdate (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books) came out in hardback January 2011, and paperback the following year. She is currently a freelance writer, most recently profiling Diane Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Clarkson for the New York Observer following three years covering the awards season for Yahoo! Movies. She was the film critic at Us Weekly for eleven years from 2000 to 2011, following six years at the New York Post. She has twice chaired the New York Film Critics Circle. She has written for The New York Times Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Huffington Post, Marie Claire, More, Interview Magazine, The New York Times, The international Herald Tribune, Cosmopolitan and Self. She has appeared on CNN, E!, NY1, NBC’s TheToday Show, CBS’s The Early Show, OMG! Insider, Fox News Channel, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, Bravo and VH1.

I'm thrilled to have Thelma here. Thank you, Thelma!

What could be more fascinating than a novel about Mrs. Wyatt Earp? What sparked you to write this extraordinary novel?

A novel can have many origin stories. I saw -- somewhere, somehow, nearly a decade ago -- that Wyatt Earp was buried in a Jewish cemetery (a word I can never spell) in Colma, California. I became obsessed. Was Earp Jewish? No. So why would the famed gunslinger, the hero (or villain) of the Gunfight at the OK Corral be buried in a Jewish cemetery?

The answer was Earp's wife of nearly fifty years: Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp called Josie by some, Sadie by her family. That was the beginning. Here was a knot that I needed to untangle, a question of Jewish identity that intrigued me.

First and foremost I wanted to know who the hell Josie was. Who was this beauty who turned up on a few pages in the many, many books that praised or reviled Wyatt in that 'the man, the myth, the legend' way. Josie did write a memoir that was edited by her descendants, I Married Wyatt Earp. It exists in multiple formats, some truer than others. But all versions are to a certain extent opaque, so far from contemporary memoirs that scratch down to the sticky embarrassing truth like Running with Scissors or Wild.

One goal of Mrs. Earp's memoir was always to restore Wyatt's good name, and by extension Josie's place beside him. Because, in the conventional history of gunfights and border skirmishes, law and order, Republican and Democrat, she only existed at his side on the frontier. And, then, she's often portrayed as a floozy, an actress or dancer, a beautiful opportunist, an exotic, a Jewess. As a historian out of Berkeley, I knew that there were many alternate histories, and the history of women and the poor are not marked by battles won or lost. A social historian has to dig deeper and read between the records in order to discover what these forgotten people were about. Once I heard about Josie, I wanted to dig deeper and discover what made her tick.

One thing I wanted to know was whether Josie really run away from home with dreams of becoming an actress with a travelling H.M.S. Pinafore troupe as her memoir says. Just that one detail seemed fantastic and marvelous because when I read the Gilbert & Sullivan lyrics for an operetta whose heroine is coincidentally named Josephine, I woke up. I realized that this was an era – the early 1880s, nearly two decades after the Civil War -- far more sophisticated culturally and socially than I'd credited it. Like that romantic heroine of the stage, mine ran into the arms of the man she loved – not the one her father (or mother) would have chosen. So this beautiful Jewish girl from a middle class Eastern European family had her own independent narrative running in her head, informed by the popular culture of her day. And she piqued my curiosity: what was it like to look out at this Wild West through Jewish eyes with Jewish values and traditions?

I knew that I could only get close to it through fiction, through imagining what impelled Josie from a good home in San Francisco to the dangers of Apaches and outlaws and scheming politicians in the Arizona territory, in Tombstone. The silver boomtown near the Mexican border couldn't be reached directly by train. It was both a land of opportunity and disaster.

In order to get myself into Josie's head, I channeled the feelings that I had, leaving home at 17 for Berkeley six hundred miles away, a place where I would determine my fate and, if not write poetry then at least live poetically. I had passion and so did Josie – and that's where we connected in the beginning. Josephine quickly discovered that she was no actress or dancer or singer – but she had a talent for drama and sweeping onto the center stage, which put her by Wyatt Earp and into his arms the very year that he fought and survived The Gunfight at the OK Corral. 

Josie really came alive for me when I thought: what does it mean to be a Jewish woman in the wider world of events outside the home in a society where gentiles make the rules? How are those qualities that I see in myself – liveliness, intellect, a need for justice, a need to be heard and seen and find a true soul-mate, the weight of guilt and the past, a daddy's girl and a mother's misfortune – manifested in Josie, a woman born in the past but reborn in a novel?

Was writing this second novel different than writing your first?

Writing The Last Woman Standing was very different from Playdate, which began as a screenplay and evolved into a novel of contemporary manners – and which sold first. It contained very little research and channeled my experience of motherhood into a comic situation about a stay-at-home dad that was intended to be a cross between Shampoo and Mr. Mom. In some ways, it was chick lit with a male protagonist, which was not an easy sell. Meanwhile, I had written a very large chunk of thoroughly researched Mrs. Earp when my two children were still young on the hope that I could sell it on a proposal and continue my research and writing while raising my kids. I had shelves and shelves of primary and secondary sources.

To me, Josie's life seemed ripe for a novel – and this was before academic Ann Kirschner's acclaimed nonfiction book about Josephine, Lady at the O.K. Corral, had been published. I was then a film critic at Us Weekly, and without a commitment I could only manage two hundred pages. They were full of details – the size of a carriage and the number of horses pulling it, the style of women's clothing and cowboys' hats – but they lacked a strong storytelling impulse and the overall voice was uneven and, frankly, a little fruity. They also included the perspective of Wyatt Earp's sister-in-law, Allie Earp, a prairie pioneer with a bitter past. Her salty perspective spoke to me but it wasn't until I regained Josephine as a first-person narrator years later, and handed the story entirely to her that the book came alive. It was thanks to my agent Victoria Sanders, who read the initial pages when I pulled them out of a drawer and said in her fabulously blunt and truthful way: great idea, execution not so hot. "Get me three smoking chapters and a proposal and I can sell this," she said. I did -- and she did.

Those fresh chapters (nine rather than three) sacrificed the fascinating frontier story of Allie, but went back to the San Francisco house where Josephine was raised and fleshed out her mother (a key figure in shaping who Josephine was), her father and her siblings. In a completely fictional scene, I seated them at dinner beside the Shabbos candles on the Friday night that Josie departed for Tombstone. When Josie left home in 1880 engaged to the gentile John Harris Behan, who would become the sheriff of Tombstone and a fierce enemy of Wyatt, Josie's mother tore the collar of her best dress and sat shiva. Knowing that fraught relationship, and how earlier generations of my own family had reacted to children who intermarried, grounded the entire book. Josie lived her adventure in Tombstone one thousand miles southeast, but her mother's critical voice remained in her head along with her father's unconditional love.       

What surprised you in your research? (And what did you have fun making up?)


I tried to lift the lid on the women in the story and also to weave in a bit of photographic history. The Gunfight at the OK Corral occurred in the vacant lot beside Fly's Photography Gallery, a bustling hub in town. And while C. S. Fly took the famous photo of the victims of that gunfight, it was his wife, Mollie (also a photographer) who ran the studio. She also managed the attached boarding house where the famed "Doc" Holliday lived. Central to the Fly's marriage – which was her second – was their mutual love of photography. All of this I got from research and is relatively straightforward – and could itself become the core of a book. Writing The Last Woman Standing I was always tumbling over tangential stories that seemed to cry out for their own novels.

There are wonderful photographs that have survived from this period – and one controversial risqué portrait of Josie (that has largely been discredited) wearing nothing more than a black net mourning veil. Rather than trying to determine its provenance and validity and enter a rabbit hole of a historical battle, I created a relationship between Mollie and Josie that unfolded in the studio. Their activities wouldn't have been recorded in the newspapers of the day, or the diaries of the local miners and politicians. What if Josie, who was by all accounts the most beautiful woman in Tombstone, became an artist's model for Mollie – as an alternative to selling her flesh as a prostitute? What if?

And as I researched, I discovered a startling connection to the history of art photography. This was the very time that photography was becoming cheaper, easier and more portable while meanwhile more respected as an art form. What I discovered, as I dug into Victorian erotic photography, was that one of my favorite painters, Thomas Eakins, was taking nude pictures at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in the decade prior to the 1880s. In fact, contemporary to my story, the Academy dismissed Eakins for teaching from life models to a co-ed classroom. When he lifted the loincloth on a male model for a female student to see, he crossed a line.

So, I was enjoying fascinating art history research when I discovered that the famed "Doc" Holliday had studied dentistry in Philadelphia while Eakins was at the Academy. I realized that, as an educated Southerner, Holliday would have likely visited the art studio and been exposed to the latest uses of the technology. He could easily have shared that knowledge with Mollie, his landlady. The historical record seemed to confirm that my fictional direction yielded an insight into Tombstone beyond the facts of gunfights and fringed jackets. There was a rich culture in Tombstone, and a daring one, because in many ways the adventurers that congregated there were unfettered by convention. Because the boomtown was only a few years old at this point, and infused with silver and those attempting to grasp it, there was no inherited wealth or established elders. And while male writers and filmmakers have focused on the women-as-wives-or-whores trope, I tried to figure out how this freedom from societal apron strings could manifest itself among the female figures I encountered.

This inspired, and seemed to validate, a sensual scene where a distraught Josie (who has just left Wyatt's bed before he rode off to lead a dangerous posse) poses for Mollie. I personally, even a century later, would be too ashamed of my bits and pieces to pose nude but here is Josie, her emotions having risen to her skin from recent sex and deep sorrow, getting photographed: "I felt my body relax. My shoulders dropped. I released my neck, stretched the fingers, and then let my free hand fall heavily where my legs intersected. I bent my knees and curved my feet around each other. I heard Mollie behind me, exposing film, changing glass plates, moving the camera closer, changing lenses. As she did this, I relaxed more deeply—not dozing, not forgetting my pain, but suspended in the camera’s eye."

In that climactic moment, I made the leap from research to imagination.

You have profiled megastars like George Clooney, Jessica Chastain and more, and you've covered films and festivals--and been on just about every major TV show there is. What was it like for you to settle in and get solitary writing a novel?
I have always done both – film criticism and poetry. I wrote my first film review for The Daily Cal and my first published poem (possibly my only) appeared in The Berkeley Poetry Review. I struggled for a long time to accept myself as a writer, which was my own fault. I now tell people: if you write, you are a writer. Do not seek accreditation or benediction from others. I received my MFA in fiction from Columbia in 1993, the same year as I got my first professional job as a critic at The New York Post. As a critic, over the years, and as a member and chairperson of the New York Film Critics Circle, I began to travel in celebrity-heavy circles just as celebrity culture really took off. Us Weekly hired me in 2000 when they went from a monthly to a magazine published once a week. And then it started: my immersion in celebrity culture.

I still get speechless in front of certain directors and behave like a cartoon character, although my friends who attend parties with me think I display an incredible sang froid in the presence of bold-faced names. I love talking to people and so doing profiles of Clooney, the most charming man on the planet, or Chastain, a searcher with a big heart, or others that have become friends, has been relatively easy. I don't, however, claim that my heart doesn't beat faster at times, or that I don't fumble when the luncheon conversation stumbles and I'm seated next to Robert DeNiro. My answer is to find the commonality – as I do with my historical characters. I try to bring an honest me – a writer, a mother, someone who has seen many films and read many books – and not approach celebrities slavishly. The truth is that I have something to offer, too, which is authenticity.

I have always been an extrovert who loves solitude. So I relish the long quiet of writing – thinking with my fingers. That mind-fingertip connection: there's nothing like it, the pleasure of rereading and tinkering. I consider writing books like being a marathon runner, I am happiest when I am in training, in a book, capturing that rhythm. I don't long for nightlife, then, or the company of famous people. I write. I read. I watch good TV (the French cop show Spiral or the Scandinavian The Bridge, for example) or movies from my collection. I sit with my cats. I talk to my children. I do yoga, which I find helpful in connecting bigger ideas within my work. I make Ethiopian chicken in the crockpot. Yes. I have a really big crockpot. And, then, when I go to a film festival, or interview someone like Mark Ruffalo or Diane Keaton, I'm coming from a real place. Remember: they are, too.
  
Which brings me to the question--what kind of writer are you? Do you map things out or do you like to follow the muse?
As a novelist, I have been struggling toward structure for a long time. My first unpublished novel, Girl Empire, was a picaresque. Playdate took place over four days. The Last Woman Standing had tent-pole events: the arrival in Tombstone; the date of the lynching of Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce; The Gunfight at the OK Corral; Josie's exit after assassins attempted to kill Wyatt's brother Virgil and the town became too hot for the Earps and their friends. And, yet, there were big gaps in the narrative: she came to marry Johnny Behan, and she left attached to Wyatt Earp. When and how did that happen? What were those events that did not hit the historical record and how would I shape them to reveal my characters? I am not by nature someone who carefully plots but in this case, since I sold it from a proposal, I did have to map out how the chapters fit together for the table of contents I submitted. That was a good exercise for me. I found that even when I could not see the whole book in my head, I could often see three chapters ahead. And so I approached it as I would a writing schedule, concentrating on three chapters at a time, hitting the tent-pole events, aiming for the final chapter, which I knew before I even wrote my first one. I also follow the muse in that when characters talk, I listen. Sex scenes take on their own heat and you have to get out of the way and let your characters just do it. And I had this one minor character, a brothel owner named Madame Mustache, who just took over the pages she was on: she was a truth teller with ulterior motives and her voice took over whenever she appeared. I would say that whether you map out your chapters, or float forward in time, the muse will always find you. She will leave you, too. And that's when the marathon matters: just showing up at the computer is so much a part of the craft and the art of novel writing. 

What's obsessing you now and why?
Right now I'm absolutely obsessed with my next novel, Kosher Nostra. Set in Brooklyn from 1902 to 1935, it is about the little sister of a button-man in Murder, Incorporated: the Jewish subcontractors for the mob that specialized in contract killing. It opens on the night of October 23, 1935 when the Williamsburg Boys Club killed Pretty Amberg and set the body aflame by the Brooklyn Navy Yard with their wives and girlfriends watching.

It is my first attempt at a novel of such scope – three decades in a single life. It's based on a real character that lacks a birth certificate or a notice in the newspaper: my grandmother Thelma Lorber. Her older brother was Abraham "Little Yiddel" Lorber, all of five foot two. These are little lives with big emotional arcs on the schleppy side of Boardwalk Empire. At 19, Uncle Abie stabbed a man for questioning his bravery on 14th Street in broad daylight. That made the newspapers – although it was something I learned in the archives and not from my family.

If I were E. L. Doctorow or William Kennedy, Uncle Abie would be my protagonist. But I want to figure out what it was like for Thelma (who I resemble) the wiseass little sister. She was born in 1902 into hard times and they just got harder. She depended for succor and protection on her beloved older brother Abie, only to see him get pulled into the mob and away from her. Like her sibling, she was a hedonist. But she existed in a stifling culture that didn't permit women to experiment out of wedlock. She married a man who suffered from a deep depression and died shortly after she gave birth to their only child, a son.

With Kosher Nostra, a Brooklyn novel, I want to reclaim this single mother and, like Josie, see the world through second-generation immigrant eyes. What did Thelma want from life – and what did she have to accept? How did she break the mold – and how high a price did she pay? Like Josie, she burned bright, but Thelma lacked the beauty that was Josie's ticket to a bigger stage. I want to write this novel to understand life for the family on the fringe of the Kosher Nostra, the juicy stories we don't share, the shondas, the shames, which define us in equal measure to our accomplishments.   

What question didn't I ask that I should have?


How am I like Josie – and how do I differ?
I put a lot of myself into Josie but in a number of key ways she is not like me. She is defined by her looks – she was by all accounts a great beauty. I'm not. And so she had the privileges that came with that, the attention from men wanted or not, the jealousies of women her looks inspired. And, because of that gift she didn't have to work at, she could lack empathy for others that struggled more than she did. Still, it was fun to slip on that skin, creamy, curvy and alive. When I needed a picture, I modeled her on the young Rachel Weisz, who has a face so breath-taking you can't look away – and you also almost can't hear what she's saying because her looks are so distracting. So, what is that like, to try to define yourself as an individual from the inside out, when people are constantly reacting to the wrapper?

I identify with Josie's desire to perform on the stage and then to discover that she lacked the required talent – she could not carry a tune and neither can I. She wanted to sing and entertain like her Gilbert & Sullivan namesake, but she couldn't. And she had debilitating stage fright. I don't but my daughter did when she was very young, so I remembered how she played the White Rabbit in an early elementary school production of Alice in Wonderland and had to be carried on the stage by her elbows when she had her solo, with older actors singing her part. I pinched that memory for Josie: the desire to be a star in the spotlight thwarted by her own fear of failure.

Growing up, what I had to set myself apart was intellect. I was a grind behind my thick glasses. I took the good student route to recognition but Josie and I share our desire to be recognized as individuals on the stage of our own lives, not as merely reflections of others more powerful or talented or famous.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A family grows up with Autism. Liane Kupferberg Carter talks about KETCHUP IS MY FAVORITE VEGETABLE, writing, telling the truth, and so much more.





I was sitting in the crowded Jewish Book Council room when I saw another woman sitting alone, and I got up and introduced myself. We were soon talking like old friends, and by the time we all had to file into the auditorium, Liane Kupferberg Carter had agreed to come on my blog! I'm delighted. Her book Ketchup is my Favorite Vegetable is about one family's journey with an autistic child, the challenges, the difficulties, and the deep satisfactions.. Thank you so much, Liane.




 What surprised you during the writing? What did you learn?

I learned that you cannot predict who you might offend -- or what will offend them!
For me, writing pins the chaos to the page. It gives order to my world. But writing memoir isn’t therapy. You don’t write memoir in order to get even or settle scores. You aren’t the victim of your story, nor are you the heroine.

Can you talk about the difference between writing memoir and fiction?

With memoir, as opposed to fiction, you are more bound by the “truth” – well, “a” truth, anyway. But it’s my truth, not necessarily anyone else’s.

The incomparable Dani Shapiro has said, “The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we? We choose a view. We pick a story to tell. We shift through the ever-changing sands of memory, and in so doing create something hopefully beautiful, by which I mean universal.”

When you write memoir, you still use the techniques of fiction. The facts of my story provided the scaffolding for the book. But when it came to the writing, it was still all about voice, scene, dialogue, characters, pacing, and finding the narrative arc. When readers tell me the book reads like fiction, I take it as a compliment.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Besides the 2016 election and climate change?

I’m obsessed with the question, how do I create a meaningful life for my son for the next 60 years? I hold the same hopes for Mickey as I do for my older son Jonathan – the same ones all parents have: to have loving friends, good health, work that is meaningful, and to live the most satisfying, independent lives they can. The worry never ends. Who will take care of Mickey? Where will he live? Who will love him when we are gone?

I’m also obsessed with what to write next. I’ve been writing a lot of essays lately, so I’m thinking about shaping them into a book. I’m trying to figure out the through line, and how to create the connective tissue that will hold them together. 

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Hmm. How about, what are your boundaries when you write about your children?
I was clear from the get-go that I wouldn’t write anything that might embarrass or blame anyone in the family. I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationships with my kids. Again and again I checked in with myself: what were my motives in telling a particular incident? How would I have felt at the age of 15, reading something like that about myself? If the thought made me squirm, the details or scene didn’t belong. It was OK to out myself, but my kids were off limits.

I see Anne Lamott’s quote cited everywhere -- “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I think that’s a bit glib. Yes, you own what happened to you. But my kids didn’t ask for a mom who’s a writer.





Jessica Anya Blau talks about The Trouble With Lexie, Face Yoga, Prep School, being funny, writing and why she loves to dance (ha ha, made that up)








She's hilariously funny, enormously talented, and the kind of loving friend you want to kick back with all the time.  I'm so thrilled to have Jessica Anya Blau here. The Wonder Bread Summer, Drinking Closer to Home, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties (Don't you love the titles?) and now, Her latest--and greatest, The Trouble With Lexie. Want to see some of the raves?

 "Blau has a steady nerve, as well as a wicked imagination . . . It takes you a little while to realize that what you're reading is top-notch comic writing because you're getting all the stuff you normally get in literary fiction as well: rites of passage, the complications of fractured families, the works."

-Nick Hornby


"Jessica Anya Blau is one of the funniest writers--ever. No one captures the oddities, joys, and yes, the pain of modern life with such frankness, humor,

and sly-witted style." -ZZ Packer 

And, you have to read this small excerpt, too:
The problem wasn't so much that Lexie had taken the

Klonopin. And it wasn't even really that she had stolen

them . . . the problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had

fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin.
And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

 Jessica's at Book Court July 8th, at 7, and I'm going and everyone else on the planet should go, too. Who knows, maybe she'll dance! (Thank you Jessica!)


What is it about prep schools that somehow intensifies everything that possibly could happen in our lives?
Maybe it’s that when you take people out of the routines of home, family, parents and  neighbors, they open up in a way they don’t usually. People reinvent themselves, recreate themselves and let loose when they’re away from home. You see this sort of group intensity/lunacy in adults when they go to conferences and writing colonies. They work hard, but they also play very hard—everything’s more charged up, your senses are sharper, you’re more engaged in what’s going on around you. Then, if you take that hyper-awareness, that openness, and couple it with hormones, exploration and close living quarters, there’s more drama than can fill a library of books.  

Tell us about the writing of this particular book (I always think that each book is a whole different process.) What was different for you here?
 Every book terrifies me. I can be overwhelmed with insecurities doubts, second-guesses. I have to continually talk myself into the work—remind myself that the process is what matters. I find great relief in transporting myself through my work. It’s a such a pleasure to be away from myself, my thoughts, my mind. This book was different because there was much chaos in my life during the writing of it: the city sewer system rerouted into my basement; I cleaned up my hundred-year old house and sold it; I moved into a new apartment; and I ghost-wrote a memoir that’s coming out in the fall. The copy edits for Lexie came in around the same time the memoir was due. I was working 18 hour days. But I kind of like that because, as I said, I like getting away from myself.  

I love your characters! Can you talk about how you develop them—and how sometimes they turn out in ways you just didn’t expect?
Lexie is essentially me. Well, a taller, prettier, blond me. From a more messed-up family. But the way she thinks and how she thinks are versions of me. I haven’t made any of the disastrous choices she makes in the book (knock wood!), but I’ve certainly made many poor choices and I’ve certainly thought of doing the things she does. Dot, the 82 year old woman, is a version of my daughter, Maddie. It’s how I imagine my tap-dancing, straight-shooting, utterly un-vain daughter will be like as an old woman. Daniel, the guy Lexie falls in love with is based on men I’ve met—he’s constructed out of many different men, but I had a very fixed idea of who he was and what he was like. Physically, I was thinking of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Wearing a Rolex, or whatever is even more expensive than a Rolex, and a custom-made suit. Amy, Lexie’s best friend, is a composite of all my best girlfriends: someone who's open about past mistakes, self aware, non-judgmental and accepting. The kind of friend we all need. Janet, the uptight, rule-following, sporty woman  . . . well, you know her, right? Every school has someone like her. Someone who lives for the school, wears the school colors, goes to away games, is frugal as anything, but will leave the millions she's hoarded over a lifetime to the school when she dies.  


I love how live-wire funny your novels are—and how live-wire funny you are in person. And I know how hard it is to write funny—at least for me.  Is it for you?
I don’t really have a sense of myself as funny, but that seems to be the thing readers and critics always say.  I certainly don't try to be funny. Although sometimes I’ll read over something I’ve written and I’ll crack myself up. I’m not sure if those things that make me laugh when I’m working on them are the things that make other people laugh. With my first book, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, when I read the loss of virginity scene for the first time I was utterly stunned that people were cracking up. I honestly had no idea it was funny. That scene, in particular, was written exactly as things had gone down for me (I threw up in the middle of losing my virginity on a beach with my surfer boyfriend) and I knew it wasn’t particularly sweet or romantic, but didn’t realize it was funny until I read it aloud to an audience. 

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Oh, Caroline, man, you don’t even want to know what’s obsessing me! Okay, maybe you do because you asked. Right now I’m obsessing over face yoga. I essentially slap, pinch, pucker and contort my face in a pathetic attempt to stave off wrinkles. I don’t want to do Botox or injections or anything that might make my face look like a rubber mask. But I also don’t want to shrivel up like an apple doll. It’s pathetic that I think about this stuff. I’m embarrassed, But, what can I say, it’s the truth. I do it mostly in the car, at red lights and stop signs. As soon as I press on the brake, my fingers go crazy on my face. I try to position my car so the person beside me doesn’t have to witness this. Today I forgot and this blond, beardy guy looked over at me smiling and gave me a peach sign. I think he felt sorry for me. 
 
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Maybe you should ask how and why I could be so shallow and vain as to obsess about face yoga when there is so much cruelty and unfairness in the world. The answer is this, in spite of the fact that as soon as I finish typing this, I'm gong to slap the underside of my chin thirty times, I really am trying to be less selfish and more aware. I do want to be a better citizen of the world more than I want a face as smooth as my giant bottom.