Monday, May 7, 2018

Florence Gonsalves talks about her gorgeous debut LOVE & OTHER CARNIVOROUS PLANTS, love, grief, being young, being self-destructive and getting it as together as you can.

When someone,e specially Martha Rhodes, the head of Four Way Books and a brilliant poet,  tells me, "You gotta read this," I always do (unless it's about vampires. Then I never do.) And I'm always happy that I did. I absolutely loved Florence Gonsalves LOVE & Other Carnivorous Plants (great title, right?) and I'm honored to host her here.

I loved, loved, loved this book. (I’m a sucker for anything about identity.) What was the “why now” moment that got you writing this?

I’d had ideas for Love tucked in a brain drawer for awhile, but when I graduated from college with no “real job” prospects, I started writing in the backroom of my parents’ house. I couldn’t envision having a “normal” career, so writing stemmed out of a deep, deep insecurity to do something with my life. Looking back, I was having a huge crisis of identity: who am I now that I’m not a college student and how will I make a living so I can move out of this backroom of my parents’ house?

Tell me about the wonderful title: Love & Other Carnivorous Plants.

I wish I remember how the title came about exactly, but the writing process is so mysterious! It was previously called Where There Are Flowers, plus other things I can’t remember that were not very captivating. I’ve loved Venus Fly Traps since I got one in fourth grade – they’re delightful little anomalies – and at one point I put a literal plant in the story, then saw other ways that themes of consumption wove into Danny’s struggle.  

So much of this book is about grief and love and finding our way.  And I loved that you dropped out of pre-med to find your way in writing! Can you tell us about that?

Oof, pre-med! I was just terrible at it – labs, problem sets, I simply could not do the work, which was terrible for my ego and also forced me to change the path of my life. If I’m not going to be a doctor, what am I going to do? What happens now that there isn’t a set plan? Obviously that struggle is reflected in Danny’s character. Sometimes writing feels indulgent and I think about doctors saving lives while I’m typing away in Starbucks but a friend once said that there are different ways to heal people— sometimes a book can do just that and I write with the hopes of having an impact.

I’m always interested in how a writer approaches a novel, especially a debut. Do you feel like you learned anything or did anything not turn out the way you had expected it might?

I learned that I have to write a lot and then throw away a lot. I didn’t know much of anything until I put it down on paper (even though I tried to make outlines). The result was like building a huge rock with all my words, then cutting and carving and shaping that rock into something that resembled a book. It took a lot of trust to believe that the story was there even when I couldn’t see it, but I’m getting more courageous about going forth blindly, then going on a deleting spree.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Ada Limon. Her poetry is wow and I love things that make me feel something even if I can’t put my finger on how or why they’re so evocative.

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

Hmm, how about a book that influenced Love? In high school I read Catcher in the Rye (like most everyone else) and the tone of the book was hugely inspiring to me. Up until Catcher, I didn’t know a book could be written in the way a teenager thinks. I thought books had to be “literary” and that stopped me from writing one. With the permission to write like my friends and I think and talk, I felt capable of attempting to tell Danny’s story.

Raising kids, carpooling, neighbors and husbands: Abbi Waxman talks about her smart new novel OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES, writing and more.

Abbi Waxman is the acclaimed author of THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS, and now, her latest, OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES is already racking up the raves. Named a Highly Anticipated Book for 2018 by InStyle, Elite Daily and Hello Giggles,it also won praise from #1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin, who called it "both irreverent and thoughtful."

I agree and I am thrilled to have Abbi here!

Every book teaches writers something new, I think. Did The Garden of New Beginnings teach you some writing craft that helped you in writing Other People’s Houses?

I actually don't think it taught me anything new, it just underlined the fact that you simply have to keep going. That helped with Other People's Houses (and with the current one) because it's really the only way to do it: Write every day, even if you're not sure what you're saying, because eventually you'll get enough clay on the wheel to realize you're making a pot. For months and weeks and days you'll think you've got nothing but a pile of mud, and then all of a sudden you'll see a handle. At least that's been my experience. I start out with an idea, or a character, but often they change beyond all recognition by the time I'm done.

I absolutely am in love with the title, Other People's Houses. Can you talk about that –and its deeper meanings—please?

The title took a long time to come up with, but as soon as we had it we knew it was right. It was a group effort; myself, my editor Kate Seaver, my agent Alexandra Machinist, and one or two others at the publishers. I'm not very good at titles, and they're not what's important to me. I remember characters far more easily than titles. As for meaning, well, the book is about both our literal houses, which are often displays for other people, as well as being hidey holes for us, and also about the metaphorical houses we build around ourselves. Plus, I love poking around other people's houses and seeing if I can learn about them from the way they've furnished and arranged things, and I was hoping I wasn't alone in that. If I am alone in that then I guess I should expect far fewer invitations from now on.

Raising kids, carpools, relationships with husbands—and with neighbors— spin the novel deliciously. But so does the idea of living in a suburban community where people seemingly know one another, right up until the moment that they don’t. Living in a city, I know that people tend to keep to themselves, maybe because we are all on top of one another! Can you talk about this difference please?

I live in Larchmont, which is the neighborhood where Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings are set. It's fascinating to me because it behaves like a small village in the middle of a large city. There's a main shopping street surrounded by quaint and lovely residential streets, and you can literally see the same people every single day, and get to know them, without ever learning their names or what they do once they leave the neighborhood and go to work. I think all of us who live here are aware of how anomalous it is; my kids literally grew up playing with all the kids on our block over the summers, and we all sit out front in the evenings while they run around and shriek, and it's like a weird Norman Rockwell thing. But at the same time, just like everywhere, people only show you what they want to show you. I always wondered, when I waved at a neighbor as they were coming into or leaving their house, what was going on as soon as the door closed. You get only a tiny glimpse of their entryway, a smile of greeting, a wave, and then as far as you know they shut the door and start throwing tennis balls at the dog while singing the soundtrack to South Pacific. You really have no idea.

Critics have commented on your miraculous ability to creative characters that live, breathe and beckon us to enter their world. How do you go about creating your characters? And what kind of writer are you?

The nosy kind. I've enjoyed becoming middle aged and overweight because no one ever notices me anymore, and I can eavesdrop and stare in complete peace. I've always looked for details, and enjoyed the little things about someone that makes them different -- wearing their watch on the inside of their wrist, or stirring their tea with the handle of whatever cutlery is nearest, or whatever it is. I collect these little things.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

My current book is kicking my butt, so I'm kind of obsessed with that. It's taking twice as long as it should, and nothing about it has been easy. I also really enjoyed the 4th season of Bosch, just saying.

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

You should have asked if I have a really good recipe for hot fudge sauce, because I do.

Ya hoo! The fantastic Julie Clark talks about her fascinating debut THE ONES WE CHOOSE, science, DNA and how the traumas of our ancestors live within our very cells.

Oh yes, I loved this debut by Julie Clark so much, I blurbed it:

How could I not love a debut about science, secrets, DNA, and how the traumas of our ancestors still live within our very cells? With gorgeous prose, and a deep emotional resonance, The Ones We Choose is about a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son, the science of love, how our DNA shapes us, and a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son while confronting what really makes our identity ours, what and who we choose to let in, and what and who we don’t.  An absolutely dazzling, profound ruby of a novel.

And look who else is raving:
"A novel with a wonderfully smart and strong protagonist, Julie Clark's debut The Ones We Choose is an impressive and surprising combination of hard science and raw emotion. In this absorbing story of friendship, parenting, and the intensity of the sibling bond, Clark reveals how messy family life can be and how the mess itself might be of great value. An engaging read!"

Amy Poeppel

"An engaging, heart-felt alchemy of genetics and emotion, THE ONES WE CHOOSE is a unique story that will having you thinking about the true meaning of family and how our heritage silently weaves its way into every choice we make."

Amy Hatvany
"This chimera of heart and science skillfully produces an extraordinary breakthrough novel. I love smart fiction with a sharp heroine at the core. Julie Clark has perceptively given us that in The Ones We Choose. A story of mother and son and the ties that bind, right down to the marrow. Trust me, you're going to want to read this."

Sarah McCoy

What was haunting you when you wrote this book?
What a provocative question! In 2014, when the idea first occurred to me, I wanted to write about a single mother, but I felt that had been overdone. We had books about widows who raise their kids while overcoming their own grief. We have books about divorcees who battle ex-husbands and critical family members. But what about the single mothers who are emerging from our advancements in science? The women who choose motherhood out of joy and love, rather than grief or conflict?  

But then an interesting thing happened to me in the middle of revising this book. In 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and everything stopped. I had no family history or risk factors, and so of course, I wondered how I got it. Why did my cells mutate? All of a sudden, those genetic subchapters became very personal for me as I explored this idea of genetic memory.

I’ve found that life always gives me what I need when I need it…and that was definitely true for my diagnosis. I was reaching a critical part of shifting this book from one lane into another, and pushing it more toward the science subplot. I had to stop teaching so I could focus on my treatment, and I did a lot of self-reflection (and writing) during that time. I’ve written about this period (here and here), and consider it to be one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Everybody should be so lucky as to have the opportunity to step out of their lives and take stock. All of those experiences -- the pain, the stress, the fear, and the joy -- went into the pages of the book.

What surprised you the most about your research?
I can say that the interstitial chapter on mtdna was really personal for me. I had lost my best friend, Sharon, to cancer in 2012, and she left behind two kids ages 8 and 9 when she passed away. It made me wonder, what parts of her might remain? I loved the idea that our mothers, all the way back through time, are imprinted on our cells, and get passed forward through our maternal line. Who are these women? What hardships did they endure? What has carried forward to me? I thought a lot about Sharon, and how her mtdna lives inside both of her children. Her daughter will even pass it forward to her children, and it will be essentially unchanged from Sharon’s. She’ll be there. In the very cells in their bodies. That concept also helped me in the early days of my own cancer diagnosis, before I knew exactly what I was dealing know that my mtdna would be in my kids too. No matter what happened, they would have a part of me that would be there for the entirety of their lives. That was a big a-ha, not just as a writer of the book I was working on, but as a person. As a mother. It changed the way I think about the impermanence of life. That surprised and delighted me.

I absolutely loved when you mentioned that the trauma of our ancestors gets into our own cells. It explains so much. Can you explain what we can do about that, how to live with it, or even change it—if possible?
I don’t know if it’s possible to change it. We live in a world where we’re so determined to fix things, and at some point we have to understand that certain things are broken and they might have to stay broken.

There are things we can do to protect ourselves from future problems. Avoiding stress has become a priority for me. I have a full time job, plus my writing obligations, parenting my two children – even with the huge amount of help I get from my family, I have to be very scheduled and mindful of boundaries. I think it’s important, no matter how busy you are, to give yourself time to handle your stress when it happens and not carry it all up inside, where it can manifest as something not-so-great.

But I think the most important thing, and the thing Paige would want you to know is that you can’t control everything. Life is messy and you can’t shy away from the mess, or keep the mess from happening. That’s just part of living. How you choose to respond to that mess is within your control, but to try and resist it, that’s the space where the stress is born. Paige was trying to hang on so tightly to her idea of what was good for her son – and what was good for her – that she was on the verge of losing everything. So I think the big takeaway is that yes, our experiences transform our cells and our DNA and everything is imprinted and carried forward and recorded, but that’s okay. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re going to be okay. My experiences are more important to the shaping of who I am than the fear of how they might be changing me. Smile and embrace it all. Even a cancer diagnosis.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals, do you outline, or do you simply let the story tell itself (ha ha ha.)
I get up at 3:45 in the morning to write. I like to think I’m on NY time, living on the west coast. (And yes, I go to bed very early too. My 9 y/o goes to bed at 7:30 and I go shortly after him.) My rituals are simple. I write in bed and I must have coffee. Those hours are consistent and quiet, which is why it’s worth it to me to wake up so early. I try to tackle my really difficult work during this time, and it’s reserved for new work only.

In the afternoons, try to handle promotion for The Ones We Choose, write or revise blog interviews or draft my weekly blog posts for The Debutante Ball. I also look over what I wrote that morning, and figure out what I need to work on the next morning, so that when I wake up I know exactly what I need to do and I don’t have to spend any time thinking about it, I can just get started.

As far as my process, unfortunately, I’m not much of an outliner, though I am always trying! I didn’t do any outlining for The Ones We Choose, but I did map out all of the subplots chapter-by-chapter. It’s a great visual in how to make sure I don’t drop any one of them for too long. But that’s more of a revision tool, not a drafting tool.  With the book I’m working on now, I am doing a lot more outlining and plotting, since I’m juggling dual POVs and timelines, and the book has more suspense elements than The Ones We Choose. But generally, my early drafts focus more on plot and forward motion. My later drafts are about layering in the emotion. The backstory. The subplots. The tension. Heightening the stakes for everyone. Taking away the scaffolds I always seem to put in no matter how hard I try not to.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Right now I’m obsessing about how someone might be able to obtain a fake ID. In my next book my character needs to disappear, so she needs a new identity. One of my childhood friends used to be an FBI agent as well as a police officer, so he’s my go-to for all of these types of questions. Apparently fake ID’s are now the purview of organized crime. You can’t hire some high school kid to make one for you anymore because of all the technology linked with them. So that presents a problem, because now I need to figure out how my main character (who is the wife of an influential senator) might get one. But then I had a big epiphany…because it’s so challenging, that just makes the stakes for my character so much bigger. And that’s always a good thing.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
By day I’m a fifth grade teacher. It might be tied with novelist for “Greatest Job in the World”. My students will tell you I’m obsessed with BBQ potato chips, but I never let myself eat them. They think that’s really sad.

Lisa Romeo talks about grief, healing, and STARTING WITH GOODBYE

Lisa Romeo is a writer and a writing coach and I am so honored to have her here to talk about her memoir, STARTING WITH GOODBYE. Thank you, Lisa!

Grief is never-ending, but there must have been a moment when you felt, okay, now I am ready to write this. Can you talk about that moment please?

There were many different moments. I actually began the writing almost immediately, in the two weeks after my father died, and then on and off for about six years. I went to the page each time I felt that I had something else, something new or what struck me as unusual to record about the grief experience. The writing and the curiosity about the unfolding experience seemed to occur in partnership. Of that early writing, some became essays of different lengths and forms and appeared in literary journals. The rest stayed in my notebook until the structure for the book solidified.

There was a point—maybe that moment you’re asking about—when it felt like the right time to transform all the essays and the bits and pieces in notebooks, into a memoir, though I honestly can’t say precisely when that happened or just what the exact impetus might have been. It certainly wasn’t an aha moment where I thought, “okay, time to move on from grief.” It was subtler than that and was imperceptibly tied to the act of writing.

I’d resisted moving from the essay from to a long continuous narrative for a couple of years, despite good advice, because grief to me, even then, still seemed mostly fragmented and episodic, not linear. In late 2015 though, I realized that this book had to happen before anything else, before I could write any other book. I was getting too comfortable writing short pieces about grief, and grief is not supposed to be so comfortable that you don’t want to move on. It was time. I went away for a week to a quiet bed-and-breakfast in remote Maine in January 2016 to get started.

One of the things that people may not realize is that when a person dies, the relationship does not. You still can work on that relationship. Can you talk about how you came to see your father differently?

When my father was still alive, even in his final two years when he was dealing with Alzheimer’s, severe arthritis, heart disease and other ailments, to a certain extent we were still playing out roles I believe got decided in my childhood and teen years.  We were locked in those roles: he was the self-made, successful businessman without much education, who always had to be right, and I was the modern daughter with the privilege of higher education, who felt I needed to align with my mother, and who had to prove that I was his equal and that we were nothing alike.

The joke was on me. After he died, there was nothing left to struggle against anymore, and I got curious about why we had so often been at odds, why it was that we had a lot in common but didn’t want to admit it. The reality was that the friction came from being so very much alike. Once he was gone, I felt free to ask myself questions about his life, his behavior and decisions, that I hadn’t bothered to investigate before, because I’d been, frankly, a rather dismissive snob.

I found that I was able to come to know my father differently, that I had more of an open mind, and he thus became an even bigger part of my life than in the years before his death. In that way, the relationship seemed to continue and even, in a sense, flourish.

The phrase “Love after Loss” really resonated with me. Can you talk about what this feels like for you?

When Dad and I had “conversations” after he was gone, so many things came clear for me; I had patience and curiosity then which had been lacking when he was alive. At first there was a certain amount of shame involved for how I’d treated him at times in my adult life, but that faded because I felt so much love and acceptance in return—which I now interpret as my finally grasping the depth of his love for me, something which he wasn’t really ever able to express in life (and I wasn’t open to hearing either).

When our parents age and decline, there are so many mixed emotions—even though we act from love and compassion, for many adult children I think there may also be guilt, impatience, confusion, exasperation, inadequacy, judgment, bewilderment, all churning and distracting us. There certainly was for me. But once he was gone, and I was able to think about, acknowledge and process all of that, there was a certain calm. And the only thing left, was love.

What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out? What was it like to write this particular book?

For short pieces, I usually know where I want to begin and where I will end. The middle is a mystery and I mean that in the best way; I enjoy figuring out how to get from A to Z, even if that means a number of rewrites and/or if it takes me in some unexpected direction in form.

For a few years, I saw this as a book of linked essays. Publishers and some trusted beta readers didn’t agree, and I was stuck for a while. Then I decided to take their advice and rework it as a more traditional memoir. For someone like me who feels like an essayist at heart, that was a rather frightening step, but eventually the right one.

Because I had the challenge of breaking down a number of pre-exiting essays and weaving that material into the longer narrative I was writing, I felt I needed a firm chronological frame—beginning two months before Dad died and ending two-and-a-half years after. But inside of those bookends, the narrator needed to be able to move around in time—back, way back, a little ahead, and then always returning to the unfolding moment.

I made probably five different chapter outlines, and then when I had a crappy first draft, I printed it all out, got a pair of scissors and a roll of tape, cut things up according to events and theme, and put it all together again. Several times. Then as I poured it all back into the computer, I revised heavily and rewrote. Rinse, repeat. After five months, I had a fairly polished manuscript and began submitting.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

A few things. First, what the next book will be. I have three different ideas, and when I tell them to the few people I want advice from, I get wildly different feedback. One involves horses—I rode and competed for many years, and horses were the first thing I ever wrote about, first as a kid for fun, and then later professionally. The second is another family-centered memoir. The third is a combination reported and personal narrative.

Besides the sophomore book question, I’m constantly upset by the state of the country, the divisive society that my (college-age) sons will be inheriting. Finally, I’m always obsessed with watching British crime dramas, and dark chocolate.

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

By now I figured someone would have asked, “What do you think your father would say about the book?”, so I’ll go with that. The answer is, I don’t think he’d say much at all to me directly, as was his way. But at some point, I’d probably overhear him telling other people, “My daughter wrote a bestseller!” That will of course have no foundation in reality! When I was a low-level staffer in a midsized public relations agency, he’d boast, “My daughter is a top executive at one of the best PR firms in New York City.” When I’d hear that, I’d get so frustrated and wonder why he had to brag so. I sure wouldn’t mind hearing him bragging like that now though.

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May is Short Story Month and that means incredible collections from Jane Ciabattari, Abby Frucht, Dawn Raffel, and more, all from Dzanc

Grab a bundle of short stories, on sale all month



Dzanc is proud to offer more than 100 short story
collections in its print and rEprint series. Pick up
a few of these great titles in May. And as an added
celebration of Short Story Month, Dzanc is offering
a #ReadWomen special: order three collections by
women and take 35% off. Use the code
READWOMEN at checkout, 4/30-5/31 

Check theses great story collections out HERE!

I am featuring Jane Ciabattari here because A. she's amazing and B. Her whole collection is amazing. Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, El Salvador, New York City, Montreal, and Montauk, the haunting stories in Stealing the Fire throb with the joys and pains of life-changing events.  And check out my interview with Jane Here!

The brilliantly funny Stephen McCauley talks about MY EX-LIFE. college personal essays, Airbnbs, why he hates mac and cheese, and so much more.

Come on, who doesn't adore Stephen McCauley? I know I do. I first met him at a book salon, and we bonded over really bad movies. (Cabin on the Lake, anyone?) Subsequently, we stay in touch, I see him at readings and I stalk him on social media. He's a genius writer, hilariously funny, and despite his aversion to it, he DOES make a mean mac and cheese.

He's the acclaimed author of The Object of My Affection (which was made into a great movie starring Jennifer Anniston), The Easy Way Out, The Man of the House, True Enough, Insignificant Others and Alternatives to Sex. 

I absolutely adored his newest novel MY EX-LIFE, about lives coming apart and together, old relationships and new ones, and college personal essays (Oh my God, I LIVED that one.) And I'm not the only one. It's an Indie Next Pick, a Publisher's Lunch Buzz Book, and an Amazon Top 20 books for Spring. Check out these other raves:

“An irresistible doozy of a plot. With My Ex-Life, a heartwarming comedy of manners about second chances and starting afresh, he has pretty much outdone himself...McCauley fires off witticisms like a tennis ace practicing serves... Warm but snappy, light but smart—and just plain enjoyable.” Heller Mcalpin,
“As always, McCauley’s effervescent prose is full of wit and wisdom on every topic—college application essays, Airbnb operation, weed addiction, live porn websites, and, most of all, people. ‘When everything looks perfectly right about a person, there’s usually something significantly wrong.’ ‘All couples start off as Romeo and Juliet and end up as Laurel and Hardy.’ A gin and tonic for the soul.” Kirkus Reviews
“McCauley delights with intimately, often hilariously observed characters and a winking wit that lets plenty of honest tenderness shine through. Readers will love spending time in these pages.” Booklist, starred review

You have this astonishing talent for creating characters we just adore. I truly want Julie to be my best friend, and I want her to bring David along, too.  How do you go about creating character?

I’m delighted to hear you like them. I wrote most of the novel during the spring, summer, and fall of 2016—a traumatic time for someone with my political view of the world. I loved opening my notebooks and stepping out of my universe and into theirs. I give my students lots of craft tips for character development, but the only key I know to creating truly three-dimensional people on the page is to start with an idea of characters in a situation rather than starting with a plot. Once you make characters secondary or subservient to a story, they tend to get a little flat. You can see the marionette wires and the author’s hand pulling them. If I have a good sense of the people I’m dealing with, I take a see-what-happens approach. The main story that drives My Ex-Life emerged directly from David’s career as college counselor, not from a planned and outlined plot. It’s not the most efficient way to write, I know, but I think it has value. Stephen King has a great chapter about this in his terrific book On Writing.

Having survived the college essay period four years ago, I loved reading about it again because it all sounded so familiar to me. (We, two writers, could not really help our son and we hired someone because she showed us this wonderful essay a kid had written about how he wanted to be among wild horses in Montana and “run, run, run.” And his father, of course, despite her please, made him change it to something boring about making a difference in the world of finance. Do you do this work? How do you know so much about it?

I’ve worked on college essays for the children of several friends and also two of my nephews. Doing it, I gained a ton of insight into their families and the kids’ real feelings about their parents. That’s why I chose that profession for my character—indirect participation in the lives of others. I think that explains why you two writers couldn’t really help your son—your participation is too direct! I’ve been teaching at the college level for thirty years, and I’m astonished at how much drama has emerged around what was once a fairly straightforward process. My parents had only a vague awareness of where I was applying. My awareness was probably more vague than theirs, come to think of it. For research, I interviewed an admissions officer at Harvard about the importance of essays (less than most people assume, it turns out!) and novelist Elizabeth Benedict who has created a successful business coaching essays. She gave me some great insights. It’s easier to make things up when you’re standing on a somewhat solid foundation of fact.

Same question re selling and restoring houses, please.

I had the good fortune of having three of my books made into movies. One here and two in France. I used the money to buy two pieces of real estate, both intended as writing retreats. Unfortunately, I found I was too worried about renovations and upkeep when I was in them to get writing done. So I made both short-term rentals. (“Airbnb’s” is the accepted generic term. Like “Kleenex” for facial tissues.) Now I use the money I earn from renting them to rent other people’s apartments in places around the country. I go, burrow in for a couple of weeks and couldn’t care less if the ceiling falls in around me. Julie’s Airbnb operation in My Ex-Life is based on those experiences. Especially her experiences with throw pillows. Airbnb rentals always have way, way too many throw pillows. I usually photograph them as soon as I check in and send the pictures to a few friends to prove I’m not making it up. I turned pillows into a running gag in this novel. I liked exploring the Airbnb world in My Ex-Life because millions of people are sharing their most intimate spaces—kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms—with complete strangers. It opens up all kinds of story possibilities.

I also absolutely loved the relationship between David and Julie, their deep affection for one another. Do you think part of what stops us from moving on is just plain old terror of the new, and if so, what do we do about it?

I think there’s too much emphasis on the importance of “moving on” as a value in and of itself. Sometimes a more nuanced adaptation to what is is the better solution. I love when people have crazy, complicated living situations with exes or make accommodations for lovers or destitute relatives. When people truly open up about their relationships, their marriages, you discover no one’s life is as simple as it seems from the outside.

Ah, let’s talk about mid-life. What I loved so much about your novel is that it DOES spark second chances. (My mom fell in love for the first time at 93!) which is sort of thumbing your nose at all this societal dictates of who should be doing what at what age. So…as you see it, there are too second acts in American life. Can you talk about this, please?

To be embarrassingly frank, I’m surprised at how desire and even opportunities linger into (and past!) midlife. On the other hand, you absolutely cannot talk about your sex life past age fifty. No one wants to hear. If you don’t want to be celibate, you have to pretend you are. Like wearing a wedding ring, it signals that you’re available. As for second chances, an astonishing number of folks are using social media to look up, investigate, and/or cyber-stalk old paramours, high-school sweethearts, or ex-spouses. They claim it’s totally innocent, but let’s face it, it never is. Exes knew us when we were younger, less wrinkled, less jaded, more firm and fit. They still see the aura of that surrounding us when they look at us. The second chances in My Ex-Life aren’t like the wonderful one your mother had with a new person, but a reconfigured relationship with an old love and best friend. I find there’s tremendous sweetness and tenderness in that.

What kind of writer are you? Do you freak out or panic? You make it seem so effortless.

I used to be a “freak, panic, fall-asleep-for-two-days” kind of writer. Now that I am the age that I am, I’ve calmed down a lot. I care as much about doing good work, but I don’t see my entire life hinging on the success of every sentence. Oddly enough, this has made me work harder and dig deeper. I don’t have the energy for freak-outs and all-nighters. I take my notebooks to the library and remind myself that I’m not Dostoyevsky. Espresso also helps.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

In a literary sense, I’ve been obsessed with Anita Brookner for a couple of years now. Not individual novels but her whole body of eccentric work. As of last summer, 20th-Century Japanese novels. Mishima and Tanizaki especially. In music, I’ve been listening to the droning, unmelodic, electronic music of Loscil. It drowns out the political news, which is what’s really obsessing me, to the detriment of my mental and physical health. 

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

I don’t know, but you didn’t ask the question you shouldn’t have asked---“What are you working on now?”—and for that, I’m thankful.

And (inside joke) made any mac and cheese lately? There is excellent vegan cheese for that, now. Just saying.

You graciously included me in an article you wrote about mac and cheese for the Boston Globe. I remember something about aged Gouda. I was very grateful, and a bunch of people told me they made the recipe. I guess I can now confess that I don’t really love mac and cheese! Don’t hate me, okay? Even as a kid I didn’t love it. My mother—who was Italian and a fantastic cook—made it out of spite on nights when my father didn’t come home for dinner. She was thumbing her nose at him by feeding it to us. I don’t understand the logic. But I love knowing that this is part of our history. We’ll never have Paris, but we’ll always have mac and cheese!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Jane Green talks about her incredible new novel THE SUNSHINE SISTERS, chosing flying as her superpower, and more!

I first met Jane Green at a big, so-crowded-you-could-not-breathe, literary party. I remember her because she said, "Don't you feel like sticking an ice pick in your eye?" and I burst out laughing.  I adored her for that. And then later, she invited me to be videotaped for her book club and I told her I loved her books and then we both cried a little. Meeting Jane in person was amazing. First, she has an accent! Second, she's hilarious and smart. Third, I felt so comfortable with her, she could have done the interview with both of us in our pajamas. I love Jane Green. 

She is the author of nineteen novels, including seventeen New York Times bestsellers. She has over ten million books in print, is published in over 25 languages, and has several books in development for film and TV.So, she's written THE SUNSHINE SISTERS, a fantastic novel about the ties that bind us, the ones that garrote us, too. Three sisters have to face the lives they've created as their mother is losing hers. And here come the starred reviews:

"Another perfect beach read for sisters, estranged or not." Kirkus

"Green does a wonderful job of creating realistic and lovable (despite themselves) characters." Library Journal

Thank you so much for letting me badger you with questions, Jane! (And for teaching me English slang that isn't rubbish.)

I’m a sucker for novels about sisters, and fractured families, and by page 2, I was in love with The Sunshine Sisters. But you’ve said that you abandoned it for a while, and then went back to writing it? Why? What was it about the book that made you unsure where it was going? And what made you able to pick it up again and finish it?

I wrote a large chunk of it in a tiny cottage on the beach in Guilford, Connecticut which I rented for a week as a writing retreat, determined to get my new book off the ground, but something about it wasn’t right (not least that it was freezing). Towards the end of a week of pure slog, I realized I had no idea who the characters were, so when I got back home I decided to abandon it to write Falling. But a year later I found myself thinking about it, and had a quick read through to check it really was a waste of time. And what I found was that I had the eldest daughter Nell, very clearly, and I had Ronni. And there was so much there that worked. I realized that if I put the work into the two other sisters, Lizzy and Meredith, the book would then tell itself. And second time around, it completely came alive and wrote itself, and was an absolute joy – I would look forward to sitting at my desk every day to see what my characters would do that day.

I absolutely loved Ronni, the not-so-great mom who calls her adult daughters home when she discovers she has a serious illness. I loved all of the daughters, too, and because every one was so complex and alive, I wanted to know how you go about building a character. Do you map the changes out or do they happen organically?

Nell came to me organically, but I had to map out Lizzy and Meredith, and first time round, I didn’t get them. Second time round, however, their voices shouted at me from the page, especially Lizzy’s. She was so vibrant and alive, she really took the story in all kinds of directions I hadn’t intended.

Every time I start a new novel, I get writers’ amnesia and forget how to do it. I don’t learn a thing from previous novels, it seems. Is it that way for you? Does every novel you write feel different than the one before?

Every time I start one I wonder how in the hell I’ve ever done it before, and am convinced that this is the one where I will run out of juice halfway through. Every one does feel different, although I will be honest and confess I am ready for something of a new challenge. I suspect this is probably less about the stories and more about my life – seventeen years in suburbia has taken its toll. I’ve been mired in suburban stories for a while and I think I am done with that, but we shall see what the future holds.

You have over ten million books in print, 19 novels, published in 25 languages, have books in development, you run a brand new amazing book club (Thank you for hosting me!), you have zillions of animals, and you’re an amazing cook! How do you manage to do all that you do?

I have two modes: on, and off. I’m either running around like a crazy woman, or I’m in bed. And when I say I’m in bed, that can mean for days. I also don’t have much of a social life. I was once told that after the age of forty you can divide your life into work, family, and friends, and you do not get to successfully juggle more than two. If that is true, the two I have chosen to juggle are work and family. I adore my friends, but my priorities are family and work, and I daresay an active social life would prevent me from doing all that I do.

Plus, you’re so respected and beloved in the literary community, and so generous to other writers, that I wonder if you can give two of the most important pieces of writing advice you know here?

Coming from you, the most generous writer I know, that’s the highest praise of all! I would say that writing is a discipline, and a job; that however you feel and whether you are inspired or not, you must sit down and write, because that is the only way books get written. The other essential piece of advice is get an agent who is passionate about your work, and who believes in you wholeheartedly. I have made the mistake, more than once, of having an agent who is entirely disinterested, and in one case, clearly thought my work beneath them. Someone who is not passionate about you, or who doesn’t “get” you, will never be able to do a good job selling your work.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I am still obsessed with Big Little Lies. It is rare for a television show to be as good as, or perhaps even better than, the original book. The adaptation of Big Little Lies just blew me away – the setting, the actors, the music; I don’t know how they got it so right, and I wish someone would pour some of that secret sauce on me.

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

If you had a choice of flying or invisibility as a secret superpower, which would you choose? I would choose flying, because I don’t want to hear what other people are saying about me – whenever you lurk, you generally hear something you do not want to hear. Flying would be excellent, especially given my increasingly bad night vision.