Thursday, May 31, 2018

Jasmin Darznik talks about SONG OF A CAPTIVE BIRD, the Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad and her struggle not to be silenced.

Jasmin Darznik
is the New York Times bestselling author of  The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life. Her books have been published in sixteen countries. Jasmin was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in Northern California. Her novel SONG OF A CAPTIVE WORD is so enthralling, I was up and reading at four in the morning. And I'm not the only one to think so:

 “A complex and beautiful rendering of [a] vanished country and its scattered people; a reminder of the power and purpose of art; and an ode to female creativity under a patriarchy that repeatedly tries to snuff it out”—The New York Times Book Review

Thank you so much, Jasmin, for being here.


 What was the “why now” moment for you to write Song of a Captive Bird?

As one of the most trailblazing women of the twentieth century, Forugh had fascinated me for years and years. My mother brought a book of her poems to America when we fled Iran in the late 1970s, and I’d grown up with a sense of how she’d been idolized in Iran, especially by young women, but also how controversial she’d been. One of Forugh’s translators, Sholeh Wolpe, tells the story of an older Iranian woman demanding to know why she was bothering with “that whore Forugh”—five decades since her death, she still elicits that response, so you can imagine how she scandalized her society during her lifetime. Soon after publishing my first book, The Good Daughter, I began casting about for a new subject. Forugh Farrokhzad quickly rose to the top of my list of possibilities. Her life was shot through with drama, but when I began my research, I found no existing work offered what felt like a full and true portrait of her, which led me to the place where books are born: I had to write the story I couldn’t find. 

I was absolutely haunted by the story of Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, raised to be compliant an silent, forced into marriage, and becoming a writer both praised and reviled. What made you decide to write this as fiction, rather than fact?

I’ve always been drawn to women whose stories have been erased or obscured. Despite having been an icon—and in some sense because she had been such an icon—when she died, Forugh took much of her story with her. Many of her letters and papers disappeared. It’s possible they were destroyed by her lover and her family. Certainly, those closest to her were strangely silent once she died. That silence would have qualified as a nightmare had I attempted a biography; for a novelist, it created space into which I could risk infusing a different kind of truth. I love E.L. Doctorow’s line about history telling us what happened and novels telling us what it felt like for things to happen. What I most wanted was imagine what it took for a woman of Forugh’s time and place to so utterly transform herself, both as a woman and an artist, and what it cost her to strike out in such a bold way.

Your first, NYT Bestselling book was a memoir about your mother. How different did it feel to write a novel?

It actually felt quite similar. The Good Daughter, while a true story, has the feel of the novel in that it’s carried along by a dramatic story line, and like Song of a Captive Bird, it began with a long, deep dive into historical archives. And then there’s my obsession with language, which I carry everywhere with me. I do think memoirs tend to tax you at a higher emotional rate, especially if you’re writing while your family members are alive and thus prone to judgment, as mine were. On the other hand, taking on the life of a cultural icon was truly daunting. What if I got it wrong? What if I messed it up? The stakes felt high—and while I was writing I had to forget them entirely. To simultaneously pretend that no one would ever read what I was writing while believing nothing mattered more than writing this story.

I imagine the research must have overtaken you. What stunned you the most? Was there anything in particular that changed the factual story for you?

I’d been researching Forugh’s life for a while when I came across a reference to her participation in the political protests that rocked Iran during the early sixties. As I went deeper into the research, I began to learn of a spate of mysterious deaths and disappearances, many involving writers, artists, and intellectuals of the time. I wanted a way to connect those two narratives, and that’s when I came up with the story of Leila Farmayan and her brother Rahim. It allowed me to preserve certain elements of the factual story while breaking free of others, and it gave the novel the shape and urgency it needed to satisfy a reader for whom Forugh, and maybe also Iran, was not familiar.

This novel is so timely, so important. In your author’s note, you ask the question about “what were the rules? What were the possibilities?”  for an Iranian woman during Forugh Farrokhzad’s time. It’s a question that could be asked today because you have to know the rules to break them, and I think you have to be brave enough to risk the possible to make it happen. Can you talk about this please?

Every woman, in her own way, asks those questions. The Me Too and Times Up movement have forced them to the surface, but they’ve been there always. The answers might not play out as a public spectacle in the way Forugh’s did, but it seems to me we are all still fighting for our lives. How is it that I can read a story like “Cat Person,” which tells the story of a twenty-something college student and find my own twenty year-old self so eerily reflected in its pages? The persistence of those experiences breaks my heart. We’re fighting in intimate spheres—our minds and our relationships—and public ones, too. That’s why I think its so important to read and learn about exemplary women—women who speak out and step into their power. You cannot become what you can’t see. We need to see more women acting bravely, and also to make ourselves be seen in brave ways.

What’s obsessing you now and why? (And what are you working on next, too, please)

I’ve just started a novel set in 1920s San Francisco. For a long time all I knew was that I had to write about that time and place, and eventually I found a character to set loose into that time and place. I think you have to be very interested in your characters—you spend hours every day in their company, so it’s essential to choose well. To me the great joy of writing historical fiction is that you get to live in another time. I find it highly appealing to escape my own life, though of course you think you are escaping only to find yourself staring down all your same old obsessions. I do love to challenge myself though, and with this novel it’s telling a story in a shorter time frame. My two earlier books each cover several decades, and I’m interested in what can emerge in a more compressed form. What kinds of depth are possible on a more intimate canvas.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
I think as women writers it’s important to talk about what makes our work possible—and often impossible. My whole writing life has taken place within my life as a mother and, more recently, a caretaker to my own mother, who has Alzheimers. The thing I said earlier about fighting for own’s life is very much on my mind these days. Writing demands vast reserves of solitude and reflection. I describe it sometimes as moving to another planet, which is not so easy when you have so many earthly responsibilities. I didn’t begin writing until I was in my thirties, and on some level I think it was because I knew I’d have to be ruthless about creating the time and mental space to write, and I wasn’t yet willing to be ruthless. It makes me angry now, thinking of all that lost time, but I can tell you when I did finally start writing it was like: Okay, game on. At least for these two or three hours, my time is mine and I’m going to use it like nobody’s business.

David Hirshberg talks about MY MOTHER'S SON, fictional memoir, and how events from the past can still resonate today.

My Mother’s Son is a literary novel written as the memoir of a radio raconteur that uses the inconceivable events of his family’s life and the world in which he lived as a foil to deal with major issues that affect Americans today – disease, war, politics, immigration and business. 

And it's already racking up raves like this:
"Only occasionally does a novel like this come along—one that sculpts a vivid, irresistible portrait of a life and times.  Evocative of the 1950's, with cinematic flashbacks and flash-forwards, it is clever, poignant and funny. Hirshberg allows the reader to eavesdrop on complicated 1950s family intimacies that had been clouded by years of denial, secrecy and self-preservation. What he exposes are the riches left behind, those that reveal the truth of the human condition. This is a book worth reading, probably more than once."  Mitch Markowitz, screenwriter of Good Morning, Vietnam

David Hirshberg is the pseudonym for an entrepreneur who prefers to keep his business activities separate from his writing endeavors. As an author, he adopted the first name of his father-in-law and the last name of his maternal grandfather.  He is an accomplished "C" level executive, having served in the Life Science Industry as CEO of four firms.

Thank you so much, David, for being here.

Q: The format is interesting — it’s written in the first person as a fictional memoir — why did you choose that mode of storytelling?

A: As I’m writing, I try to take on the personality of the protagonist and invent what I might have done or said. The conceit that this is a fictional memoir came after many drafts, and freed me up to tell the story as I might have done had I actually been a radio raconteur.

Q: Why did you decide to set the story in 1952?

A: The idea to set the current events of the book primarily in 1952 was a conscious decision based on three considerations: (1) the requirement that all of the ingredients that were central to the book could be found in that year; (2) that there would be readers who could connect with the era, even if they were quite young at that time; and (3) that the world of post-War America was not too remote for most people to be able to see a reflection of what is going on today.

In the summer of 1952 when the Korean War was raging, Bostonians were confronted with: a major polio epidemic; a bitter senate fight between young Irish congressman (John F. Kennedy) against an entrenched WASP (Henry Cabot Lodge); the impending move of the Braves franchise out of the city; and many shenanigans that involved local politicians and business people that were hidden behind the headlines of the newspapers. It was the perfect cauldron to heat up a story that could resonate with readers in 2018.

Q: The book feels extremely autobiographical. How much of your life is in the book and how much is just invented/researched?

A: There is not one scene, character, location or situation that is real or that has anything to do with me or anyone I have known. It was all made up out of whole cloth, with the obvious exceptions, for example, that certain facts are true: that there was a race for the senate between Kennedy and Lodge; that the Boston Braves did move to Milwaukee; that President Kennedy did make a speech in Berlin in 1963; that Kristallnacht happened in 1938; that the Korean War was in a stalemate in 1952; etc. It’s important to note, however, that the scenes in the book that revolve around these events are pure fiction.

Q: How does a book, based decades ago, resonate with what’s happening today?

A: The novel was purposefully set in earlier times so as to provide some distance from the current ‘talking heads’ climate that instantly categorizes and analyzes events from a narrow, partisan perspective. In the 1950s, we were faced with the Korean War, the polio epidemic, vicious political campaigns, the integration of Irish, Italians and Jews into the social fabric of big cities, and the recognition that sports were also a business. Today we have wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the AIDS plague, vicious political campaigns, the integration of Latin Americans and Muslims into our society and more ink is spilled in the media on the activities of athletes and owners outside of the sports they play and manage. So, while in many ways, the book is a paean to the Boston of an earlier era (and, by extension, to the America of the post-World War II period), it sings to us today by allowing us to understand that although the instances and events in the book are specific to that period, we can see in them what is going on today—for better or for worse.

Q: What’s obsessing you now and why?

A: Unlike certain other authors, I do characterize myself as a Jewish writer, and I’m more than half way through a second book that pivots around Jewish-themed issues in the 1960s. And yes, obsession is a good way to characterize my intense feelings about the new manuscript. As we get older, we do tend to concentrate more on those things that matter and put off to the side the common everyday occurrences that once seemed to consume us.

Q: What question did I not ask that I should have?

A: Why did I take up writing non-autobiographical literary fiction as a second act later in life? I used to say that because I don’t play golf, have a second home in a ski or beach locale, don’t have a hobby that involves a plane or a boat, that I had the time to write. While that’s true, and I’ve enjoyed tremendously my business career, I’ve found immersing myself in the world of words to be intellectually and emotionally stimulating and this has been augmented by my wife’s enthusiastic support every step of the way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Forget the Itsy-Bitsy spider! The hilarious Ethan Berlin talks about his first children's book, The Hugely-Wugely Spider. delusional ideas of making money and being a funny, story-writing dad.

The book, which both parents and kids adore

Portrait of the hilarious Ethan

Because words are even better with pictures! Illustrator Karl Newsom Edwards

I first became friends with Ethan Berlin's wife, Kimberlee Auerbach Berlin when she was single. I had reviewed a wonderful novel of hers (The Devil And Me: My Life in Tarot) and we met for lunch and began emailing. And because Ethan makes her so, so happy (I swear, her very words light up when she talks about him), I became even more interested in HIS work, too! He's an Emmy Award-nominated comedy writer and performer who has written for some of today's top comedy voices and networks. He teaches comedy writing classes at NYU and the Peoples' Improv Theatre. The Hugely-Wugely Spider is his debut children's book--and it's a knockout. 

But let's talk about the great illustrations:

Karl Newsom Edwards
is a children’s picture book author and illustrator. Born in Oakland, California, he is a graduate of the California College of the Arts with a degree in drawing. He made his debut as an author/illustrator with Fly!

I loved the book, laughed out loud, and I really want a sequel. Thank you so, so much, Ethan for being here 

You’re famous for your sometimes ribald humor and comedy. What was the why-now moment when you thought about doing a book for kids?

Wait, famous or infamous? Yeah, a lot of my career has been writing for “edgy” adult comedy shows, but in many ways I have the mindset of a child.  I am filled with wonder at the world, I love being silly, and I enjoy getting attention by saying “naughty things.”  When I write for adult comedy shows, the “naughty things” part of my sensibilities tends to get the most use, but silly and absurd are still there. It’s the same for the Hugely-Wugely Spider. There’s a joy and wonder to the story in discovering this previously unknown part of the familiar Itsy-Bitsy Spider story. And then Hugely himself is silly, but has an acerbic edge to him.

As for the why-now moment, as often has happened in my career, Hugely came about as a bit of an accident. A few years ago I had an idea that I could quit the TV comedy writing business and support myself by making funny iPhone apps. As it turns out, this was what economists would describe as a “delusional idea of how to make money.”  In the process, however, I made a funny calculator app called, The Revenge of the Calculators. Basically, it looks like a normal calculator, but when you try to enter numbers it does silly things like call a fake customer service number. I was showing off the app at a party — as one does when they’ve made a funny calculator app—and one of the people who saw it was a book editor named Joy Peskin. She asked me if I’d ever considered writing a children’s book. While I was a big fan of children’s books, I hadn’t ever seriously considered writing one. We spoke for a while and she walked me through what kind of books they were looking for and what a manuscript should look like.

My second son was only a few months old at the time.  So while I was feeding him in the middle of the night, I held the bottle with one hand and wrote book ideas on my phone with the other hand. Shortly after that, I wrote the first draft of The Hugely-Wugely Spider.

What I adored about this book is how hilarious it was for adults, too. When my son was little, the books of his that I loved the most (and the TV shows) were the ones that realized adults were reading and watching, too, and threw something in for them. I laughed out loud when the spider insisted that he must be retaining silk. Can you talk about the whole process of writing a kid’s book?

Ha. Thanks! I read that part recently to my kids and for the first time thought, “they’re not going to have any idea what that means.” They didn’t, but my mom, who was in the room with me, laughed out loud.

I’m happy that both kids and adults enjoy reading it. I read a lot to my kids and I know that feeling of dread that comes over me when they pick a dull book off the shelf. “Oh, boy, we have to read this again?” So, I wanted to write something that both kids and adults would enjoy reading together.

I didn’t employ any particular process to do that, other than just feeling it out. I shared it with the adult members of my family and got their feedback. If it made them laugh, I knew I was on the right track.

I also loved that the hugely-wugely spider sounded like my mom. (“Do you know the personal sacrifices I’ve made?” How did you go about getting the voice just right?

I carefully studied your mom for months! The honest answer is, I don’t know. I have this cool ability/annoying thing I can’t control, where I internalize the voices of those around me. It’s served me well as a comedy writer, because I can get the rhythm and cadence of the hosts I’ve written for in my head and then write jokes in their voices. I didn’t start out to give Hugely any particular voice, I just started writing and that was the voice that came out. I’m guessing he’s a mixture of my voice with little snippets from people I’m close with.

What was it like to work with an illustrator? Did you ever change some of the story for an illustration that was just too great to pass up?  Or vice versa?

The process was great. My editor partnered me with Karl. He found jokes in places I hadn’t thought of and gave the text a whole second life. There were a few minor changes to the text because of illustrations, but mostly just adding words to accompany moments of action, such as my favorite, “flomp!” when Hugely gets stuck in the spout.

Did you test drive any of the story on your own kids?  What do they think about their story-writing dad?

While I was writing it, I definitely tried to test the book on my kids, but it turns out that children have very little interest in looking at unillustrated Word docs. Now that I have a physical version of the book with illustrations, they enjoy it quite a lot.

My kids are two and five, so it’s hard to get a read on how they feel about having author parents. My 5-year-old son does like to tell people that my “job is funny.” I can’t tell if he’s proud of that or is just explaining why I act so weird.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Right after I wrote the first draft of Hugely-Wugely, I got a job running a digital comedy channel. One of my responsibilities was “to define the brand.” One of my other responsibilities was to think, “oh, man I wish it wasn’t my job to define the brand.” In the process of thinking of the values of this channel, however, I started thinking about my own values. I thought about the work that I had made in my career and what brought me the most joy to make and what I was most proud of to share. The words I kept coming back to were wonder, joy, and exploration.  So, that’s what’s obsessing me now, exploring the wonder and joy in the world and figuring out how to get it onto the page or on screen.

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

Q: What wild animals have you seen lately?

A: I’m so glad you asked! This weekend I saw a groundhog outside the science museum, three deer on the sidewalk near my house, and a dozen turkeys walking through a parking lot. Did I mention I have a childlike sense of wonder?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Who was F. Scott Fitzgerald's last great love? Legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, and here, Sally Koslow talks about ANOTHER SIDE OF PARADISE, hopeless romantics and so much more.

Who isn't fascinated by the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald? While most people associate him with the tortured, tragic Zelda, he had an enduring romance with Hollywood gossip legend Sheilah Graham--and the sublime Sally Koslow is here to talk about it.  But first, the praise:

“Isn’t a beautifully written page-turner the ideal read? Well, here it is. I am full of admiration and gratitude for this wonderful novel.”

—Elinor Lipman

“A stunning, utterly captivating read. . . . an unforgettable portrait of a remarkable couple steeped in all the glamour, romance, and intrigue of old Hollywood.”

—Kathleen Grissom

Sally Koslow is the international bestseller The Late, Lamented Molly Marx; The Widow Waltz; With Friends Like These; and Little Pink Slips. She is also the author of one work of nonfiction, Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up. Her books have been published in a dozen countries.
Thank you, Sally!

I always want to know what was the why now moment for you in writing this book?

After reading Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank and later, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain—impressive authors--I immediately thought I wanted to try and write a biopic novel, even though my previous book were squarely rooted in today’s world. I admire the genre because when done well, it combines a history lesson with the intimacy of revealing a subject’s interior life: how they feel, what they think, what they said. Isn’t that transparency what we love about contemporary fiction? It took me years, however, to stumble on the right subject for a biopic. Only when I read Stewart O Nan’s insightful West of Sunset, imagining F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last few years from FSF’s point of view, did I know Sheilah Graham and Fitzgerald’s romance was the one. Though Sheilah was a secondary character in O’Nan’s book, the author shared enough about her for me to want to get to know Sheilah better. When I did—kapow. I realized that writing her story, which has facets to it far beyond Fitzgerald, felt beshert: Yiddish for “destined.”

What was the research like? What surprised you and what did you veer away from for the sake of fiction?

F. Scott Fitzgerald is, of course, the subject of numerous meticulous biographies, the author of countless revealing letters and essays and the subject of myriad B+ sophomore term papers, perhaps even one of my own. And beyond the paper trail of Sheilah Graham’s columns, she wrote quite a few memoirs in which, I was surprised to learn, she was the very definition of an unreliable narrator. Never, for example, did she admit in print that she was born not only poor, but also Jewish. Nor did she always tell her story the same way. Sorting through inconsistencies was a blessing because I could pick the version of truth that served the narrative best.  Also, no matter how interesting the paths of some famous people may be, no one lives life in a plot. I had to decide what to leave out in order to tell Sheilah and Scott’s story in the most rewarding way I could imagine.

I love that you called Fitzgerald the “world’s best boyfriend. When he was sober.” Was he this good to Zelda in the beginning? And if Zelda had not gone mad, do you think they would have survived?

Scott adored Zelda, and was loyal to her, even during his relationship with Sheilah. Until the end of his life, he continued to visit his wife in the psychiatric institution where she’d been living for years before he met Sheilah. As his relationship with Sheilah deepened, he read Zelda’s letters to her, perhaps to explain the complexity of his life.

If Zelda hadn’t become ill and frustrated in the pursuit of her own accomplishments, and if Scott wasn’t an alcoholic plagued by debt and writer’s block, I could imagine their lives turning out very differently. But this was a union of two troubled, gifted people, who-- it’s fair to say--contributed to their own bad luck through extravagance and self-indulgence. As the years passed there was heartbreaking sadness to their marriage, and when mental illness swallowed Zelda, her husband became deeply lonely. I’m happy he found happiness with Sheilah, a more self-sufficient woman who supported him--sometimes, literally--and never wanted much from Scott except love, respect and knowing he was back at his game, writing again.

Why do you think people focus more on Zelda when this particular love story is really so much more incredible?

Sheilah was Scott’s inspiration for The Last Tycoon, his unfinished last novel that she sparked him to write. She was also both a footnote in history as well as the “other woman,” with all the unsavory implications that implies, especially in 1930s Hollywood, where the priggish Hays Code was enforced both on and off screen.

Zelda was notorious, far more well-known than Sheilah. For most of Scott’s work, she was her husband’s muse as well as a celebrated figure in the Jazz Age. She and Scott were the glamour couple of their generation, both in the United States and during their stay in Paris and the south of France, where Sara and Gerald Murphy were the den mother and father to many of the era’s most prominent writers and artists—Hemingway, Picasso, more. Zelda’s fragility and mental illness also contributed to her renown and engenders sympathy, while Sheilah was a scrappy survivor, even though she lived through a profoundly difficult childhood. This is one of the things I love about Sheilah and made me want to share her story.

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

That anyone would connect “effortless” to my work makes me laugh because I’m a writer who buffs and polishes until she’s all but committed a manuscript to memory. I have to force myself to stop tinkering. Composing a first draft is like sticking a corkscrew in my brain, but once I have a draft down, I pretend I’m editing another writer’s work and become ruthless in getting rid of muck. That may be because for many years I was a magazine editor. Remember McCall’s? I was its editor-in-chief until it was turned into a magazine for Rosie O’Donnell. (This was the inspiration for my debut novel, Little Pink Slips.)

As it gets close to publication date, I invariably catch the common cold of authors, who ruminate about their book becoming the wallflower at the orgy, unnoticed among all the other great titles competing for readers’ attention. It’s like having to endure 7th grade all over again. Pure misery for which there is no cure except ice cream.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Except the above? Trying to lock down the subject of my next book. In the last year I’ve started and abandoned close to ten projects. Write another biopic? Return to the sort of contemporary fiction I’ve written that got called “witty?” Today I’m fairly sure I will do another biopic.

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

“Who do you think will like Another Side of Paradise?”
Hopeless romantics, fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald—the man as well as the author, readers intrigued by Old Hollywood, people who like stories about feisty women bent on self-improvement and who defy all odds, historical fiction lovers, Anglophiles, anyone curious about pre-World War II anti-Semitism, readers curious about Jewish women or how America’s gossip industry took root, and definitely, book club members. There’s a lot to chew on in Another Side of Paradise.

Hey Moms! Want to listen in and talk about the best--and worst-sides of mothering? Writers Edan Lepucki and Amelia Morris have started a rad pod cast, called MOM RAGE! And they talk about it here.


Amelia Morris is the mother of two boys born almost exactly two years apart: Teddy, age four, and Isaac, age two. She is the author of the blog, Bon Appétempt, named one of the twenty-five best blogs of the year by TIME magazine, as well as the book by the same name: Bon Appétempt: A Coming-of-Age Story With Recipes!. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, The Millions, and USA Today. She used to host a cooking show called In the Kitchen with Amelia & Teddy, where cooking on camera with her kids looked fun. Mom Rage is here to clear the record.  

Edan Lepucki has two kids: her son, Dixon Bean, age six, and her daughter, Ginger, age two. She is the bestselling author of the novels California and Woman No. 17, as well as the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Esquire Magazine, The New York Times, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, among others, and she is a contributing editor to The Millions.  Edan created the Instagram @mothersbefore and is the founder of Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

I absolutely love the idea of a podcast that is this funny, this brave, this honest about pain and dark feelings and “mom rage." It's a genius idea that everyone should support—and it’s important to remember that being a mom doesn’t end when your kids leave home and their own families. And also the rage we sometimes feel against our OWN moms. Do you think that part of this is because so much in our culture is changing and it is not longer such a crime to want time for yourself and that you also have to take time for your adult life, your relationship life, your sex life, your sitting around and doing nothing life. You are sort of inventing yourself all over again for a new person.

Thank you, Edan and Amelia!

 You can listen and support the podcast here

Thank you so much!  It does seem like, lately, we’re talking a lot more about how unsustainable this go-go-go, eat-an-energy-bar-and-call-it-lunch American life is. And, I think, in the post-Trump world, many women are like: “Fuck this. I’m calling my congress members, and I’m doing this clay mask, and I’m going to have an orgasm because this is my country, too!”  Ha. But, seriously, we’re seeing that we need to take care of ourselves in order to survive the everyday—and maybe, especially, because no one else has our best interests in mind.

Couple that with there being so much great work by mothers out there right now, telling it like it is, representing the experience. For instance, Ali Wong’s new comedy special on Netflix, “Hard Knock Wife” lays it all out there, and in the midst of a hilarious set about the post-birth body, emphasizes just how criminal it is that our country doesn’t have federally mandated maternity leave.  I’m excited by how many books, television shows, movies, and so on are out there, and I only hope that we see more and more stories from all kinds of mothers.

I want to talk a bit more about mom rage. A lot of it seems to be about how much help you have, and what kind of husband and baby you have—and what kind of friends, too, right? If your partner isn’t doing 50%, it’s easy to be so resentful that steam comes out of your eyes.  If you have a baby with problems or colic. If you had a baby too young, before you had done all these wild things. Also, I remember actually raging against other mothers, rather than at my baby, because they’d tell  how I HAD to breast feed this way, I HAD to have no meds, I HAD to, etc. etc.  and I was really resentful. Can you each talk about this please?
Edan: I think we all have different “rage” capabilities, based on our upbringing, our personal temperaments, and the various factors you mention. A crying baby, for instance, who will not stop, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, can make you truly lose it, as can those judgmental comments from other parents. Ugh!

Amelia and I have a lot in common: we are both heterosexual white women with husbands who do a lot of the household duties. And yet, we’ve still got a lot of rage! A lot of it is toward the culture and all that’s expected of mothers, and the lack of institutional support for women and families.  Our long-term goal for the show is to talk to a lot of mothers, to hear their stories.  We quote Adrienne Rich from Of Woman Born on our website: "I believe increasingly that only the willingness to share private and sometimes painful experience can enable women to create a collective description of the world which will be truly ours."  We agree.

I was so interested in the way both of you talked about your births and what you expected and what actually happened. I planned a birth with my husband in the room, which was beautiful and perfect and wonderful, and two days later, I became critically ill, comatose, with a mysterious blood disease that I was dying from. Three months later, I was allowed to see my baby.  So when I finally was well enough to come home.  Because I was so ridiculously happy to have this healthy baby, to be alive and to have help (my husband works at home), I didn’t feel rage to my son—so do you think your experiences before the baby is even conceived shape the way you handle what goes on?

Caroline, that sounds like a traumatic birth! I’m glad, ultimately, it didn’t shape your early experiences with your son.  It can be difficult, if you end up having a birth that’s different than the one you planned for or imagined for yourself—some women never really recover from that, and for others, it’s not a big deal. In episode 3 we talk to a midwife, Kathleen Potthoff, about these very issues, and it’s so complicated, because every mother is different. She talks about getting to know her clients and learning about what they’re bringing to the pregnancy.  I don’t think I really have an answer here except: maybe? Or: Sometimes?   We bring all our history—the good and the bad—into our lives as mothers. And there are even those studies that say we carry ancestral pain and suffering in our DNA!  At the same time, it doesn’t always feel that DEEP, you know?

Do you think you each have the same parenting styles? Where do you find inspiration for raising your kids? I find that motherhooding, like kids, grow and change. No one would think of raising kids like they did 100 years ago with all that not sparing the rod stuff, but when I had my son, I was determined to do exactly the opposite of how I was raised—and I’m still not sure I did the right thing because he is now 21 and when I ask him if I was a good mom, he rolls his eyes!  Is it possible to ever know? Or is the answer to find advice/respect/a shoulder from other moms?
I’d say that neither Amelia nor I adhere to a specific parenting “style” and in that way, we’re similar. I guess other, little, stuff aligns: We both breastfed our kids, we both potty trained at two, and we moved our kids out of cribs around that time as well. While all that is important, it also can feel superficial. Believe it or not, we don’t spend that much time talking about naps and feeding and all that jazz—we’ve spent more time talking about motherhood as a concept, and our writing…and our feelings!

I depend on my mom for almost all my parenting advice. She has 5 kids, 6 grandkids, and knows everything about children and what to do with them. Amelia has a more conflicted relationship with her mom so she asks her friends for advice; in the podcast she refers to her “Earth Mother Friend” Kara a lot!  Finding a mom friend can be so helpful—it’s a special relationship.

We have an episode with author Meaghan O’Connell coming up, and, with her, we talk about how some mothers reject their own mother’s advice. I get that—and I agree, the “rules” and “wisdom” of parenting is not a historical, it’s always shifting. However, it makes me sad to think people would rather Google something than ask their own human mother—or any human mother that they know personally. Why do people have more faith in technology, and in crowdsourcing, than in receiving knowledge from a woman with lived experience? Crowdsourcing parenting questions is my pet peeve since parenting is so about your individual family and circumstances! But I digress…

I love that one of you aspires to be the villain in terms of getting discussion going—especially because moms are not supposed to be bitches. Please talk about this!
This is just our little joke, but, yes, I am the self-appointed villain of the show because I tell it like it is, and I imagine Amelia as having a far softer, sweeter personality. But we do dig into this somewhat…like, why do I have this idea that I’m some kind of monster? I don’t think I’m unique in this feeling; when we don’t act in the ways we think a “good” mother should act, it’s easy to believe certain accepted behavior is natural and that your reaction is abnormal and something to be ashamed of.

I also really love the music that opens each podcast! How did you decide that? Will you change the music?
Thanks! Amelia’s husband Matt Bookman wrote our theme song with their two sons, Teddy and Isaac. I love it and we will use it for every episode!

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Amelia’s always obsessed with her self-help books, like Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller. And competitive gymnastics; when UCLA won not long ago, she was so excited!

I’m into the aforementioned comedy special, Hard Knock Wife, by Ali Wong. I am just finishing The Changeling by Victor LaValle—what a weird beautiful marvel of a novel! Oh, and learning Italian--that’s my jam right now.

Monday, May 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree and I am thrilled to have Abbi here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s obsessing you now and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Poeppel

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

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

Sarah McCoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s obsessing you now and why?

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

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

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

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

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