Monday, March 26, 2012

Anita Diamant interviews author Rain Mitchell, er...well, maybe not

Want to have fun? The sublime Anita Diamant , author of The Red Tent, Day After Night and ten more fantastic books, interviews the mysterious Rain Mitchell, author of Head Over Heels and Tales from the Yoga Studio and discovers Rain is really...well read on, and you'll see, and don't forget to check out the photos on the bottom. I'm completely honored and thrilled to have Anita here, and my feelings about Rain go at the very bottom of this blog, too. Thank you so much, Anita! (And thank you, "Rain.")

ANITA DIAMANT:  So, Rain, I just finished Head Over Heels, your second novel, and I found it as delightful and fun as your first, Tales from the Yoga Studio.  

RAIN MITCHELL:  Thanks, Anita.  Coming from you, I consider that high praise.

AD:  I think you managed to find the balance between the lunacy and the wisdom of yoga in America today, cleverly exposing both sides through the lives of the main characters. 

RM:  My biggest challenge was to be satirical about the wonkier aspects of the yoga scene (which are pretty hilarious—David Romanelli’s Chocolate and Wine Yoga Retreats?  What’s wrong with this picture?) while at the same time emphasizing the benefits of the practice itself, which I believe in completely.  

AD:  After reading the second book, the five women at the center of the stories feel like close personal friends.

RM:  I love hearing that.  I’ve come to know them really well and care about them tremendously.  Since it’s a series, I have a sense of their lives going on, even when I’m not actually writing about them.  I can’t wait to start writing the third book, just to find out what they’re up to.  At the same time, each book has to be written so it can be read separately. 

AD:  The books are very funny and upbeat, but there are some pretty dark corners as well—a miscarriage, a bad marriage, an abusive relationship.  

RM:  I like these women so much, I hate when bad things happen to them.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I shed a few tears while writing.  But if you’re going to have subplots and suspense, you have to have trouble.  You know that better than anyone.  I don’t recall any completely happy marriages in your novels.
AD:  Completely happy marriages? Uh ... I don't write science fiction.
RM:  Yours might be the only science fiction novel I’d read if you did, but I still hope you don’t go there.    

AD:  I wouldn’t worry about it too much.  Do you have a favorite among the characters?

RM:  The character I have the most fun with is Alan, Lee’s narcissistic ex-husband.  He’s just so appallingly and consistently selfish, I can always count on him to do something outrageous.  I keep hoping he’ll reform, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I’m afraid bad characters are sometimes more fun to write about.    

AD:  On the page, maybe.  When did you start practicing yoga?

RM:  When I was a teenager.  Back then you could find a class or two in a church basement if you searched.  Now there's a studio on virtually every corner of every major city.  The good news is, I can always find a class, no matter where I am.  The bad news is, I have fewer excuses to miss a day of practice.  

AD:  Why set a series of novels at a studio?

RM:  Yoga studios are now central to the social lives of a lot of people I know, women especially.  It's where they make friends, organize for social causes, and sometimes, meet men.  It seemed like the perfect setting for a series of novels.  Lots of "backstage drama."  Do you see this at the studio where you practice? 

AD:  There are a few couples I find intriguing – including the husband/wife team who are there every time I take a class. And there’s one guy who practices bare-chested and wearing spandex shorts.

RM:  I think he made a cameo appearance in Tales from the Yoga Studio.  His name is Brian, but the women refer to him “affectionately” as Boner.  He of, "the white stretch pants that scream I'm serious about yoga, ladies--and circumcised."

AD:  There’s a lot in the books about the way yoga has become commercialized.  Is this something that’s obsessing you these days? 

RM:  Let’s just say I’m not losing any sleep over it.  But I do think there's something inherently funny in the emphasis on spirituality combined with the importance of designer pants and having a perfect "yoga butt."  This is especially true in LA, where my novels are set.

AD:  I loved the term you coined to describe conversations about poses and classes:  “conversasanas.”  I can spend a ridiculous amount of time having those conversasanas about some small yogic accomplishment, but only with another yoga acolyte.  Anyone else looks at you like you’re selling Amway.

RM:  Maybe that should be my next book.  I’ll never write the Great American Novel, but the Great Amway Novel…maybe.  

AD:  So how did you get the name Rain?

RM:  It's the title of my mother's favorite story by W Somerset Maugham.

AD:  Oh, come on. I know Rain Mitchell is a pseudonym and you're really Stephen McCauley.

RM:  Ummmm....

AD:  Why, after writing six successful  novels under your own name, did you decide to publish these books under a different name?

RM:  It was the editor's idea, not mine. 

AD:  But you do have a following of loyal readers, 

RM:  The Rain Mitchell books were intended to be in a different voice, more plot driven than my novels tend to be, and pitched toward a different audience. After I finished my sixth novel, Insignificant Others, I wanted to try writing something very different from what I'd written before. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that. 

AD:  It’s a different voice, but I hear little echoes of you throughout.  What was it like working this way?

RM:  Liberating!  I tend to second-guess everything I scribble onto the page.  Rain is more secure than I am.  Rain has a better work ethic. I'm easily distracted, but Rain has laser focus.  Rain loves big plot twists, while I'm hesitant about them.   Believe me, I learned a lot from Rain.  Tales from the Yoga Studio sold foreign rights in fourteen countries.  I’m proud of Rain.

AD:  From the very first page of the first novel, I wondered what  Rain wore to class.  The full Lululemon? Tanks or sports bra with a fine-gauge cotton T?  In other words, is Rain a yogini or a yogi?

RM: Initially, Rain was of unspecified gender.  When Plume asked me to write some biographical information about Rain, I put my foot down. Writing 1,000 words about someone without identifying that person's gender is just too grammatically complicated. Rain is officially a she.  But if you prefer Rain to be a he, talk to me about it.

AD:  Is there any question I haven’t asked that should have been asked?

RM:  I’m always flattered when people ask for my phone number.

AD:  Too bad, dear—I’ve known it for years.

Note from Caroline: Stephen McCauley is one of the funniest, most wonderful people around. I met him at a reading a few years ago and we quickly bonded over our shared love of Liza Minnelli and hilariously bad movies, and I once talked Stephen into making mac and cheese for a Boston Globe article (he's Boston's mac and cheese king. Don't let him tell you otherwise.) He's also an incredible writer and I would probably do just about anything for him. Thanks so much, Stephen, for doing this!


Maggie May said...

Well how wonderful to find this blog!! I read this interview, and the last couple. Ate them up! I have long loved Anne Lamott and was happy to find her interview, as well. Thanks for this space. :)

Stewart said...

I thought that rain might be Stephen...a little bird may have told me. I think it's wonderful he is evolving this way...he could write anything and I'd love it. Great interview!!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this interview. I read Tales from the Yoga Studio in one day and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also have read all of Stephen's novels and he is absolutely my very favorite author in the world. I have actually re-read his novels several times because I can never find any I like better! HOORAY for Stephen and Rain!