Tuesday, March 2, 2021

"A moose walks into a town and..." Marcia Butler talks about her incandescent new novel OSLO, MAINE, Santa Fe living, memory, being haunted and so much more

 



I first became friends with Marcia Butler when she published her ravishing memoir, THE SKIN ABOVE MY KNEE. I loved it so much I promoted it, and we became fast friends. I had the honor of being in her brilliant documentary, THE CREATIVE IMPERATIVE, too! She's warm, funny and so, so smart that she virtually radiates fireworks! And she's got a brilliant new novel out, OSLOW, MAINE. Look at some of the praise:

“Butler’s characters are such complex, authentically flawed humans, you can’t help but root for them. But then there’s the moose…Butler’s moose is a moose, and we never lose that essential fact. It was a brilliant choice to open the novel in the moose’s perspective to immediately establish her stakes in the story… Oslo, Maine is an engaging, wonderfully nuanced novel.”

New York Journal of Books – Jaimee Colbert Wriston

 

“The fictional, titular town hosts a complicated page-turner of a story spurred by the fallout from a young boy’s violent run-in with a moose, and though the pacing is breezy, the grappling with interpersonal and interspecies relationships is not.”

Down East Magazine—Will Grunewald

 

“For all their furtiveness, the flawed but deeply relatable characters in Butler's second novel, exude an authentic sense of humanity, making this a sure-fire recommendation for Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove) fans.”

Booklist

 

 

A moose walks into a rural Maine town called Oslo. Pierre Roy, a brilliant twelve-year-old, loses his memory in an accident. Three families are changed for worse and better as they grapple with trauma, marriage, ambition, and their fraught relationship with the natural world.

 

Oslo, Maine is a character driven novel exploring class and economic disparity. It inspects the strengths and limitations of seven average yet extraordinary people as they reckon with their considerable collective failure around Pierre’s accident. Alliances unravel. Long held secrets are exposed. And throughout, the ever-present moose is the linchpin that drives this richly drawn story, filled with heartbreak and hope, to its unexpected conclusion.

 
Marcia Butler, a former professional oboist and recent documentary film maker, is the author of the memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, and debut novel Pickle’s Progress. With her second novel, Oslo, Maine, Marcia draws on indelible memories of performing for fifteen years at a chamber music festival in central Maine. While there, she came to love the people, the diverse topography, and especially the majestic and endlessly fascinating moose who roam, at their perpetual peril, among the humans. After many decades in New York City, Marcia now makes her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Thank you so, so much, Marcia! I only wish I could hug you!

 

Caroline Leavitt: I always believe that writers are haunted into writing their stories. What was haunting you?

Marcia Butler: It’s such an interesting question because I’ve actually been thinking about this lately. When you write a novel you believe, perhaps naively, that the plot and the characters are made up—unless, of course, your novel is based on real-life events. But this can never be entirely true because all the words and ideas are coming from your brain which holds the entire experience of your life. I finished OSLO, MAINE over a year ago, which is typical for the publishing cycle. Now that it’s on bookstore shelves, I’m promoting it and talking about it. And, with the distance afforded by this year “off”, I’ve discovered that my life experiences have filtered into OSLO. I wouldn’t call it haunting, exactly. More like issues I unconsciously needed to write about.

The most obvious example is my twelve-year-old violin prodigy character, Pierre Roy, who’s lost his memory due to an accident. He discovers that he can use the violin to ground himself. This activity, playing music, is his safe place. The fact that he can’t remember anything becomes, at least for that period of time, utterly unimportant. He is truly in the present, in the now. So, duh, that experience comes from me. When I was young, I used the oboe in exactly that way. Not about memory but with regard to the emotional pain I endured during a difficult childhood. All that sadness fell away for the hours I practiced. But even more than that, the specific sound of the oboe transported me to an imaginary interior life that was happier and which I controlled. This was particularly important because I couldn’t control anything that was happening in real life. I was good at music and no one could deny that fact. And man, I used that oboe for all it was worth. It saved my life, much the way the violin saves Pierre’s.  

 


 


 

CL: There's so much fascinating detail about memory in this novel. Did you research?

 

MB: Right, memory is definitely a theme. Pierre grapples with his memory loss and comes to the conclusion that fussing about the past and fretting the future is a fool’s game. This is juxtaposed with another character—a female moose—who also has a point of view. I imagine that memory is of little importance to a moose, because she begins each day trying to satisfy her needs just as she did the day before. And so, the moose and Pierre are alter-egos with regard to living in the moment. I confess, I didn’t research. But I relied on my experience as a professional musician. When you’re in the middle of playing a concert, past and future are irrelevant. You focus like mad. Music tends to do that. It compels performers to pay attention to what is happening right now. So that’s what I kept going back to—that suspended feeling I’d experienced so many times when performing concerts.

 

CL: You are the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, The Skin Above my Knee and your debut novel Pickle's Progress. What was it like turning to fiction again? And which do you prefer?

 

MB: Well, let’s just say that It’s really, really hard exposing oneself in a memoir. Not only writing it, which can be wrenching, but also living with the aftermath. Because forevermore, everyone knows a certain narrative of my life. My secrets. My total failures. My occasional successes. My immense sadness. And weirdly, strangers think they know me too. I can almost see it in their eyes. The nodding of the head. “Oh yesssss, I read your memoir…” Cue: awkward silence. But a memoir isn’t a complete life; it’s a collection of true stories stitched together into a narrative arc that hopefully makes for a good read. I am so much more than all the stuff I wrote about in Skin. But truly, no regrets. This is all to say that I am, in my heart, a fiction writer. So, writing first Pickle and then Oslo was a given. And I’m already into my next work-in-progress!

CL: What's obsessing you now and why?

 

MB: Early Bette Davis movies. Dark Victory, The Letter, Voyager Now, Deception. Because she slithers around like a panther all the time. Ancient petroglyphs which are everywhere in New Mexico. They make me feel young(er). Speaking of wrinkles. My neck. See Nora Ephron. Um, my Apple ear buds. Does that count? Cause this is a love affair. Stacey Abrams— the star that just keeps on shining. Historian Heather Cox Richardson. Her newsletter is all I need with my morning coffee.

 

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

 

MB: Maybe, what’s the best part of living in Santa Fe, New Mexico? Drive five miles out of Santa Fe in any direction and you’ll drop to your knees because the physical beauty is astonishing. You can see the last 10,000 years embedded into the sides of mountains. Talk about perspective!

 

 

Friday, February 19, 2021

More Big News from small presses: Tamra Bolton talks about The Art of Storykeeping: Saving One Family at a Time.


 



 With thanks to Kathy Murphy, founder of the Pulpwood Queens for alerting me to these great books!

 

I always believe that writers are haunting into writing their books. What was haunting you? And did you feel, after finishing that you were unhaunted?

 

To answer this question, I'd have to back up to my first writing experiment - a collection of interviews I did over a two year period back in the early 2000s.  I compiled these interviews of my dad's World War II unit into a book for the families of the men I interviewed. That whetted my appetite for digging up memories and stories and preserving history. I worked as a photojournalist from around 2007 to 2020 interviewing everyone from CEOs and celebrities to ranchers and chefs. This experience convinced me that everyone has a story...even those that think they don't. I became 'haunted', as you say, by the numerous 'if only's' I heard from those I talked to...most of them had regrets about not finding out more about their family history, not asking the questions that years later still haunted them. So, I guess you could say those regrets kept echoing in my own heart, as I realized there were many things I still didn't know about my own family and I determined to not let any more of those memories slip away.

In 2017, I wrote and co-illustrated with my husband a book about my childhood When I Was Small as a gift to my two grandchildren (at the time), to let them know what growing up was like for me. I was also working on a full-length book about my Dad and his life leading up to and through World War II and his experiences fighting the Battle of Iwo Jima - A Blessed Life: One World War II Seabee's Story. Finishing Dad's book satisfied that "haunting feeling" for a short while, but after the book was published, the feedback from so many prodded me to write my latest book The Art of Story Keeping - Saving History - One Family At A Time. 

Over and over I heard the same sad statement from readers..."if only I had asked about ...but now, it's too late" or "my kids/grandkids don't know anything about my parents or my childhood, it just never came up...is it too late?". Statements like these kept me awake at night until I finished the book which gives a blueprint for recording/preserving those memories and stories for future generations. Research has proven that when people know where they are from and have shared family stories, they are more content and usually more accomplished in their day to day lives. Kids especially benefit from sharing stories. So, I've made it my mission, so to speak, to encourage people to start where they are...start sharing their stories and saving them because if we don't, those stories will be lost. We all need connection, especially now, and sharing our stories is a wonderful way to connect with those we may not be able to be with while dealing with this pandemic.  I guess I will never be "unhaunted" because there are always more stories that need sharing...but what a wonderful way to spend my writing life!

 

 

What kind of writer are you? Do you plot things out or do you wait for the pesky muse?

 

Both! It depends on the project. I usually work from a loose outline or general idea, then add to it as I go. As far as my day to day writing, if I get stuck, I usually go on a walk and let things percolate for awhile. I wish I were more disciplined in my writing, but some days all I can get on paper (I write everything longhand first in spiral notebooks or yellow legal pads) is a snippet of character conversation, a descriptive paragraph, I don't beat myself up if I don't accomplish much in a day. I think it scares my muse away if I get too anxious. On days when everything flows and life doesn't interfere too much, I can get a lot done, but that doesn't happen often enough. On weekends, if I am undisturbed, I can get as many as 10,000 words down...maybe not all usable, but they are on paper nonetheless.

 

What one thing do you want readers to come away knowing after reading your book?

 

You matter. Your stories matter. You, your family are all part of this great big human experiment. There is no such thing as a nobody - we are all somebody - and we all need to share our own story, for our sake, our children's sake, and for the sake of history. We all complete part of the mosaic of life - don't leave your spot empty.

What's obsessing you now and why?

 

Besides cleaning out my storage closets, I guess it would be finishing well. As I get older I see more and more people, especially women, abandon their dreams and give up on who they once wanted to be. That frightens me and motivates me to encourage women to never give up on their dreams, especially as they get older. You may not be able to do exactly the things you dreamed about as a little girl, but you could possibly have a version of that dream if you are aware. You have to learn to see the possibilities and the promise in situations you have at the present. The answer to a dream may be right in front of you, but you have to be 'open' to see it. Life has a way of working things out if we are willing and patient. I feel everyone has a purpose to fulfill and I want to play my part until the end. My Dad has a saying, "If you're not living, you're dying." He has set a great example by making the most of everyday, even now, as he's working on his 98th year on this earth. Play your part, never give up, and strive to finish well. That is my mantra.

 

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

 

What are you working on now? A novel about the cross-over world between the earthly and the spiritual, due out in 2022. Also, I am working on a devotional book about my travels accompanied by my photography, another children's book, and a book of essays. I like to stay busy. :)


My belief is - if you really want something, you will work for it, make time for it, and make it happen. Hoping something will happen is good, but hope combined with action is unstoppable.

 

Big ideas from a small publisher: Vince Spinnato talks about his memoir: My Pursuit of Beauty: A cosmetic Chemist Reveals the Glitz, The Glam and the Batsh*t Crazy

 



With thanks to Kathy Murphy, founder of the fabulous Pulpwood Queens!


Cosmetic chemist and “certified nose” Vince Spinnato began his career in the personal care, cosmetic and fine fragrance industries more than 25 years ago. As president and CEO of TurnKeyBeauty, Inc., VS Vincenzo Ltd., Inc., Aegean Skincare, LLC and Vincenzo Skincare, LLC, Spinnato has formulated and developed hundreds of products for skin and hair care, color cosmetics, bath &body and fine fragrances. His latest luxury product, Caviar &Diamonds, debuted in 2020 under the Vincenzo Skincare brand. Considered an expert in his field, Spinnato has been a contributor to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, W, Esquire, GQ, Whole Foods Magazine, Health News Digest, Riviera, and more. His memoir, My Pursuit of Beauty: A Cosmetic Chemist Reveals The Glitz, The Glam and The Batsh*t Crazy debuted on January 10, 2021. A documentary about his life will also be aired in 2021. Spinnato’s celebrity clients include Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Khloe Kardashian, Lorna Luft, Carrie Underwood, Victoria Beckham, Seth MacFarlane, Jessica Simpson, Michael Jordon, Lindsay Lohan and others.


Thank you for being here, Vince!

 

I always feel that authors are somehow haunted into writing their books. What was haunting you about the story you wrote?

 

After being in therapy for about 30 years, I couldn’t stand hearing myself talk for another minute. In the middle of a session, I stood up and said, “I’m done!” My psychiatrist looked at me and said, “Why don’t you write a book?”

 

The next day, I got out my tape recorder and started talking. I decided that I wanted to use my crazy life story as a source of lifting people up. Seven years later, after it was transcribed, I realized that there was no way people would want to read it. Instead of giving it the old heave ho, I hired Mickey Goodman to be my ghost writer. It’s been a fun California/Georgia collaboration.

 

What kind of writer are you? Do you map things out or wait for the Muse?

 

Since I recorded my story, there was definitely no outline involved. I passed that fun job to Mickey! My only attempt at “order” was to name each chapter after the cars I drove during that period of my life. For instance, I drove a 1993 black BMW coupe from New Jersey to California at age 20 to launch my career. And because I thought that owning a fancy car gave the appearance of success, I immediately traded it for a 1995 3251 Mercedes convertible, then “downgraded” to a less expensive Mercedes. I fell so far behind in the payments that it was repo’d. So much for appearing rich and famous!

 

What’s obsessing you now and why?

 

A lot of things! I’m putting the final touches on a documentary about my work and life that will air later this year. I’ve also been extremely busy doing Zoom interviews with book reviewers and on-air personalities to promote, My Pursuit of Beauty. But my main obsession is launching my latest luxury skincare product line, Caviar and Diamond, the first ever under my own brand, VS Vincenzo. Throughout the years, my primary business has been TurnKey Beauty, Inc. where I have created products for celebrities, brands, private label, white label and retail companies. Oh yeah, I’ve also been working my buns off to keep that business afloat during Covid-19.

 

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

 

Soon after the tragic death of my beloved Grandmother Serra, I developed trichotillomania, a hair pulling disorder brought on by extreme trauma. It’s one of those conditions that tricksters try to hide, and I want to let them know that it’s okay to “come out.” Recently, a number of celebrities have come forward including Megan Fox, Charlize Theron, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. We all hope to encourage others to do the same. I’m also in the process of developing products that will discourage hair pulling, an obsession which sometimes left me nearly bald, as well as other products to help sufferers regrow the hair they’ve pulled out.

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Zibby Owens talks about her fabulous new book, Moms Don't Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, the power of stories, women's lives, and so much ore

 

I first met Zibby Owens online. First, there was her fantastically great name—how could I not follow someone named Zibby?  She had an online voice that was honest, and true and huge-hearted. Then it was all the astonishing work she was doing—essays and podcasts, and book things, and when I heard she was moderating Brenda Janowitz’s book event for The Grace Kelly Dress, I wanted to go, first to support Brenda, a friend, but also, let’s face it, because I HAD to meet Zibby.

 

Meet her I did and she was even more incredible than I expected. She’s fireworks! She was dressed in a sparkly top I coveted, and we began to email. You’ve never met anyone so generous. She featured my novel With or Without You as a pick on Good Morning America Online (for that, I will bake her brownies from here to eternity.) She invited me to write something for her. (Ditto the brownies or the sweet of her choice.) And every time I go online and see what’s she doing, I’m just more and impressed. Zibby lifts the world up. She truly does. She makes you want to have half her energy, half her smarts, and even half of her heart. And I am so, so lucky to know her.

 

Zibby is the creator and host of the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, and her newly launched Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight. A regular contributor to ABC's Good Morning America online, she’s been interviewed by CBS This Morning, and she contributes to a wealth of publications like Good Day LA, Good Day DC, Good Day Dallas, Marie Claire, Redbook, The New York Times online and more. She was named NYC’s top book-fluencer by New York magazine ,and Oprah.com included Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books in their list of the best podcasts — twice.


Before the pandemic, Zibby ran a literary salon, moderated bookstore events and hosted book fairs. During quarantine, she hosted a daily Instagram Live author talk show, Z-IGTV and a weekly live show with her husband called KZ Time. But wait, there's more! She also launched an online mag with original author written essays called We Found Time and started Zibby’s Virtual Book Club. 

Zibby’s extraordinary essay Racing Against the Corona Virus is now up on my Psychology Today Blog/Column. (It has photographs, too!) And thank you so much, Zibby! You are EVERYTHING. I can’t wait for you take over the world!

 

 


 

 

Let’s talk about your latest—Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, that came about as a way to honor your loss (I’m so very sorry) of both your mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law from Covid, both in the space of six weeks. Being who you are, you are also generously donating all proceeds to Mt. Sinai for Covid vaccine research. I love the sections: Read. Workout. Eat. Have Sex. Breathe. There are more than sixty essays here! What was it like getting the essays, and how did you decide the format and what to include? I’m curious how you say no to people, because you seem like the person who always, always says YES.

 

First of all, you are just beyond sweet. I’m going to frame this introduction by my bed. Maybe it would help me sleep better - ha! Well, getting the essays was really fun. First I identified the categories I wanted to start with. Then I made a huge spreadsheet and started reaching out to authors to ask if they’d write for me, along with some ideas for them based on their books and/or our discussions on my podcast. For example, I would suggest an “eat” essay to someone who had confessed to an eating disorder in our interview. Then I worked with editors/authors Claire Gibson, Elissa Altman and then Carolyn Murnick to manage all the submissions and edit them. At first they all lived on my website under the We Found Time magazine umbrella, but after several months I realized: wait, a minute. This is a BOOK. And yes, there were some essays that might not have been necessary the right fit given their topic or whatever, but luckily I’ve just launched Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, a Medium publication, and am going back and publishing them there! 

 

What is so remarkable about these essays is that they go beyond the Pandemic. By that, I mean that the issues in these essays speak to women’s lives always, connecting us around the issues that resonate for us, all about how we spend our time, and who we strive to become.  The biggest message seems to be: we are a tribe. We can connect. We can help and support one another. Can you talk about that please?

 

Oh my gosh, I couldn’t agree more. Making people — especially women — feel less alone has been a big part of my mission from the start. I was crying on the bathroom floor one day about something kid-related (which was so unimportant in the big picture that I can’t even remember what it was) and I was like: there must be other women out there, crying on their bathroom floors. It’s why I write. Why I podcast. Why I’m doing this anthology — and the next one, coming out in November 2021!

 

 

You have said this wonderful quote:
I believe in the power of stories.
I believe in the healing power of a good conversation.
I believe that listening is far more important than speaking.
I believe that the right book can change everything.

Can you pick one of these beliefs and tell us your personal story about it? (I know, I know. I put you on the spot! Forgive me!)

 

Forgiven. But only because you promised me brownies. Let’s take listening. I grew up very shy and even went through a whole summer when I was 14 when I literally couldn’t speak at all. Yes, I could be myself around my friends and family, but in new situations, like going away on a language-immersion program, I literally couldn’t speak. So I spent the summer listening, analyzing language, marveling at how easy and effortless it seemed to be for everyone else to simple speak. I’ve always been an observer, watching, listening, before engaging. I love photography and am constantly snapping pictures, just like the snapshots of scenes in my mind that I end up writing about. Listening is powerful. I learn so much about other people. And then they end up really opening up to me. Because I’m legitimately interested. I really do care. I think people can tell. 

 

 

I also loved the To-Do list you posted on the bookmarks you include, which really, every single reader should do for every book. Post a photo of the book. Order the book. Give copies as books. Leave a review. Consider buying in bulk and spread the word. And I recently received the most wonderful grab bag from your publicist with a jump-rope that I use now! How did you get so brilliant at promoting all the things you do? How did you figure it all out? (And readers, please do all of these things!)

 

Well, I’ve been doing my literary podcast for just under three years now and have been pitched books in all sorts of ways from a standard-issue publisher mailing to a hand-delivered package with a hand-written note. I’ve gotten scarves, luggage tags, CBD bath bombs, chocolates and, most recently, a Twix bar. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I know how hard it is to stand out; I get pitched about 75-100 books each week now via email (preferable) or in the mail. Like I said before, I watch and observe. Also, I did have a mini-career in marketing/advertising a lifetime ago, working at a brand development and design firm in L.A., then at a big Internet incubator called idealab! and then for Unilever Prestige helping launch the Vera Wang fragrance, before going to Harvard Business School. So I do have some experience in marketing. But mostly, I can just put myself in someone’s else’s shoes and know what I would want — and then I do that! 

 

You also have a two-book deal to write children’s book with Flamingo an imprint of Penguin Random House! Is this scary, exciting, what? And will you test-drive these books on your own kids?

 

Yes! The kids have already heard the first book and have gotten sneak peeks of the illustrations of two of the main characters! It’s a really fun process. Princess Charming is schedule for early Spring 2022. 


What’s obsessing you now and why?

 

Honestly, I just got the coolest thing ever. It’s this object that on the outside looks and feels exactly like a book, but when you open it, it becomes a lamp. I put it on my bed as my husband sleeps and the kids delight in opening it up and illuminating their rooms. It’s just the coolest. It’s a total splurge item that no one actually needs, but aren’t those the best types of obsessions? 

Thank you, Caroline!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Elinor Lipman's RACHEL TO THE RESCUE is the perfect anti-Trump, pro-voting book you need right now

You've long been political, with hilarious tweets, and now you have a book. BUT how did you know about the department that tapes back everything Trump has torn up? It's a genius idea, and you ran with it. Can you tell us about the process?

I knew I wanted to write about someone with a short-lived job in the Trump administration, and one day I read about WHORM (White House Office of Records Management—truly its name) in Politico.com, and I said, “that’s it! That’s Rachel’s soon-to-be ex-job." I confirmed it with the actual archivist of the U.S. that it still exists, Scotch-taping the ripped-up documents all day long. A paragraph from Politico is the epigraph of the novel.

It's also incredibly smart (and hopeful!) that you bypassed the length of publishing to get this out there. What was that process like?
It was a slog, and one I wasn’t prepared for. I’d never had a book turned down, and my agent called it “delicious and relevant,” so I wasn’t worried. Ha! One by one, editors said exceedingly nice things along the lines of “has your usual warmth and wit, etc. etc.” all very complimentary, but to a person they were worried about Trump fatigue when 2021 rolled around. “No one will feel like laughing at Donald Trump” in a year when the book would come out. Jonathan the significant other said, “Won’t we be dancing on his grave forever?” Stacy Schiff, one of my first readers, said with each rejection,“I don’t get it! It’s a palliative.” Then dubbed it “The Trump Book That Could Only be Published Abroad.”

How can we all order this asap? http://eye-books.com/books/rachel-to-the-rescue
OR on the demon Amazon for those who have e-readers!

And anything else you would like to say? I am about to do another newsletter and I will put this in it, too!

Yes! At the same time I'm hearing about the U.S. rejections, Mary Trump’s book sold 980,000 copies in its first day for sale. And the NY Times’s Nicholas Kristof published an op-ed titled, “To Beat Trump, Mock Him.” Not in a novel, not in a year’s time, was the message. I did have this fond hope that England, where the diapered baby Trump blimp was invented, might not be afraid to get this out, and fast.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Can you thrive as an adult if you were mistreated as a child? You will want to read R. L. Maizes' novel OTHER PEOPLE'S PETS, and here she talks about relating better to animals than people, family and writing, and so much more!

 

 


I am so thrilled to host R. L. Maizes and her incredible novel, OTHER PEOPLE’S PETS (Celadon Books, Macmillan). It was a Library Journal Best Debut of Summer/Fall 2020. She is the author of the short story collection WE LOVE ANDERSON COOPER (Celadon Books) and her stories have aired on National Public Radio, and can be found in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and in The Best Small Fictions 2020 (forthcoming)Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and have aired on NPR.

 Let's look at the dazzling praise:

 "While reading R.L. Maizes' Other People's Pets, I could not stop saying, as La La mouths to herself at one point, remarkable. Every time the novel opened up yet again to reveal some new depth, much like La La and her ability to experience the emotions of the animals around her, I worried how the novel could hold such wonder without bursting, could control the pain and joy of this remarkable story. But Maizes possesses such magic. This examination of family, across all lines and definitions, will open you up in such necessary, beautiful ways."
―Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here and The Family Fang 

One of Library Journal’s Best Debuts of Summer/Fall 2020

"'Other People’s Pets,' with its lively voice and unexpected characters, makes a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reading pile, but it is required for those who understand that coming of age has absolutely nothing to do with age." Full review here.
The Washington Post

"This debut novel brings to life a wholly original, deeply charming, and seriously flawed character whose enormous heart leads her into a mess of trouble. A beguiling tale that will make readers want to leap into the pages...." Full review here.
The Library Journal, STARRED Review

“With its powerful exploration of a dysfunctional birth family and the life that can be made from and despite the traumas of inheritance, Other People’s Pets is, quite simply, a great read.” Full review here.
—Washington Independent Review of Books

"While its quirky combination of fictional elements and adroit, deadpan writing give the novel a wryly comedic atmosphere, La La’s story is melancholy and moving. An uncanny, appealing blend of suspense, irony, tragedy, and how-to for lock-picking, burgling, and ankle monitor removal." Full review here.
Kirkus Reviews

 

Maizes was born and raised in Queens, New York, and lives in Boulder County, CO, with her husband, Steve, and her muses: Arie, a cat who was dropped in the animal shelter’s night box like an overdue library book, and Rosie, a dog who spent her first year homeless in South Dakota and thinks Colorado is downright balmy. 

 Thank you so much!!! 


I always want to know what was haunting an author when they write their books? So what was on your mind when you wrote Other People’s Pets (which I really really loved by the way)?

 

I was thinking about whether you could thrive as an adult if you were neglected as a child, and what that would take. I was also considering what animals give us and wondering what it would it feel like to experience animals’ physical and emotional sensations as the main character, La La, can.

 

I love the whole idea of relating to animals better than with people—but what I loved equally was that you created a heroine who steals from houses and we love her for it.

 

I’m so glad La La resonated with you as a character. I knew when I created a protagonist who was a burglar that one of the challenges would be to make her sympathetic. Not that all main characters have to be sympathetic. But I wanted her to be. It helps that she is loyal to her father and takes care of animals in the homes she robs, though both put her at great risk.

 

I am totally obsessed with family—especially how we escape the confines of the ones that we are born with and the ones we are able to make for ourselves? Can you talk about that please?

 

I’m so taken with the idea of found family. That we can create families as adults and choose who will be in them fills me with hope. We all have wounds that we carry because our parents and the way we grew up were less than perfect. Our ability as adults to create family out of friends and lovers and animals and through that to give ourselves some of what we missed as children is one of life’s gifts.

 

I cannot believe this is a debut because it just GLEAMS. What was it like for you writing this book? Do you plan these out? Or do you just wait for that pesky muse? And what lessons do you feel you’ve learned about writing that you will use in your next work?

 

Thank you so much. I wrote six days a week, so I definitely didn’t wait for the muse to show up. For the first messy draft, I worked without an outline, telling myself the story. Then I created an outline in which I fixed many of the problems that had arisen in the draft. I began a second draft with one eye on the outline. But I’m always listening to my characters, and if they want to stray from the outline, I follow them, and then revise the outline. That happened with each subsequent draft.

Writing the book taught me there’s no need to panic when problems arise in the text. (Which doesn’t mean I won’t when I write my next book. I probably will.) But I did see that most problems are less intractable than they appear at first. It may take a lot of revision. You may have to wait a bit for a solution to arise, but most problems have solutions.

 

 

What, beside the pandemic and the world political situation is obsessing you now and why?

 

I’m concerned with people sharing false information on the internet, intentionally and unintentionally. That affects the political situation and the pandemic, and even apart from those contexts, it can and does destroy people’s lives. We all need to ask ourselves before we repost, retweet, or share information: is this true? How do I know?

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

 

What’s the best vegan ice cream you’ve found? Costco sells orange coconut creamsicles. Very little nutritional value, but you’ll never regret eating one.

 

Can you give a shout-out to another author and to an indie bookstore you love?

 

I love Clare Beams’ new novel, The Illness Lesson. The language and the story are fantastic.

It’s feminist, and it has magical birds. What more could you want?

The Boulder Book Store is a wonderful indie bookstore that gives tremendous support to writers through events and through the Radio Bookclub they produce with KGNU public radio.

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Women in the 1970s. An all male-college during the most turbulent times. Love, grief and family. Sarah McCraw Crow talks about THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN, printing out and retyping drafts (a great writing tip, by the way), and so much more.

 


 
When I first read Sarah McCraw Crow's novel, THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN, I immediately wrote a blurb for it. Here it is:

 

“How could I not devour a book set in my favorite era, the 1970s? About family, marriage, love and grief and a country in the turbulent flux of change, The Wrong Kind of Woman limns the lives of a stunned widow, her daughter and a lonely college student as they all struggle to come to terms with death—and life—against the backdrop of an all-male college during the Vietnam war, Kent State, the drug culture, and the first heady rise of the women’s movement. Absolutely fabulous.”

—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World


 And I am not the only person entranced.

Publisher's Weekly
says: “An entrancing debut” and “engrossing reading.” Also “Sarah McCraw Crow’s smart and thoughtful story will ring true to those who witnessed the social upheavals of the ’70s.”

 

And from Booklist, “readers will soar through the smoothly written prose and empathize with the strong characters. Suggest to those who loved Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs. Everything.”


 

SARAH McCRAW CROW’s articles, reviews, and short stories have run in many magazines and literary journals. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives on an old farm in New Hampshire with her family. Thank you so much for being on my blog, Sarah!

 

 

 

I love, love debuts. What’s it been like for you? What are the pluses as far as writing your second novel? Any minuses? Did you learn something new about you and your writing process as you were finishing the novel?

 

I love debut novels too! It’s thrilling but also feels a little strange that a book that I wrote is actually getting published. Also, I’m not the typical debut author, if there is such a thing—I’m 55, so I’m not exactly young and cute. I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my early forties, when I took a novel-writing class at UCLA that you were teaching. Thank you for helping me get started! Many classes, two novels in the drawer, and one MFA program later, here I am!

 

As to the writing process, two tricks that helped me with revising were printing out and then retyping the whole draft, so I had to look at each sentence and each paragraph again as I typed. Also I read the whole draft aloud, which helped me hear those sentences that sounded clunky or ridiculous.

 

Regarding the second novel, yes, there have been pluses and minuses: On the one hand, as Brian Leung, one of my grad-school teachers, said about writing the second novel, “You did it once, so you know you can do it again.” I’ve found some confidence in that, which has kept me going.

 

On the other hand, and maybe this is also a reflection of the craziness of 2020, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and terrible leadership at the top of our country, there have been many times this spring and summer when I’ve wondered whether my words have any meaning or use.

 

 I always feel that writers are haunted into what they are writing. What was haunting you?

 

Haunted, yes, and by a couple of different things. I’ve always been interested in the women of my mom’s generation, and the choices they made, whether to go with the dominant culture or against it. My mom is progressive, but in the early Seventies, when she was busy with little kids and a medical-resident husband, she missed out on the women’s movement entirely.

 

I’m also haunted by the history of my own college, Dartmouth College, which the school in my novel, Clarendon College, is loosely based on. I wondered what it was like in the years before it went coed, when it was a lot like Animal House, and how it might have been for those who didn’t fit the mold of jockey WASP male. What if you were one of the few women faculty on campus back then? And what if you were a female exchange student among all those men who didn’t want you there—what would that have been like?


The Wrong Kind of Woman is told in three unique voices, that of a widow Virginia, her young daughter Rebecca, and college student Sam, each giving us a unique portrait of the process of grief, for both a family, and in a very real way, for a country in trouble. Can you talk about this please?

 

It's funny, because despite what I said before, when I started writing, I thought this was only a novel about grief, about three people getting through an untimely death. But as I watched Virginia’s journey, I saw that this story was about women—their place, or lack of it, on the Clarendon campus, and Virginia’s changing understanding of herself and the husband she’s lost—and also about a time, the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the country was pretty torn up.

 

By 1970, the Vietnam War had gone on for too long; Johnson had decided not to run again and Nixon had won the 1968 election. As the students kept protesting, the reactions got more heavy handed (as at Kent State). College campuses, and really the whole country, were in turmoil. And splinter groups like Weather Underground were setting bombs in public places. And the women’s movement was entering a new, more visible phase, beginning to push for the ERA and other changes.

 

I was really fascinated by the terrible way women were treated in academia. I’m not so sure it’s world’s better now. Is it?

 

That’s a good question. I’m not an academic, but it seems like it’s still tough for women in science to get the top jobs. Just last year, a group of women psychology grad students at Dartmouth won a settlement against the neuroscience department at Dartmouth for sexual harassment and sexual assault. That said, there are many, many more women in all areas of academia and college administrations than there were in the early Seventies.

 

So much of this amazing novel has got the 1970s spot on. What was your research like? What surprised you? Did anything surprise you so much that the plot veered?

 

Thank you! I love the Seventies, maybe because I was a little kid then. But the kinds of things that I remember from 1970—my Close ‘n Play record player, or TV shows like the Brady Bunch and Sesame Street—didn’t take me very far. So I read a lot of old newspapers, listened to late-Sixties music, looked at the books that were bestsellers. I also read accounts from women who were active in the women’s movement, and who’d joined anarchist movements like Weather Underground, and who were exchange students at all-male schools. Also, some readers of my early drafts happened to have been teens and college students in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and they noted when I got something wrong.


What’s obsessing you now and why?

 

I’m obsessed with a couple of things! One is an institute in the town where I grew up that promotes research into psychic phenomena—I’m curious about the people who founded it, and about its history more generally. I’m also kind of obsessed with the anti-nuclear weapons movement of the early Eighties.

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

 

Well, it’s actually a question about you—how do you find the time not only to write your novels, but also to teach, read writers’ manuscripts, review books, and promote other authors here on your blog and for A Mighty Blaze? And I’d like to say thank you for all the good energy you put into other writers, as well as your own writing.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Maddie Dawson talks about her new book A HAPPY CATASTROPHE, recurring characters, how this book is different from any other book she's written and more.

 

    

  



         

 Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, among storytellers! She's the author of The Stuff That Never Happened, The Opposite of Maybe, The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness,  Kissing Games of the World, A Piece of Normal, Matchmaking for Beginners, and her latest A Happy Catastrophe! I'm thrilled to host Maddie here, and everyone should buy her book!




I always want to know what was haunting an author, what Big Question you were grappling with that moved you to write your latest book?


Such a wonderful question! I wrote this book because I was a mess, and I wanted to make myself happy. Like a lot of other people, I was feeling scared about the planet, U.S. politics, ordinary civility and a whole host of other things that seemed to be sitting on my chest each morning waiting for me to wake up. (This was pre-Covid, so I didn’t know yet how much more there was to worry about!)

 

When things get overwhelming, one of the best parts about being a writer is that we can go into another world. I love the Lee Smith quote about how when the world is crazy, writing a novel is just about the best thing we can do. It’s like a little world, she says, that we can enter; go in and close the door and stay there for a few hours. It totally absorbs you.

 

So that’s what I did. I wanted to write about what I truly do believe: that it’s magic the way love sneaks up on us, and the way that life can change in an instant, and that it’s never too late for happiness to find us, even in unexpected places.


It's wonderful to see old characters in a new book (from Matchmakers for Beginners). When you started the book, did you know how Patrick and Marnie were going to change?

 

 Thank you, Caroline. I fell in love with Patrick and Marnie and their banter-ish, fun connection in Matchmaking for Beginners. And I was happy that they got together at the end of that book. BUT…deep down, I knew that Patrick needed to deal with a previous tragedy in his life before he could fully commit to Marnie, and so, in this new book, I had to throw some real surprises at both of them and let them come to the brink of disaster. (Don’t you just hate when you have to torture your characters?) I also wanted them to use their humor and laughter and belief in magic to see them through, but—I’m not going to lie—there were some tough days as we wrestled together!

 

And does this ever happen to you? There were a few times when I thought, “I am NOT going to be able to heal this couple! What kind of monster task have I created for myself here?”

 

So much of this enchanting read is about change--and how we navigate it in order to discover that the things we wanted, might just not be the things we need. Can you talk about this please?

 

Wow, that has been the main lesson of my life, I think. The way that the things I KNEW I needed weren’t the right things at all. Everything that has come into my life that is wonderful and true was NEVER in my original plan.

 

I wrote this book because I wanted to explore the idea that sometimes it’s the unexpected events that give our lives meaning—even though they are decidedly NOT the circumstances we would have chosen for ourselves. I was speaking with a friend one day, and she said, “I have come to realize that it’s always been the worst things in my life that have led me to the best things.” And I got to thinking about that; how in my life the things I never would have wished for led me to a greater compassion, a greater understanding, and sometimes even into a whole new lifestyle. The man I loved so desperately who left devastated me when we broke up allowed me to meet the man I’ve been married to for thirty-three years and who makes me laugh every single day. The rocky publishing stories early in my career led me to my ultimate publishing home and to an editor I adore.

 

Staying open to change and believing that things aren’t always what they seem—it’s a scary way to live (and I still fight it, thinking I know best)…but every now and then I can stop and remind myself what’s real.


What's obsessing you now, beside pandemic and politics, and why?

 

Ha! IS there anything besides the pandemic and politics? Really? I’m obsessed right now with learning to live in the moment—or trying to--to see what’s before me and not catastrophize. I’m obsessed with painting rocks on my back porch while I listen to a whole new cast of characters start to take shape in my head. I’m obsessed with a new grandbaby who is going to be born in October—a much wanted baby who comes after a pregnancy loss, so she seems extra wonderful.

 

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

 

You always ask the best questions, Caroline. I can’t think of a thing. Honest.

 

 How was writing this book different than your last one? (I always hope that writing a book will teach each me something I can use in the next one, and it NEVER HAPPENS for me.)

 

Wow, isn’t that the truth?! It’s as though I have to re-learn novel writing with each new book. I guess that’s a good thing—keeps it real and keeps it from getting boring and/or formulaic.

 

This book was different because I knew I’d have to explore some pretty dark emotional stuff—Patrick’s tragic fire in which his former girlfriend died—and I wanted very much to go there with love and humor and respect for true suffering. By the way, you did that so beautifully in With or Without You. Your descriptions of the coma were mesmerizing and breathtaking. That’s the kind of writing I admire, and what we need to do, even when we’re writing uplifting stories about transformation. We have to be unflinching when looking at the hard stuff.

 

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog! I am so thrilled to be here once again!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The fabulous Amy Shearn (and her daughter Harper!) talk about Amy's new book UNSEEN CITY, ghosts, NYC, writing and so much more


 



 

 I first met Amy Shearn at a book reading in 2015, and was instantly smitten with her dress and with her because she is just the coolest, funniest person around.Want proof? Here you go:

 

 


 

Amy is also extraordinarily talented. She is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far Is the Ocean From Here. Her third novel, Unseen City, is, truthfully, extraordinary. Want proof of that? Look at some of this praise:

 

"Luminous...The presence of ghosts is easily believable, helped along by the characters’ shared sense of grief. Shearn’s nimble storytelling unearths a fascinating and fraught history."Publishers Weekly

"Like the ghosts who inhabit its pages, the novel lingers long after you’ve put it down."Kirkus Reviews

"Amy Shearn’s modern fable Unseen City is anchored by smart, sly humor. It delves into the layered social, psychological, and historical architecture of New York City, a place that’s paved over the bones of its dead, who are transmuted by needs of the living or clarified by their own unmet demands. Somewhere between the two poles lies the finite present, a co-constructed mythology that’s revealed to be volatile, and as susceptible to emotional anesthesia as it is to radical hope."Foreword Reviews

 

 Amy has an MFA from the University of Minnesota, and currently lives in Brooklyn. You can find her at amyshearnwrites.com or @amyshearn.

And here is a fantastic video Amy made with her daughter Harper, which was also shot and edited by her son Alton! And wait, there's more!  Harper was interviewed for her writing on this blog when she was in first grade! Read it here!



And here is the interview! Thank you Amy!

I always ask, what was haunting you when you wrote this book? And do you now feel unhaunted? Did the writing give you an answer you were looking for?

 

What a great question! When I was writing this book, I was haunted by many questions: How does one shape a meaningful life? Who can really manage to live in New York City and to whom does the city belong (a sub-question there being: How is gentrification a kind of ghost story)? And of course the old favorite: How do we go on with this life knowing we will experience tremendous loss and eventually die ourselves?

 

Also. When I first started shaping this book, I knew I wanted a historical storyline to intertwine with the present-day. But as soon as I started researching the history of various neighborhoods in Brooklyn I realized that (of course! inevitably!) any story about the history of this country is in some way a story about racism and racist violence. This was back in 2013, 2014, the years when the Black Lives Matter movement was really getting going, and I felt very aware of and haunted by the news and the anti-Black violence that is so woven into the story of this country. These two things combined in my head in a way I couldn’t stop thinking about -- how life in America haunted by the legacy of racism and violence; how white people often feel like it’s not “our” issue but how it needs to be everyone’s issue and everyone’s problem to focus on and try to work out. My book is just a novel of course, and only tells a pretend story about pretend people, and is inevitably from a white writer’s perspective, and I’ve certainly not answered any questions or solved any problems. I do not feel unhaunted by this one, as is appropriate. But I feel like I did strengthen my “radical empathy” muscles and stretched myself as a writer in this project of trying to create a story that engaged with important issues of social justice. I had never felt confident enough in my writing before to try to tackle anything on that scale before.

 

As for the other preoccupations, I think they might also just be evergreen questions for me. But I definitely have other things in mind, haunting me if you will, as I begin work on something new!

 

 

I love anything that has to do with NYC, and this wonderful novel feels like the best sort of Valentine. Is it? How and how not?

 

Ah, thank you! It’s funny you say that because I truly have a complicated relationship with NYC – I think maybe everyone does? I’ve never lived anywhere else where it feels like everyone who lives there is constantly going “Wait, do I really want to be here? Is it worth it? Should I move? I should move. Wait, no. I’ll never leave! Wait, actully I think I need to leave. Wait-” But I feel like that’s what it’s like to live here – because it’s, you know, objectively speaking, terrible in so many ways, you’re always having to choose it again and again. Then again, maybe I say that because I’m a transplant from the Midwest, and came here 15 – almost 16! – years ago without much of a plan and not totally expecting to stay. I’m perpetually surprised to find that my entire adult life is rooted here, that my children are New Yorkers.

 

So anyway, I wrote this in a time when I really did need to fall back in love with the city – my kids were small, life felt particularly hard and unaffordable, it often seemed (as it does for my book’s character Meg) that the city was trying to expel me, like a splinter or something, because I wasn’t rich enough or connected enough or high-powered enough. Learning more about the city’s history actually did help, in the same way that you feel more kindly or understanding towards a person once you learn more about their backstory.

 

I also wrote a lot in the book about weird spaces, hidden stories, and long walks, which truly are my favorite things about the city. I was definitely writing a valentine to taking long walks throughout the city, which is the one thing New York is absolutely the best for.  

 

I also admit that I love librarians, and you’ve made this one even more enchanting because she has to live with her sister’s ghost in her apartment. Can you talk about where that character came from?

 

Ha! I love librarians too! I am often confused to find that I am not actually a librarian, like, how did that happen? How did I forget to become a librarian?

 

My second book, which came out while I was starting to write this one, was about a Brooklyn mother of two, and I was frustrated by how many people (totally understandably! but still) assumed the character was essentially really me. I wanted to create more distance with my next protagonist, and to imagine a very different life. Meg is single, has always been single, never wants to get married or have children, doesn’t work in media like I do, and is a very pure reader. I know that doesn’t sound that different from me, but weirdly because I’m a writer I feel like I can never really read in that same pure way as I did as kid, when I wasn’t also trying to figure out how the writer did this or that – I’m sure you know what I mean. So to me, it’s fun to imagine that. And because I felt overwhelmed by my children in those years, and (I now realize) unhappy in my marriage, the life of someone who kind of gets to be self-focused seemed quite seductive.

 

Now, IRONICALLY ENOUGH, I’m divorced, and I’m the same age that Meg is in the book (we’re 40, TYVM), and so sometimes, when my kids are at their dad’s, I do live alone, so… that’s just… really weird. I’m still not a librarian though. But stay tuned I guess.

 

As for her ghost! Some years ago I had a revelation about my parents. When they met, they were in their 20s, and they had both just undergone huge, traumatic, unexpected losses in their immediate families – the sudden death of both my mother’s brother and my father’s father. I’d always clocked this as nothing more than an odd coincidence until it occurred to me that (duh!) this must have been a large part of what bonded them together. When I asked them about this my mother said, “Yes, it was like we were two lost souls who found each other.” Gross right? Just kidding. Anyway, so this also sort of obsessed me, this idea that loss can bring people together. So I wanted to create two characters, Meg and Ellis, who are in a unique position to understand each other’s pain, and who are drawn together because of it.  

 

 

There’s a lot about the things that haunt us in the book, and not just the sibling ghost or the library guy who is dedicated to excavating the mysteries of a haunted house.

 

I also deeply loved that the house, as well as NYC, was sort of a character in itself, something I admit I always feel drawn to. This house has had an upbringing, starting with growing up (so to speak) in Brooklyn before gentrification turned it from joke to a must destination.  And so does the city, with vestiges of draft riots, poverty, love.  Can you talk about this please?

 

Oh, thank you! Another thing that was going on in my life when I first started writing this book was that my then-husband and I were trying to buy a house. Our budget put us into the “Would you like a burnt-out shell or just a pile of rubble?” price range of Brooklyn real estate. So needless to say we were not looking at beautifully staged spaces; we were looking strictly at houses where it seemed like something terrible had happened immediately before we entered them. One we literally called “the murder house” because it just… had that vibe to it. I was fascinated by how you could feel the imprint of the people who had lived in these spaces – the tread of their feet on worn carpet, the misalignment of a door that was maybe slammed too many times. It made me think a lot about the spaces we live our lives in, and how those spaces shape our selves. And it also made me think a lot about gentrification and what role I did or did not want to play in it. Like, if we bought a foreclosed home in a neighborhood where we would be the only white people, was that profiting off institutionalized injustice, benefiting from the pain of whoever had lost their home?

 

We didn’t end up buying a house. But I did, obviously, retain an interest in the way houses and buildings tell narratives about the people who live in them and the cities around them. I love the wisdom and world-weariness of buildings that obviously used to live different lives – and there are so many of these in New York City. (Maybe because I’m from the Midwest, I’m perpetually impressed and surprised by how OLD everything here is.) The war munitions factory that eventually houses artists and lovers in lofts. The mogul’s stately mansion that gets sliced and diced into quirky little apartments. The farmhouse (as in the book) that finds Brooklyn has sprouted up all around it. I love them!

 

 

How do you think people find the persons that should be theirs? I sometimes think we have radar that guides us.

 

Oh wow, I really don’t know. I like this radar idea. I do find that we somehow draw in the people we need in any given moment.

 

Lately I have had so much love and gratitude for my friends – I am lucky to have these incredible, supportive, brilliant, generous women in my life who have lifted me up and held space for me as I navigated my divorce (and EVERYTHING else, you know, this year has been so many years!), and maybe this person-radar is to thank for that. I mean when I think about it, there are in this friend roster a few representatives from each stage in my life, which is pretty incredible – like a high school friend, a college friend, a grad school friend, new motherhood friends, current neighborhood friends  – you know? Maybe my past self knew that I would someday need deep friendships with incredible women to lean on. I find that more and more my female friendships are the most important and nurturing relationships in my life -- they are truly my people, my kindred spirits. So, I’m glad my radar found and collected them over the years.

 

Tell us what kind of writer you are, and what the process was for this particular book.

 

What an interesting thing to think about! I hope it doesn’t sound too precious when I say that for me being a writer feels like as much a part of me as being a woman or a mother or something like that – like, it’s just there, it’s always going to be there. I’ve had such a, hm, checkered publication history that every time I’m writing a book I have no idea if it will be published or by whom or how, and yet I keep doing it anyway and I know that I always will no matter what; writing is just how I process life, and I feel weird and cranky when I’m not writing. Of course in addition to writing books, which feels like my art and my vocation, if you will, I write various essays and articles for work – though that feels like such a different thing!

 

So, anyway, this book. This was the first book I’ve ever written where I did a ton of research before even beginning, and then created a very detailed outline, including a sort of map for myself. I did a lot of work before writing any pages. I had Pinterest boards for all of my characters – I wanted to see and know everyone very clearly before I began. Then I divided up the storylines/narrators – there are now only two, but in the first draft I think I had 5 or 6 different narrators! And then I wrote each narrator’s storyline on its own, in these disparate narrative chunks. This worked well for the shape of time I had in those days, if that makes sense. My kids were little and I had very scant childcare, so I couldn’t reliably write every day. But I would find these sorts of islands of time. A couple times my mother came into town for a week or so at a time and watched the children and I spent all day every day writing one of these storylines. One summer I scraped together enough dollars to send the kids to day camp for the first time ever, it was so exciting, and then I had two weeks of half-days during which I wrote one of the storylines. That kind of thing.

 

But I wasn’t able to really braid all these storylines together until the kids were both in school fulltime. My daughter was in 1st grade, and my son was in full-day pre-k (I know it’s not very cool to say this nowadays, but I have a soft spot for DiBlasio -- entirely because he made universal pre-k a thing in NYC and this allowed me to finish my book), and after being home with them for nearly 8 years I decided I could gift myself a few months before looking for more renumerative work. I spent every school day working on the book. I have never before or since had anything like this, really – a fairly reliable six hours or so to write, day after day. The level of concentration and flow you can achieve is truly remarkable! This was the time and space I needed to combine all the bits of novel I’d written over the years. By that winter I had gone back to work fulltime, but that was a really great fall for me creatively!

 

THEN there was a whole series of sagas re: publication, and at one point my brilliant agent Julie Stevenson guided me through a pretty significant revision, etc, etc. So there were still a good many years between my “finishing” it, and now. To wit, my daughter is now in middle school. But hey, what is time anyway?


That was probably a lot more detail than you needed! But the point is: there’s always a way. It’s not the same way with each book, or at least it definitely isn’t for me. In fact, the next book, which my agent is currently reading, was an entirely different process! That book, a quick, epistolary comedy called Dear Edna Sloane, was written in one year, mostly during my lunch breaks from my day job. Each book totally is shaped by the process – like, of course a lunch break novel is in letters! You know?

 


And do you yourself believe in ghosts? (I do.)

 

Ahhh! I think I convinced myself, over the course of writing this book, that ghosts are totally real. I started off liking a ghost as a metaphor. But – I just think there has to be a lot about the way the world works that we can’t prove or fully understand. And – this is going to sound so dumb – but a few years ago my dog, a terrible mutt named Quimby, died. And afterwards I could have sworn I felt her presence, sometimes even seemed to see her out of the corner of my eye. It was so strange, and felt so physical – like there was some imprint of her left there. It faded after a while. And maybe that’s where we get mythologies/ideas like purgatory or the Bardo – trying to explain why we have that weird sense that someone who’s dead is still hanging around.

What’s obsessing you now and why (besides the pandemic and politics.)

 

Oh gosh, well, given the way my own life has changed in the past year, and watching what’s happening to other nuclear families during the pandemic (my own split was pre-pandemic! strange coincidence of timing, there) --  I have been thinking a lot about the inadequacy of our contemporary American iterations of marriage and childrearing and family. My friends and I frequently joke about starting an all-female artists commune in the country where we would share childcare responsibilities and support each other’s creative work… and sometimes I’m not sure we’re totally joking! I mean, communal living feels like an utter science-fiction fantasy in Covid times. But I do think that we’re all set up to fail right now. Heterosexual marriage, in so many cases, ends up producing a kind of mini-society that’s fueled by the free (and totally overlooked) labor of wives and mothers. Our country’s totally backwards attitude towards childcare and education and whose responsibility they are – it’s all been laid bare by the pandemic. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and about how we ask women and especially mothers to shape their lives and selves in order to make everything work a certain way. I’m in the very very wispy first stages of writing something new, but I know this obsession is going to work its way in…

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

 

No, you are perfect, obviously! You are the world’s best literary citizen in addition to being an awe-inspiring writer, Caroline. I’m so grateful to you for everything you do!