Sunday, February 23, 2020

Who controls women's bodies and their minds? Clare Beams talks about her raved-about novel THE ILLNESS LESSON, how the 19th Century is relevant to today, mass suggestion, how we control our worlds, and so much more

Part of being an author is getting arcs! And when Claire Beams' THE ILLNESS LESSON came through the door, I immediately snatched it up. How could I not? About a mysterious flock of red birds who descend on a 19th Century girls school, about the power men insist of imposing on women, and so much more, the book is a marvel. And I'm not the only one to think so. Just look at all this:













“Astoundingly original, this impressive debut belongs on the shelf with your Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler collections.”–New York Times Book Review

“The Illness Lesson is a brilliant, suspenseful, beautifully executed psychological thriller. With power, subtlety, and keen intelligence, Clare Beams has somehow crafted a tale that feels like both classical ghost story and like a modern (and very timely) scream of female outrage. I stayed up all night to finish reading it, and I can still feel its impact thrumming through my mind and body. A masterpiece.”
—ELIZABETH GILBERT, AUTHOR OF CITY OF GIRLS                                                                                                                                    
“Stunningly good—a brainy page-turner that's gorgeous and frightening in equal measure. The Illness Lesson dazzled me.”
—Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks

Clare Beams is no stranger to awards. Her story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, won the Bard Fiction Prize, was longlisted for the Story Prize, and was a Kirkus Best Debut of 2016, as well as a finalist for the  PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award.

Best of all, in interviewing Clare, I learned that not only did she live in my hometown, Boston, but she now lives in Pittsburgh, where I lived for a time, AND she even knew where my old apartment (hilariously called The Lion's Head) was!

Thank you so much, Clare, for both the amazing read and the interview.

I always, always want to know what was haunting you that got you writing this fabulous novel? And did that haunting change as you were writing?

 When I started The Illness Lesson, I had just finished six years of teaching high school English, and I think a lot of the questions teaching raised for me—about power, about students and our responsibilities to them—haunt this book. More concretely, the book was sparked by a visit to Fruitlands in Massachusetts, site of a failed commune established by Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott. The place itself is very beautiful, and what happened there had beautiful origins—lots of lovely and noble ideas about humans and their worth—and yet was so misguided in a practical sense (they had a lot of complicated and poorly thought-through theories about what they should and shouldn’t eat, no one really knew how to farm, they all almost starved to death, etc.). That kind of contradiction haunted me, and so did the question of who might end up paying for a contradiction of that kind. And as I wrote, the girls and Caroline and their plight began to haunt me more and more.

 What was it like to move from a short story collection to a novel? (I always say that writing a story is like an intense affair, but a novel is a long, satisfying marriage.) Did you feel that there were new lessons you had to learn, and if so, what were they?

 I like your analogy! That feels right to me. A story’s premise doesn’t necessarily have to obsess me for long (though it does have to obsess me very deeply)—but this novel had to concern questions that felt inexhaustible in order to be capable of drawing me in over the course of seven years, even as my whole life changed. Practically speaking, I was writing many of the stories in my collection and just about all of this novel as a parent of very young children, and I just had a much easier time finishing the stories. The story form lent itself to the kind of time I had—short, intensely focused pockets—much more naturally than the novel form did. Once I had a draft of the novel, I spent whole years kind of picking away at it in the little bits of time I could find, instead of tackling the massive overhaul I knew was in order, because it was so hard to find the concentrated stretch of months I needed in order to hold the whole thing in my head. I learned a practical lesson about the necessity of finding that kind of time, and about what it took to make it happen (a full-family effort, basically). Craft-wise, the lessons I learned over the course of writing the novel had a lot to do with pacing—I had to figure out how to deliver just enough information while keeping the story moving. Of course that’s part of the work in a story too, but it felt more challenging here. I suspect it’s a balance I’ll have to learn all over again for the next project, because I’m betting every novel requires something different.

 Why did you set the book in the so-called progressive 19th century? And what fascinated you the most about the research?

I adored Little Women as a kid—I read it dozens of times—and over the years I just sort of stayed fascinated and kept reading about the thinkers of that time. And the more I read, the more obsessed I became with the Transcendentalists and some of the tensions in their philosophy, the way many of their ideas were so beautiful and uplifting and based on the fundamental worth of all people, but still there were all these women (sometimes utterly brilliant women, like the Peabody sisters and the Louisa May Alcott) around the brilliant men, facilitating their lives in ways that often went unacknowledged. I wanted to explore those tensions dramatically—and while I’ve set them in the 19th century here, as a sort of means of intensification, I don’t think we’re actually done with them. Research-wise I loved learning about all of these thinkers, and I also did lots of interesting and unsettling reading about Victorian medicine.

 This book, though set in the 19th Century feels very appropriate for today. The school tries to be modern, with its emphasis on free thinking, but when things turn dark, the men take over, and unfortunately that means judging women’s maladies and denying them any power of their own. Sigh. Would you agree with me that “finding productive ways of living in the world as it is” might not be the best path, and that women, instead, should perhaps live in the world as they want it to be?

 Oh, I so want to agree with you! What I can say is that in this novel I think I’m raising that question and pointing out why it can be such a difficult one to answer, more than trying to answer it, since probably everyone’s answer is different. As for my own personal answer, yes, I think to the extent it’s possible, we should live in the world as we want it to be, but I also think we should be ready to bump up against the world’s designs for us and to work to change those designs when we have to. I wish we didn’t have to—and I really, really wish my daughters wouldn’t have to. It can take so much time.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

My new project takes some of my constant obsessions—what it means to be a woman in the world, how we exert power over one another—and bends them toward the state of pregnancy.

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

 You did a wonderful job! I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me about the plot of the novel-within-the-novel, the melodramatic gothic thriller The Darkening Glass, because at one point I had the whole thing pretty much worked out—but it’s probably best lost to the sands of time!

Melissa Weisz talks about FORBIDDEN APPLE, her podcast about the intersection of queer people and faith, about listening, writing and so much more

I first met Melissa Weisz doing research for a novel I've just sold, DAYS OF WONDER, which has a character who grew up in the Hassidic community and who leaves. I wanted to make sure my facts were impeccable so I found and interviewed a few people who had left that kind of life, and to my delight, I found Melissa. Melissa not only righted all my writing wrongs (I didn't realize Crown Heights Orthodox were very different from those in other Brooklyn neighborhoods, for example) but inspired me. Of course I wanted to know all about her, too, and when she told me she had a podcast, The Forbidden Apple, I listened, and I wanted others to listen, too.

The Forbidden Apple is an astonishing podcast about the relationship between Queer people and religion. It's mission? To overcome prejudice, find common ground and celebrate differences, and showcase a fascinating array of people. For example, there is lesbian priest Liz Edman who had to fight to become a priest. Chani Getter grew up Chasidish and is now a spiritual coach, and there is Josephine, born male who has now transitioned into an orthodox female.What I love most about this podcast is the joy in it, and the insistence that we are all part of the same tribe.

Rather than answer each question, Melissa has simply spoken her truth, and here it is. Thank you so much, Melissa!

I grew up in a Hassidic community, which was full of rules and regulations. I had an arranged marriage then left both my marriage and community. But I still had questions: Where do I belong? How do I find community? When I first left my community, I was very avoidant of communities because my idea of community was that you had to put yourself in a box and I felt there wasn't freedom of self, so I was triggered. But then I began to travel and see the world and that made me feel that I was part of a bigger thing, a greater purpose. I began to think differently. Ultimately, I've come to know that we are all connected. We are all human beings.

I think organized religion can be problematic.  I don’t think that is what faith is. I think everyone has to find what works for them and gets them through the day. There are definitely things that give people meaning, that gets  them get through tough times. Religion can do that, faith can do that, belief can do that. and that looks different for everybody. I'm finding that it's important to have something to believe in.

Doing the Forbidden Apple podcast has been really helpful to me. We hear people speak about miracles, but they bring it down to earth so that anyone can understand and appreciate it. Many of the people I speak with on the podcast use the spiritual context to live their lives. They're always questioning instead of just finding guidance from the Torah. 

I hope for people to continue listening, and realize that there is absolutely not one way to do things or to live your lives. It is not black and white. Find the greys.

The mysterious vanishing of a twelve-year-old girls impacts a town in Kathleen Donohoe's astounding GHOSTS OF THE MISSING.

It wasn't just the title that got me to immediately pick up Ghosts of the Missing, or the author, whose novel ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER was one of my faves, but the story itself haunted me: a twelve-year-old girl mysteriously vanishes from her town, impacting lives and unburying secrets.

Kathleen Donohoe is the author of the novel ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER, which was named one of Book Riot's 100 Must-Read New York City Novels. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Recorder: The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, Web Conjunctions, Washington Square Review, Irish America Magazine. She serves on the Board of Irish American Writers & Artists, a non-profit organization dedicated to the celebration of Irish American writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers and artists. 

I am so thrilled to have Kathleen here. Thank you, thank you, Kathleen.

I always think something is haunting a writer into writing the books that they do, so I was wondering what was haunting you to write Ghosts of the Missing?

In 1979 six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared off a Manhattan street while walking to the school bus alone for the first time. He was two weeks older than me, and I’m from Brooklyn, NY.  I knew what a city sidewalk looked like at eight o’clock in the morning. Even to a child, it was clear that whatever happened to Etan began quietly. He was seen by a mailman waiting to cross Wooster Street, in sight of the bus stop. Then never again. After thirty-eight years, a man was convicted of his murder, but Etan has never been found.

I’ve since read about hundreds of missing persons cases (The internet has made it easy.) Haunting, certainly, are thoughts of the families, suspended between grief and hope. There are the disappearances themselves, those with circumstances that defy logic, coupled with the awareness that they do not, in fact, defy logic. Every one, no matter how inexplicable, has an answer. Nobody actually vanishes into thin air.

But I think what haunted me into writing this book are what I call the last knowns. By this I mean the last definitive sighting. Or the last probable sighting, when it’s uncertain. Ghosts of the Missing is very much about this--the final moment when everything was okay.

Dorothy Arnold in December, 1910 chatting with a friend outside Brentano’s bookstore on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Beverly Potts of Cleveland, OH in 1951, walking home alone on an August evening, five minutes from a park to her house. Morgan Nick of Arkansas, in 1995, four years old, emptying sand from her shoe. Madeleine McCann, in Portugal, 2007, asleep in bed.

There’s so much in this extraordinary novel about the whole notion of how time changes things: how we feel about a missing person, how medicine treats illness, and truly, how love deepens. Can you talk about this please?

Think of the expression, or maybe it’s a cliché, “it was a different time and place.” ‘Place’ can be literal, of course, but often it just means that the world was different then.  We reference the past as if it exists outside of our memories and that it’s possible to visit, if only we could find the way. Often, we talk about time as if what’s changed things is time itself, as though it’s a tangible force.

In Ghosts of the Missing, the protagonist, Adair, is born when AIDS is always fatal, but by the time she’s an adult, it’s become a treatable illness for those who have access to the medication. Then there’s Rowan, who vanished at the age of twelve, and for whom time has stopped. So in the novel there is a juxtaposition between tidal change and perpetual limbo.

Blood diseases (both AIDS and Hemophilia) factor into the novel as a kind of metaphor, something passed down, much like the tragedy in this novel. Do you think that the way we treat genetic illness is much the same as the way we treat the terrible legacies that are handed down to us?

Yes, in that it becomes a question of a life being shaped, or at least greatly impacted, from the outset by circumstances that could not be predicted (The books is set in the days before prenatal genetic testing). All of us have legacies that we have to grapple with. For most, they’re not physically manifested. In Ghosts, it is. Adair inherits the legacy of hemophilia in her family, a serious illness which becomes catastrophic in the 1980’s because of AIDS.

I loved the whole idea of the writer’s retreat in the novel, a place to get away, which brings us to the whole idea of stories. How do you think that stories can save us or shape our lives?

Writers’ retreats exist purely to facilitate the creation of stories. This tells us how vital they are to our lives. To read is to step into the imagination of someone we’ve never met. There are stories in which we see ourselves and stories that bring us into lives we’ve never personally experienced. In that way, they can show us something we never would have seen otherwise. But, that said, I think a story isn’t required to instruct or enlighten. They only have to walk us into eloquence. Eloquence is snow, general, all over Ireland in The Dead. It’s the fists curling around rocks in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It is the heart thumping against the floorboards in The Tell-Tale Heart and pulling the heart out of the turkey in Alice Munro’s Turkey Season.  

What’s obsessing you now and why?

What’s obsessing me now is genealogical DNA, both as a tool to solve cold crimes and its home-use to identify relatives. As difficult as it must be to discover that the person you thought was your biological parent is not, or that you have a sibling you never knew about, I keep thinking about the secret-keepers.  A man never told his family that he was a sperm donor twenty-five years ago and now he’s being contacted by the thirty children he fathered. The woman who knows one of her children isn’t her husband’s. The murderer who never got caught. The fertility doctor who fathered his patients’ children in place of the woman’s husband or a chosen donor. Then one day, anybody can buy a DNA kit in Rite Aide and now people are being found, and found out, because a third cousin once removed did 23andme.

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

How did you think of the title?

You always hope the title just comes to you. Sometimes it does but often, it doesn’t. With Ghosts of the Missing, I was well into the book and getting very frustrated. I kept searching poems, hoping a phrase would jump out. Then one night, I was standing in the hallway of my apartment, running through words and phrases associated with the story, like missing, lost, vanished, without a trace, gone, mystery, ghost, haunting. I was staring vacantly at the outside of our bathroom door, where there’s a splotch of long-dried paint. It’s in the shape of a ghost. Ghost and missing came together in my mind. Ghosts of the

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Portrait of the artist: Help fund Marjorie Rawson as she recuperates (Hillary Clinton has one of her pieces!)

The artist and son

See more about her work here

Two days before Christmas, Marji Rawson was told that she needs to have immediate back surgery.  A vertebra has shifted forward in her lower lumbar and has no discs, squishing the spinal cord. The diagnosis is called Advanced Spondylolisthesis.  Marji is a full time artist of 28 years. Her lifeblood is show by show. Her winter/spring art shows are cancelled. She can not even make art while recovering. Panic mode button is pressed!

With the surgery happening mid January Marji's life just got shut down for the next 6 months.
Please help in any way that you can by going to this Go Fund Me page. Marji is an outstanding artist. We need her back working & making beautiful art.

And, of course, because I am fascinated by anyone doing anything creative, I wanted to give Marji a chance to talk about her life and art on my blog. Thank you, Marji.

Tell us about your art!
 I salvage and cut up the bodies of vintage cars and trucks in search of and in remembrance of the glory days of road trips and adventure, family drive-in nights and freedom only the open road could deliver. The colorful steel carriages that took us there are resting on hillsides all around us. I rescue the steel in its fun- filled original paint pallets and now weathered patinas to then construct a new wearable journey that you can carry forward into its next adventure. I use cold construction techniques combined with fine and sterling silver to create a modern joyful aesthetic that is ready to hit the road!

My Michigan stone work: I am a Michigan native . I gather stones from the shores of Lake Michigan and combine them with copper, silver and driftwood. I use both hot and cold construction techniques. These pieces are inspired by many years surrounded by the woods and water. Horseback riding with my childhood friend for hours among the pines and stopping to treasure hunt along the way.

I currently live in Beaufort NC. We were aiming to open a gallery in Beaufort by Memorial Day 2020, but I was sidelined by major back surgery. I will be unable to make my work or go on the road for months while a bone graft heals and I regain my strength . Being patient and taking a seat on the bench is not my strong suit! Time for me to learn another life lesson. During this time off of making much of my work I will be able to do the administrative part of getting the gallery ready. I have a list of Artists I would like and they are going to be part of it. I won’t be doing any of the heavy lifting part. The space has been completed for a over a year so that is quite helpful. I can use every bit of help that I can get. Please. 

As a writer, I am always creating out of the things that haunt me somehow. Is it that way for you in your artistic work? What inspires you and why?

An interesting choice of words to move someone to create. Haunt . It seems to have a scary connotation , but I suppose if I think about it as a shadow of sorts. Something I carry with me or that follows me from a faraway place or time .

From as far back as I can remember I was always making things. Creating something . Making something. Something brewing in my bedroom . I had many projects in various stages of completion in my room. My Christmas list was a brand new box of crayons with the sharpener on the back, paint by number , light bright , these clear plastic slotted shapes that i still desperately want again....where are these damn things! I need to made a chandelier!!. Spirograph , the candy worms and creepy crawlers you bake in the oven. Shrinky Dinks. Loved those! All of that. Oh , and cowboy boots.

My mother was a public school teacher and played the clarinet and my Dad an electrical engineer. Both University of Michigan graduates. We lived on a lake about 10 miles outside of Ann Arbor from birth to 10 years old. Those magical years. My mom  was the Girl Scout leader and 4-H leader so we were always learning, making things and she always had a station wagon full of girls. I had those genes and that of an engineer. Figuring out how to make things . Music always playing at our house.

Here is what haunts me. How we bridge the two worlds. The magical youth where all things are safe and possible and the monster across the street. How do both of these worlds exist at the same time. How does a child manage ? Where do they go to find a place where they are in control , no humans to count on and only a language of shapes, colors, texture, sound and nature above and around her for comfort.

I was raped repeatedly by a teenage boy across the street when I was 7 . It went on for a couple of years . He held a gun to my head then pointed it out the window toward our front door where my mother was . He told me if I told anyone he would shoot her. I never said a word. I remember the window, the floor where he had me stand on a stool so I could see our front door, the sink beneath me the smell of cigarettes, the sight of our yard. Bam. Not a word. Buried.

I have since had years of therapy in my early 20’s and have been freed from this bondage of fear and shame/ My therapist a Godsend who lead me though and out the other side of this dark place.

But what this is about is my creative place. How I believe it came to me. I straddled both an idyllic childhood and this monster who could and did swallow me whole and leave me for dead.

I created a language, land and relationship with another world. When I say language it seems to be the best word . Because it was and is an exchange. These things “talk” to me and I “talk’ back. We have a conversation. And it never hurts me. I am never alone even though I create alone. When I went to college I went on a violin performance scholarship. My violin and I spent hours together. I could master it in private. It spoke to me and for me. That is what Art does . It speaks to me and for me only in the language of shape, color texture and the interaction of us and our time here. It is the translation of my conversation made physical .

I used to look through the pages of National Geographic and wonder at the body adornment they made from their backyards. I got them.

These relationships I formed with the earth....Be it water ( I was a champion swimmer) Art, my violin, the horses. This intimacy was shared with THINGS. I could trust those fully. Not people. So I went back to them. Over and over as my trusted friend.

What obsesses you now and why?

The rot and decay of decency and justice cultivated by the GOP aka Party of Trump. The complete disintegration of our Constitution and millions not paying attention. This is how democracy dies. It is on life support. We now have a President who indeed can do whatever he wants. The War on Truth and facts and expertise .

The last hope i have for us is the younger generation coming out to save their own planet and democracy and racism. I attended the Women’s March in DC with a few friends and my daughter who was a Senior in high school at the time. I have hope in women. I have two sons and two daughters ranging from 20 to 30. I have educated them in the power of the vote. They all voted in the 2018 mid terms . They all took friends to vote in the mid terms. I highly doubt that I am alone in showing our adult children how important it is to having respectable, decent and educated leaders.

Some of my new work focuses on fighting back. On hope . On turning the page and giving this country over to the next generation. On women being the fighter pilots of justice. 

Blast from the very, very near past: Steven Rowley talks about his recent and most wonderful novel THE EDITOR, Jackie Kennedy, authentic endings and so much more

When I was tooling around social media, I saw a post from Steven Rowley mentioning his book THE EDITOR, which I erroneously though was just coming out. I contacted him, he set me straight, and I decided I wanted to interview him anyway--especially after I read and loved the book (and I had read and loved Lily and the Octopus.)

Steven has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his boyfriend and their dog.

THE EDITOR is a fabulous novel about a struggling writer who gets a break with the help of...Jackie Kennedy. How can you not love that?  People do! Look at the praise:

 PR‘s Favorite Books of 2019
Esquire‘s “Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”
Southern Living‘s “25 Beach Reads Perfect for Summer”

PopSugar’s “Buzzy Books to Read This Spring”
Town & Country‘s “Must-Read Books of Spring 2019”
Cosmopolitan‘s “13 Best Books Coming Out in April”

“The editor makes James a better writer, and The Editor will make you want to be a better son.”—NPR 
“Filled with whimsy and warmth, the Lily and the Octopus author’s second novel centers on the complex relationship between a fledgling writer and his fabulous editor, the latter of whom becomes a mentor, friend, and maternal figure. Oh, and she happens to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but that’s Mrs. Onassis to you.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
 “Steven Rowley is the best-selling author of Lily and the Octopus, and he’s honestly outdone himself with The Editor.”Cosmopolitan
“[A] delightful slice of historical fiction.”—Entertainment Weekly (“Must List”)
“A sweet and charming novel, perfect for fans of Jackie O and Rowley’s first novel, Lily and the Octopus, alike.”—PopSugar

“A journey of self-discovery…Ultimately a story not about celebrity but about family and forgiveness.”—TIME 

Thanks for doing this, Steven!

Your debut Lily and the Octopus was not just delightful, but critically acclaimed. So how scary was it to write The Editor? I always hope that as a writer I can learn new lessons from a finished book, but for me, it never works out that way. Each book is something brand new. How was it for you?

People have asked me how one goes from writing about a dog to writing about one of the most celebrated women in the world – Jacqueline Onassis. I swear in my mind it made sense! (Then again, I’m the one who paired a dog and an octopus in my first book – so admittedly I may be a little off.) THE EDITOR was inspired by my having written a deeply personal autobiographical novel in LILY AND THE OCTOPUS and having it debut with a bigger splash than I had ever imagined. When I first sat down to work on LILY, I was writing to understand the loss of my four-legged friend. I never imagined it would be published, let alone become a national bestseller, or be translated in nineteen languages, or be developed as a feature film. I was writing to work through my own grief. Thus, I made the book as deeply personal as it needed to be for me to heal. Then, through a magical sequence of events, everything I had written privately was suddenly very public. I was motivated to explore the accompanying emotions through another story – this time highly fictional – about a young writer whose small family novel suddenly becomes a big deal and balloons out of his control. For that I needed a catalyst. Years ago I had started another project, a play, about Jacqueline Onassis’s time in publishing, but I could never quite find the proper narrative for it. But it got me thinking, if Jackie Onassis was your editor, wouldn’t that suddenly make your book a big deal? And that’s when I decided to merge the two projects.

I also always think that writers are haunted into writing their books, looking for some answer. What was haunting you?

There are minefields to navigate in telling our stories, in telling the truth about our families and the ones we love. Should you be more loyal to your loved ones? Or to the writing, to the truth. There are also consequences in not telling our stories honestly. THE EDITOR explores both, and hopefully shines a light on truth being the better way forward.

The Editor is about a writer who sells his book to Jackie Kennedy! The research must have been really fun! What surprised you? What did you learn that pulled the plot together?

I did a lot of research to make Jackie an authentic character. From the outset, I didn’t want to just use her, or trade on her name – she had to be a well-rounded character with real narrative purpose. That was something my editor pushed me on draft after draft. However, Jackie’s third act in publishing (which I think is the most interesting time in her life) is the least well documented. By the time she started her publishing career in the late 1970’s, she was done with the spotlight. She kept her head down and did the hard work. There are two great books (William Kuhn’s Reading Jackie and Greg Lawrence’s Jackie as Editor) about her career, so I started there. She only ever gave one interview during her career, to Publisher’s Weekly. I had a very supportive publisher (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) who reached out to many of her co-workers who were generous with their memories. (And several who felt that the reason their relationship with Jackie thrived was that they never spoke about her outside the office and they were gong to continue to honor that to this day, twenty-five years after her death.)  Beyond that, I read a number of books she was working on around the time my book takes place to get a sense of her tastes, her interests, and what her mindset was at the time. I was surprised by her humor, many of the stories I heard were wonderfully funny; she had a droll understanding of how she was perceived.

I love the whole idea of the “authentic ending” your hero is asked to write. Do you think about authentic endings (or beginnings) in your own life?

In my writing life, absolutely. Somehow I’ve become known for crafting these tearjerkers (I swear I’m funny!), so that adds a level of complexity. Particularly with LILY, as many people are afraid of the book or apprehensive about picking it up because they think they how know dog books end. I have to promise them I won’t leave them despondent. That said, I’m always so impressed with the heart’s ability to heal, and people’s capacity for forgiveness. In many cases, endings lead to new beginnings. I love something that Jackie tells her young author in THE EDITOR about writing autobiographical fiction: the story you write ends, but the relationships that inspire it continue. ‘Ending’ can be a word on a sliding scale.     

What’s obsessing you now and why?

As a reader I’m obsessed with other novels that contain historical figures as central characters, to see how other writers have handled the challenge. As a writer, I’ve been working on THE EDITOR screenplay for director Greg Berlanti and Twentieth Century Fox and getting the details just right for an actress to portray Jackie. As many times as we’ve seen her depicted on screen, it is almost always centered around her time as First Lady or in the context of her marriages; we have yet to see Jackie as a career woman onscreen. Additionally, I have a new novel that will be out in early 2021 that explores my feelings on not having children, and what it means for an artist not to have what is inarguably one of life’s great emotional experiences in their arsenal. 

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

Who should play Jackie in the movie? Sorry. That I’m holding close to my vest. But please reach out with your ideas.