Friday, April 17, 2015

Want to test-drive brilliant new wines in comfort or at a party? Kelly Bowen talks about her innovative new business, WineShop At Home.

For me, going to a wine store makes me want to reach for the Valium. There are so many choices, and half the time, I make the wrong one.  Or I stick with the wines I'm already familiar with, and then I realize I'm missing out on some fabulous new possibilities. 

Kelly Bowen is not only the genius publicity director at Algonquin Books (My publisher! One of my publicists!), but she's also started this innovative new wine business, WineShop At Home.

I'm thrilled to have Kelly here to talk about it--and I admit I have a glass of wine at my desk as I'm typing all this up! Thank you, Kelly!

What is Wineshop at Home and how does it work? And how can people get involved?

Wineshop at Home is a Napa Valley-based winery that offers its own exclusive, handcrafted limited production wines and in-home tastings with wine consultants. We take all the guesswork and stress out of the wine tasting for the host - the wine consultant leads the tasting, offering information about each wine and fun wine facts, making it a really enjoyable, low key evening for everyone. We want guests to have the freedom and comfort to try wines they’ve never experienced before, and also pair each wine with food to show how the wine changes.

This is a wonderful company for all types of wine lovers: people looking for limited edition, artisan wine not available anywhere else, someone looking to create their own wine label for a special occasion (such as corporate gifts or wedding party gifts) and wine lovers who want to host a tasting. And we’re looking for people who like wine and people, and would be interested in pouring wine and making a little extra money as a consultant!

I love your tag line (Come for the taste, stay for the lifestyle.) Can you talk about that please?

Our goal is simply to provide the best wine lifestyle experience in the world! If you’re like me, you dream about having simple elegant wine parties on the patio, or having your girlfriends over for an evening of conversation and wine, or maybe it’s simply a better appreciation and understanding of wine. We want to seduce you with delicious wine, and then keep you coming back because you love the easy yet sophisticated lifestyle that goes along with ordering our wine.

Your website is not only lots of fun, it’s interactive. I did the “Find Your Vinotype” which was shockingly accurate. How do you know what types like what kinds of wine?

I’m curious, Caroline, what’s your vinotype?? (Caroline: I'm a sensitive!) Every person is unique with different likes and dislikes, passions and values. And each person reacts and adapts to new experiences differently. All of those factors are incorporated into the “Find the Vinotype” quiz, which helps determine the range and intensity of sensations people experience and how they adapt to the environment, thus helping wine consultants understand their wine preferences.

For example, I’m a “sensitive” vinotype out of 4 types: sweet, hyper-sensitive, sensitive, and tolerant. The description is pretty darn accurate and in the wine world it means I’m on the less sensitive end of the spectrum and more open to a broad range of wines and foods. Basically, I’m an equal-opportunity wine drinker.

You’re a genius publicist for Algonquin Books, so I want to ask--is promoting wines and a wine club different than promoting books? Is anything surprising you about it?

Awww… you’re so sweet, thank you! Being a wine consultant actually fits perfectly with my skill set as a publicist. I plan events for a living, so coordinating in-home wine tastings is a natural fit. And I LOVE wine, so talking about wine with friends, family, and new clients is pretty similar to talking with the media, booksellers, and readers about new books we’re publishing. And to be honest, I’ve found that many avid readers are also avid wine lovers, so the two go hand in hand. Except now instead of bringing a bottle of wine to my book club conversations, we can have a fantastic wine tasting!

What’s the one mistake people make when choosing a wine?

I’ve been guilty of a bad habit that I think many others have of buying the same varietal all the time, like only selecting chardonnay or Cabernet sauvignon, rather than trying different types of wines. Our pallets change, our moods change, our eating habits change, so you might be missing out on a great type of wine that you’ve avoided in the past.

Also, not thinking about how wine pairs with food and selecting a wine from your wine rack that complements and accentuates the meal, rather than grabbing the first bottle you see.  

So tell us three great wines everyone should have in their house right now?

An excellent question! The most important thing for wine buyers to think about is everyday wines, weekend wines, and special occasion wines. The everyday wines are within the $12-16 price range, and add excitement to even the simplest of meals from Chinese takeout to mom’s favorite recipe. The weekend wines are in the $17-24 price range, and these are wines that pair nicely with a more leisurely-prepared meal, a higher quality wine that can take a special place of honor on your table. And the special occasion wines are typically $25-40, wines that you keep in your wine storage rack for a birthday, anniversary, the boss coming to dinner, or as a gift. You should expect fine quality, great taste, and lasting pleasure on the palate.

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

You didn’t ask how you or your readers can host a wine tasting! It’s easy entertaining – you invite 6-12 wine loving friends and I take care of everything else. The cost is $50 and includes 6 full bottles of our latest artisan wines. I do a guided tasting and your friends will have a chance at the end to pick their favorites, and those wines will ship immediately from our Napa winery. And now I’ve started doing Skype wine tastings, for any of your readers in an area that I don’t travel to. And if you or any of your readers are interested in learning more about pouring wine, I’d love to tell you more about it.

Like my Facebook page ( to keep up on our latest specials and new available wines, recipes, and fun wine tips!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The astonishing Stewart O'Nan talks about West of Sunset, Fitzgerald's last years, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and so much more

Stewart O'Nan is a genius. He's the author of some of my favorite books on the planet, including Emily Alone, The Odds, and now his latest, West of Sunset, an extraordinary novel that focuses on the last few months of Fitzgerald's life, as he struggles to find his footing with Hollywood, Zelda, Scottie, and Sheila Graham. Everyone from The New Yorker to the Boston Globe revered the book--and so did I. I'm always happy when I get to talk to Stewart, so this is really a pleasure post for me, and his answers formed an essay, which also made me happy. A million thanks, Stewart!

  I wanted to write a lush, romantic book but at the same time have that fear of pennilessness always with Scott.  That's the split I see there:  it's the Golden Age of Hollywood, and everyone around him is famous and rich--Dorothy and Alan are fresh from co-writing A Star is Born, Bogie's on the cusp of stardom, S.J. Perelman's writing the classic Marx Brothers films, Ernest is the most famous writer in the world, and here's Scott, and they all know from his Crack-Up essays in Esquire that he's dead broke and trying but continually falling off the wagon. 

In several ways he's a fish out of water in Hollywood, which is what he was his whole life.  At least at The Garden of Allah, he's surrounded by friends who've known him since 1920 back in New York, and who know how talented he is, and what a sweetheart he is when he's sober, and how hard it's been for him since losing Zelda.  Before this, in North Carolina, he was living alone in hotels and drinking his days away, borrowing money from Max & Ober.  Now he's got a shot at fulfilling his responsibilities and getting out of debt.  All he has to do is hang on to a job, and while he has his ups and downs out there, ultimately he manages to pay off everyone he owes and even has enough to buy the time to start on The Last Tycoon.

What surprised me the most in my research was that he worked on Gone With the Wind.  I had no idea.  Or that he wrote a screen version of Babylon Revisited and had a meeting with Shirley Temple and her mother about it.  Or that at the same time Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley and James M. Cain all worked on the same floor there in the Thalberg Building at MGM.  Also that Scott was on the lot while they were shooting The Wizard of Oz.  Or that Joan Crawford specifically asked for him to be her screenwriter on several projects.  Or that he went to the Oscars one year.  That he had to hock his car to pay rent.  And all the nightclubs and restaurants, the months Sheilah arranged for him to live on the beach in Malibu in what was then called the Movie Colony, their initial dinner with Scottie, their trips to Catalina.  And of course all the amazing settings there in L.A., from the old back lot to the Palisades to the drought-stricken valley.  The scenery's big and elemental.

When we think of Fitzgerald, we think of the writer or the alcoholic, the romantic, but he was also a husband and father.  He was terrible with money, and from 1924--before Gatsby!--till his last years in Hollywood, he was constantly in debt.  Yet he never neglected his responsibilities to his family.  When Zelda is first hospitalized in 1929, he becomes in essence a single parent to Scottie, and does his best to provide for her.  And though, by the time the novel begins, Zelda's been in Highland Hospital for several years, she's still the most important person in his life.  As I say in the book, he would never deny that they were meant for each other, even as he recognizes that she's deeply ill.  He's still devoted to her, though in most respects their marriage is over.  Impossible as he knows it is, he wants to somehow repair the damage that's broken the bond between her and Scottie, and arranges for them to take family vacations during Zelda's furloughs from the asylum.  He keeps trying to do what's right in an impossible situation, and eventually it breaks him down.

Bogart and Mayo Methot serve as a bit of a chorus.  They were famous for their drinking and fighting at the Garden of Allah, and I thought they'd be a good foil--along with the other odd couple of Dottie and Alan--for the brand-new couple of Scott and Sheilah.  Their wisecracking helps undercut the melancholy, and reminds the reader of the blending of the real and movie worlds that's taking place there.  Bogie's voice came naturally to me, since I've seen everything he's been in--and I think it's familiar to many readers as well.  For how the two banter, I borrowed the style of The Thin Man films.

No secret to how I write:  slowly.  9 to 5, and I try to get a single double-spaced page a day.  Try to hold onto whatever moods the POV characters are in and follow whatever direction the action is going.  Stay close, just try to understand what's on the characters' minds, what's important to them.  Sit there and try to figure out what's next.  Patience is all.  And knowing you're going to fix it later anyway.

Right now I've just finished a new novel about Jerusalem in 1946.  It's about identity and political violence and fear and trust.  So now I'm obsessed with starting something else.  Stephen King says a book takes you away, and that's what I'm looking for, a new project that will take me somewhere unexpected, somewhere I've never been.

Thanks again for all your kind words, and for taking the time to have me on the blog.  Now I'm off to Pitt-Greensburg to sing for my supper.


Kamy Wicoff talks about WISHFUL THINKING, magic mushrooms, motherhood, writing, and so much more

 Kamy Wicoff is the bestselling author of the nonfiction book I Do but I Don’t: Why the Way We Marry Matters. But let's celebrate her debut novel now, Wishful Thinking, an exhilarating satire about modern motherhood, with a soupcon of fantasy throw in. She is the cofounder of one of the world’s largest communities for women writers, She is also cofounder, with Brooke Warner, of She Writes Press. She Writes and She Writes Press are part of the SparkPoint Studio family.  Thank you for being here, Kamy!

You've touched THE nerve of working mothers--how can we possibly be there for our kids AND for our bosses. Why is this so difficult and do you think it gets easier? 

It is THE question isn’t it? I wrote the book because it’s something I struggle with myself, and I often feel like I just don’t have enough time to do everything I need to do. But is lack of time really the problem? My main character, Jennifer, is suddenly given all the time she needs; she can be at afterschool pickup and at an important work meeting; she can go on the school field trip and show up for her job. The question was, would her life then be great? What Jennifer (and I) discovered is that unless you address the underlying “it’s never enough no matter what you do” mentality our culture constantly enforces on us both as workers and as parents, no amount of time will provide the balance you seek. Part of why it is so difficult is that workplaces are still designed for men with stay-at-home wives, a la Don Draper, and the standards mothers are held to, are, incredibly, higher now than they were then! But I do believe it can, and will, get easier if we do two critical things: 1) stop blaming ourselves for our personal failings in a system that isn’t set up for us to succeed, and instead fight for workplace reform (everyone should join MomsRising!); and 2) take a long view when balancing being their for your kids and for your work. Sometimes one has to take precedence over the other, but over time, if you are mindful, it will all even out. I find that’s true for me, anyway.

I love the whole Time Travel appeal of the novel, of using time to solve our problems the way your heroine Jennifer THINKS that she can. Can you talk about what sparked this ingenious idea for you?

I was reading the Harry Potter books with my son several years ago and I thought, I wish there was a book like this for moms. And then I thought, if I could give myself, or any working mom I know, one power, what would it be? The answer came immediately: the ability to be in two places at once. (As my sons would say, duh.) I knew from the beginning, however, that I didn’t want to bestow this power on my main character through magic. I have always been an amateur lover of physics, following the construction of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson particle, etc., and I have also always felt that women in science suffer some of the worst sexism around. (This fabulous Science Friday podcast underscored that for me.) I loved the idea of writing a strong female scientist into the book, and after consulting with some real physicists, I determined that the time travel app, via wormhole, was the most realistic way to go based on what physicists believe is possible. The notion of harvesting of wormholes in quantum foam, for example, is an idea from Stephen Hawking himself.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals, do you have a Post-it addiction, the way I do, do you map your stories out, or do you like to be surprised?

I have to say that for this project, I became a devoted user of Scrivener, which I had never used before. (It even includes a form of Post-it notes, Caroline, where you can create virtual index cards!) I love to be thorough in my research when I am creating a world: I knew, for example, the exact building in the West Village Jennifer lived in, down to its GPS coordinates and address. In Scrivener, I could collect links and facts in an organized way and draw on them throughout the writing of the book, which was a life saver, because when you are attempting to write something that involves time-travel, things get complicated fast. As for mapping the story out—I started by just writing, about fifty or sixty pages, to get a sense of the voice, the characters, and whether I had a viable idea, and then I pulled back to outline. (I wrote about this for She Writes and got lots of feedback and tips from other writers, too.) I felt free to go off the outline when needed, but it was tremendously helpful in giving me a sense of direction and a sense of accomplishment each time a plot-milestone was reached.

There is so much witty and sharp social commentary in Wishful Thinking that I found myself laughing even as I underlined passages. Can you talk a bit about that?

Firstly, thank you! Christina Baker Kline, when she first read the manuscript, also commented on how much she loved the social critique contained in the book, and urged me to emphasize that as we marketed it, rather than simply selling it as a “fun read.” (Though you were definitely meant to laugh. I cracked myself up a few times while writing it.) I think it was an enormous asset to write this book as a forty-something woman with some life experience under her belt, and years of observations about this particular part of life ripe and ready to go. Jennifer’s is a world I know well, and it’s an amalgam of the work and life experiences of many, many women I know, and of the confidences and conundrums we’ve shared.

You also are the co-founder of the wonderful SheWrites Press. Tell us about that, please, and has running a press influenced your writing in any way?

One huge thing it did for me – and that it can actually do for any writer who is producing a book worthy of being published, whether or not she has a big “platform” because of the way our model works – was to free me from fretting during the writing process that the book might not ever see the light of day. When it was finished, I did have my agent take it out to traditional publishers to test the marketplace (my first book, I Do But I Don’t, was traditionally published), and I got an offer, but in the end it wasn’t good enough to justify the terrible royalties traditional presses give. (If you want to read more about that decision, you can check out the post I wrote here.) At this point, of course, I am incredibly nervous about having chosen to publish as a true entrepreneur rather than taking an advance up front, but I believe in this model as the future “third way” of publishing and am happy to be one of its pioneers, along with my other amazing SWP sisters.

What's obsessing you now and why?

I am obsessing about my book and about whether anyone will buy it, why do you think!? (Ha.) I am also obsessing about George Saunders, this article I read in the New Yorker about magic mushrooms helping cancer patients face their fear of death, and this beautiful four minute video by the artist Alexandra Posen, who is also a mom friend. How did she do that?

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

This was perfect. J

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Alice Eve Cohen talks about The Year My Mother Came Back, worrying, writing, and more!

 I'm thrilled to be interviewing Alice Eve Cohen here. Her memoir, The Year my Mother Came Back, is about how relationships--especially those with our mothers--don't end after death, but continue in surprising and profound ways.  Her first memoir, What I Thought I Knew won the Elle's  Grand Prix for Nonfiction; it was selected as one of Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer and Salon's Best Books of the Year. Her solo theater adaptation of the book has been produced at the Kitchen Theater in Ithaca and other venues. Thank you so much, Alice!

Q: There’s so much in the book about when we ourselves become mothers, we yearn for our own mothers--even if they were not stellar in the maternal department.  Even though your mom is dead, you still find yourself needing her, and most miraculously, you get to have her. 

A: I’d pretty much exiled my mother from my memories for decades. During this crazily difficult year, I found myself yearning for her in a way I never had before. Then suddenly, there she was, sitting beside me at my kitchen table, typing on her old, manual typewriter.
A fringe benefit of writing this book is that my daughters also get to have her. Just last night, I asked Eliana, my fifteen-year-old, what she thinks of her grandmother, now that she’s read the book, and she said, “She inspires me. I’m humbled by her work and dedication as an early feminist, before that was accepted at all in American society. I wish I could meet her. I feel privileged even to be able to meet her in this way, through this book.”

Q: What I so love about this memoir is that you have included the fantasies you had.

A: The fantasies are the heart of the book. My mother died such a long time ago that I’d nearly forgotten her. She came back to me in a flood of memories and vivid fantasies. She was at my side during my radiation treatments. We had conversations and arguments. She revealed secrets she’d never told me before. I asked her advice on parenting. Her answers surprised and enraged me. We fought. We forgave each other.
For a while I thought the memoir police would arrest me, for violating some unwritten law of memoir-writing. I talked to my editor about it, and I’m so grateful that she encouraged me to free my imagination. It allowed me to bring my mother to life on the page as a fully realized character.

Q: Did writing this book intensify the conversations you have with your mother (do you still have them?) or lessen them?

A: My mother is with me, but in a very different way now. She’s not in the room any more.

A: You recognize that time alters memory. Yet, there is still such truth on every page. Which makes me want to ask you: If stories change with the telling, and we are always changing ourselves, what do we mean by truth?

B: Wow, your question goes to the fundamental, paradoxical core of memoir. A memoir is a story told through a subjective process that includes remembering and forgetting, imagining and inventing. Everything alters memory—time, emotion, current events, brain chemistry, caffeine, aging, childbirth, politics, you name it. Whenever we look at an old photograph, or hear an evocative piece of music, or read someone else’s account of that event, it changes our memory. From the moment an experience slips from the present into the past, it starts to change. Every time we describe an experience, the story evolves, and so does our memory of it.  I have an insatiable appetite for stories. I love the fluid and mutable quality of storytelling. Humans are the storytelling species. It’s in our DNA. I love being a storyteller.

Q: Do you think if you had written this book say, ten years from now, it would be different?

A: I can’t imagine writing this book at any other time. I wrote it exactly when I needed to.

Q: What I also love about the book is the humor. And then you move to emotion that’s wrenching.

A: I’m not religious, but I have a religious faith in humor. I subscribe to the belief that even in the most difficult circumstances, there’s salvation in story value. I love to make people laugh, and if I can’t laugh at myself I’m doomed. In Jewish folklore, if you’re too happy, it’s an invitation to the Evil Eye. Once you let the Evil eye in, you’re in terrible danger. In the book, I talk about the Evil Eye in a self-mocking way. When things are going too well, I’m terrified.

Q: I love your question, “Who gets happiness?” Care to answer?

A: I’m better at questions than answers. There’s a chapter about happiness in the book, and it’s all questions.

Q: This was one hell of a year for you, yet you managed with grace and humor. Are you a worrier?

A: I am a word-class worrier, an Olympic gold medalist.

Q: What’s obsessing you now and why?

A: I’m obsessed with my students’ stories. I teach creative writing and playwriting at The New School. My current playwriting students are wonderfully diverse—nationality, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age. Their plays are equally diverse, and I’m fascinated by their works-in-progress.

Q: (What question didn’t I ask that I should have?) What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing a novel, and I’m thrilled to be making stuff up.

Lisa Scottoline talks about Every Fifteen Minutes, sociopaths, criminality, writing, and so much more.

I could talk about how kind and funny and warm Lisa Scottoline is. Or how famous. Lisa's books have solidly landed on all the major bestseller lists including The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Publisher's Weekly, Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. One of her novels, Look Again, was named a"One of the Best Novels of the Year" by The Washington Post, and one of the best books in the world as part of World Book Night 2013.

Or I could take about her newest novel, Every Fifteen Minutes.  But how about I let these four starred reviews tell you something about it?
“Nail-biting...heart-pounding climaxes...pulse-racing twists. Scottoline grabs her readers by the jugular and won't let go.” Library Journal (starred review)

 “Scottoline has plenty of tricks up her sleeve.” Booklist (starred review)

“A mounting-stakes actioner” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Scottoline casts an unflinching eye on the damaged world of sociopaths in this exciting thriller” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

I'm so thrilled and honored to have Lisa here. Thank you, thank you, Lisa! 

Q: I always want to know what sparked a particular book. What was the moment when you knew this was the subject you were going to tackle?

A: This book grew out of a very personal part of my life, one so personal that I can't reveal all of it, or I'll be sued - or stalked!  All I can say is that I really do believe that I was very close with a sociopath. This was not a murderous person, but rather a person who just merely used people, without any personal feelings for them. Like everybody else, I look back on my life and think about the mistakes I've made and why I made them, and my relationship with this unnamed person gave me the idea for EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES.  I think it's true that I write what I want to explore, and for some reason, I don't explore it fully unless I find myself with 350 pages to fill.  So I began to wonder if the person in my past was a sociopath and started to explore sociopathy. 

My moment of truth came I interviewed the head of psychiatry at a local suburban hospital, for research for this book, and I asked him, “How can you have a sociopath in your life and not know it, especially if you’re a psychiatrist?”  And he answered, “that's completely possible, because sociopaths are really good at fooling people, even intelligent and trusting people.” 

I thought to myself, I'm intelligent and trusting, at least on a good day, with a fair amount of caffeine.
And I realized, that's what I want to write about, a good and honest person who gets fooled by someone who simply doesn't see him coming.  I bet I’m not the only person this happened to, and by the time I finish this novel, I will have answered a lot of questions about my own life and soul.  And I think it will ring true for a lot of people, as well.

Q: How brave and difficult was it for you to write from the mindset of a sociopath? Was there ever a moment when you thought, "Oh, I can't do this?"  What was your research like?

A: What a kind question, and it doesn't surprise me, coming from you.  I say this because I think it's a new way to think about what is brave, and I feel that so many people, especially women, are braver than they think, especially when they look back at their life and realize what they did that got them to a particular place, whether it's for good or ill.  I really believe the unexamined life isn’t worth living, as you can tell.  So it was a little bit brave for me I guess to look back and really be harder on myself, but truly when I went to write this book, I made a decision that I did not want to spend the majority of the time in the mind of the sociopath.  If you've ever known one, and I believe I have, it's a dark and lonely place.

What I wanted to do instead, I think what I did in EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES, was to write it from the point of view of the sociopath’s victim.  I wanted to be the normal person, like I was, and try to explore in print, why we don't see them coming.  I am reading with fascination the accounts of Robert Durst and I watched HBO's The Jinx, because I think Durst was a classic sociopath.  I'm aware I'm not an expert, but I've done enough research to feel confident about saying it, and what interests me about the Durst story is all the people he fooled along the way. 

And this is a part of the novel that is really a construct because I didn't want to write about myself per se, but I tried to think about what is the perfect antagonist for a sociopath, and the answer is the main character in the book, who is a psychiatrist with a secret anxiety disorder.  As I think I said in the book, hopefully more subtly than this, the brain of a sociopath has an amygdala, which is the brain's emotional center, that is really underactive, and in thermal imaging, it looks black and bottomless.  In contrast, the brain of an anxious person has an overactive amygdala and comes in fiery red colors on thermal imaging.  So I couldn't imagine a better hero for this book than this doctor, and since I think I certainly have levels of anxiety in me, it was like writing what you know.  LOL.  Anybody who writes feels insecure almost all the time! 

Q:You have this rare ability to keep the tension so high that it sometimes becomes unbearable not to rip through the pages (which would ignore the pleasure of your writing). How do you build the suspense? Do you map it out? Do you just have an instinctive ability?

A: Thank you so much for this lovely compliment, and honestly, it's something I really work at and I hope I succeed.  I think the secret, at least for me, is to write without an outline, so I never really know what's going to happen and neither does the character.  We both find it out together.  

Also, and I know a lot of your blog readers are fellow writers, I would add that sometimes I've noticed that I've improved at building suspense when I start to really think hard about what supporting characters would do, and that would include the antagonist as well.  In life and in fiction, all of our actions affect other people, and people are always reacting to us.  And if you really fully think about the ripple affects your character's actions have on the supporting players, then you will start to set things in motion that will build tension.

I've noticed this because frequently, a lot of bad things are happening to my character at the same time, and that is no more true than in EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES.  Because he's being toyed with by the sociopath, it begins to effect him at work, that it affects his home life and his state of mind; I've actually found this to be true my own life.  For example, there never seems to be anything bad happening in isolation, but something bad impinges on everything else around, and it all goes to hell in a handbasket.  I always think of the Morton's salt saying, “when it rains, it pours.”  I think life is like that, and I think when you have all of these things crashing down in a character's life, the reader will begin to feel very involved and sympathize with him, because I think we've all been there, at one time or another.

Q: I also want to say that I had no idea how this story was going to spin out--the surprises were fast and furious and startling, and you kept the various threads spinning. Did anything in the writing surprise you?

A: Thank you so much for saying so, and the truth is, everything about it surprised me.  I know surprise ending isn't supposed to be a surprise to the author, but this one was!  And so much was happening in the novel, that I thought that this would logically happen.  Also, I've been writing female protagonists for almost 25 years now, so writing male protagonists is new to me.  I'm still trying to figure out the difference between writing women and men, just as I'm trying to figure it out the difference between women and men, and life.

The interesting thing about this novel is that even though this character is a man, he's no action hero.  He's a thinker, not a doer, and in many ways, he overthinks things.  That's a wonderful trait in a psychiatrist, but less so in a man under attack, and so for me I really clued into that aspect of them, since I tend to overthink and edit myself all the time.  I think a lot of women do, and I'm doing less of it as I get older, that's why I'm so honest in writing this now.  (Also caffeine helps).  But bottom line, what I clued into in him was that he needs to make a journey from being too thoughtful and too worried to being more active and impacting his environment more.  As soon as he starts to do this, it causes even more things to happen, which is also to the good.
 Q:What's obsessing you now and why?

A: I'm obsessed right now with mental illness, and the way we treat it and the ways we don't in this country.  It began with this book, and you know when used get interested in something, suddenly you see it everywhere?  That's what's happening to me now.  Not only do I think I'm seeing sociopaths everywhere, but there is a very heartfelt part of this book, which involves our hero the psychiatrist treating a boy who exhibits OCD.  That research for me was so fascinating and so moving, and I've come to dislike the term when people without the disorder say things like, “I'm so OCD about that.”  Because they have no idea how really tormenting OCD can be. 

Similarly, I've become so interested in the intersection between mental illness and criminality.  Because we don't treat mental illness adequately, we end up criminalizing conduct that arises out of mental illness.  There are so many examples of this we can’t even begin to say them.  School shootings are the most heartbreaking example.  And I've also learned, in my research, that the stigma about mental illnesses and emotional illnesses is so real that it prevents people from getting treatment and because we don't want to talk about it, on the macro level, it prevents us from funding it adequately.  There's no reason why everybody shouldn’t get an annual physical and an annual mental health exam.  If we treated it just like any other illness, we could get people to help they need, alleviate suffering, and make us all safer as a society and a country.

Q: What question didn't I ask that I should have?
A: you asked everything, and these are such good questions that my brain is already hurting.  I hope to see you soon, thank you so much for having me on your blog!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Margaret Dilloway talks about Sisters of Heart and Snow, chemical memories, loving the difficult, and so much more

 I first met Margaret Dilloway at the Pulpwood Queen's Weekend Book Festival, where we both were dressed as clowns. (All the authors had to be circus themed.)  Ah hem.

She's the author of How To be An American Housewife, The Care and Feeding of Roses with Thorns, and her brand new one--Sisters of Heart and Snow, about fractured families, dementia, and the cost of love.  I'm thrilled to have her here. Thank you, Margaret!

 I always want to know what sparked a particular book? What was the question haunting you that drove you to write?

“How do we love difficult people?” is a frequent topic of conversation among the women I know. There’s always someone having trouble with a relative or in-law, and they wonder—at what point do I give up on this person? How much should I guard my heart?

What is it about sisters that is so fascinating?

I personally always wished for a sister. Unfortunately, my parents wouldn’t cooperate. I have two brothers. So I had to content myself with jealously observing the sister relationships of my good friends. And now that I have two daughters and a son, I can observe these bonds, too.

The chemistry between sisters is a bit different than that of mixed-gender sibling relationships.  Between my kids, the girls have a unique bond with each other. They talk about sensitive issues more, and they also get way more emotional with each other than they do with their brother. And of course the younger one looks to the older one for cues on how to act and live and feel. The younger girl was too upset to sleep the other night—it turns out she was imagining her older sister going away to college next year and getting very sad about it.

You have a book within a book, a story of a real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen, that I found absolutely mesmerizing. How did you find out about her? What was the research like and what surprised you?

One day, my father mentioned that my mother was from a samurai family—and didn’t I know that? Um, no, I definitely did not. On a whim, I wondered if there were any female samurai, and I found Tomoe. Later, I looked up the origin of my mother’s clan and found it originated from the Minamoto in the 15th century—so I had this tie to Tomoe.

The research was both difficult and easy. It was difficult because I don’t read Japanese and I had to depend heavily on English works that may not have been complete—I had no way of knowing how complete or incomplete they were. I got help from a great online resource called the Samurai Archives with getting a lot of details correct.

On the other hand, it was easy because there wasn’t that much known about Tomoe or Yamabuki, so I could make up a lot.

I think the most difficult thing overall was not putting my own contemporary take on how Tomoe’s life should have been, but rather try to convey how it was for her and Yamabuki at the time.

I was also interested in how you explored dementia (my own mother now has it) with great sensitivity.

Thanks. Well, unfortunately I’ve had the opportunity to observe this firsthand over the recent years in a few different people. My husband’s grandparents both had dementia. It was of course sad, yet it was also helpful to accept the reality that these loved ones may not know who you are anymore, but you can still visit and honor them and have some small happy moments with them. My husband’s grandfather always liked being taken out and watching the little kids play. He didn’t know they were his great-grandchildren, but he enjoyed his time with them anyway.

What kind of writer are you? Do you outline? Do you have rituals? Do you wait around for the pesky Muse?

I write a little outline—  the set up, the inciting incident, etc.—and then I use that as my roadmap.

I’m one of those who believes that the Muse works for me, not the other way around. And I believe that Thomas Jefferson quote: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." Even a bad writing day generally yields something useful—maybe I’ll finally know which direction is WRONG—so nothing is ever really wasted. I just have to put my bottom in that chair and do the time.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

The idea that memories are chemical, so even if you forget something, it’s still stored in your brain. How do we ever get over anything if that’s true? It’s fascinating.

I’m also working on a new children’s fantasy series for Disney-Hyperion that has to do with Japanese myths and monsters, so I’m completely obsessed with strange supernatural creatures at the moment!

What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Why did you expand the book-within-a-book into its own story? The answer is I had a lot of historical material, enough to make a standalone work, separate from this one, and I wanted Tomoe to have her own fully realized story. It’s a historical book called THE TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and varies quite a bit from what’s in the SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW pages—I have Yamabuki’s POV in there, for instance.  It’ll be available only as an e-Book, so if you want to delve more into that world, you can.