Dawn Raffel and I are neighbors and friends. Our kids went to the same grade school, we see each other around town all the time, and I don't think anyone is writing more interesting books than Dawn. Just take a look at Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, In the Year of Long Division and Carrying the Body, and you'll see what I mean. The Secret Life of Objects is an illustrated memoir that's as haunting as it is brilliant. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, BOMB, The Mississippi Review Prize Anthology, NOON, and more. She was the articles editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, an editor-at-large at More Magazine and she is currently the books editor at Reader's Digest, as well as being the editor of The Literarian, the magazine for the Center for Fiction in New York. I'm absolutely honored to have her on my blog today, talking about her astonishing new book, The Secret Life of Objects. Thanks so much, Dawn!
The Accidental Memoir
I never intended to write a memoir. I’m a novelist and short story writer, and I was procrastinating on a novel when The Secret Life of Objects popped into my head, pretty much whole. What happened was this: I was drinking coffee out of the mug that I always drink from, despite having a cabinet full of mugs, because this one came from my mother’s house, and for me it holds a hidden story about my mother and my aunt. I started thinking about this mug—you wouldn’t give me five bucks for it, but to me it’s priceless—and about the fact that I have a house full of objects like this. My possessions seem to hold some intangible residue of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve loved, and together they tell my life story. I sat down and wrote it all down as fast as I could—no mulling, so stalling, no second-guessing, no dying a thousand deaths over every sentence. Normally, I need quiet to write, but my house was under construction and my kids were underfoot, and it didn’t matter. A missile could have come through the wall, and I’d have simply ignored it. Normally, I freak out at around the three-quarter mark (“The Wall”), convinced the whole enterprise is doomed before I finally find a way to move forward. Not this time: The entire first draft was done in a week. This was, bar none, the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had as a writer: a book that all but wrote itself. Yes, there was a lot of cleanup later, but cleanup is the easy part.
Will I get this lucky again? I sincerely doubt it. The aforementioned novel is still kicking my butt and threatens mutiny. But I think it’s lucky accidents—whether whole books or a single syllable—and our willingness to accept them, that keep us in the game. The stuff we can’t plan for, the surprises hiding in our psyches, at the edges of our consciousness is, for me, the sweetest part of writing.