1/28/10

Puppy Love.....




These days the writing is hard. Staying at my desk is hard, and time away from my desk is even harder. I try to hide in my office and write for as long as I can, but I have other commitments; family, friends, auditions, freelance work, exercising, not to mention I try to keep a beautiful home, do my own cleaning, do almost all the cooking, and worry about the needs of these little guys. I have to admit these days, when I am feeling at my wits end and am not exactly fit for public exposure, these guys, even with their needy little ways...still manage to melt my crusty writer's heart. There is something so great about the love of an animal. They are so sweet and so pure, and really want nothing more than to be loved! These two just love to snuggle, and be picked up and if that fails, they will settle for sleeping on my feet as I write. They remind me to take breaks by harumphing loudly on the floor of my office, staring at me and whining when it is walk time, and if I am late on the evening walk they let me know it, by farting on cue!

For a long time we just had Mabel, our almost 7 year old bichon with the funniest, most particular people like personality. And although we were a good trio, I worried that our dog, who I am sure thinks that she is a person, (sits in chairs, sleeps on the bed, is always on a cushion and stares at animal behaviors as if to say...what the hell is that about?) missed the companionship of another furry being, and so we got her Lily. We have had Lily for almost 3 months now and she has adjusted so well from her life in the shelter. Lily still gets scared of big dogs, doesn't like to be corrected, (she thinks that you are going to hit her) and eats all her meals as if they are her last...but day by day she gets more and more comfortable and has become a loveable annoying little sister to Mabel.

No matter how grumpy I am, the funny jumping on her back legs and high pitched squeal that Lily does when she knows she is going for a walk, or the way that Mabel grumbles and rolls on her back and shakes her legs in the air in the hopes of a belly rub the moment I walk in the door, always manages to turn my mood around. I love these two furbabies, and they have become excellent nap buddies to one another and great writing companions to me. And if one thing can melt my crust writer's heart these days...it's these two lovebugs.

1/27/10

Guests....


I don't have a new guest for today, but I will soon have a house full of them! I am lucky enough that my dear friends in Canada are willing to make the trip out to here to see me and my husband. Now that we have the space, having guests is so much easier and really a pleasure. I get to play Julie Cruise director from the Love Boat and organize everyone's activities. I get everyone to give me ten requests, tell me their budget and then I put together a dream itinerary, post it on the fridge and try my best to make it happen.

I have been lucky that I have been able to plan my guests visits for the most part around my writing schedule. A big visit is preceded by a huge push and the time playing hooky with friends is a reward. But this time it's different. This time, I am in the middle of my novel, flailing around with no idea how to write what I need to write next, and for the most part, in the foulest of moods imaginable. I am a Bitter Betty, and I worry how to both move forward and spare my dear friends from this surely too ugly to be witnessed by good people, phase of my writing process.

Now don't get me wrong, my friends are amazing and will understand, but I don't really want to spend the time that they are here, breathing fire and mumbling to myself as I shuffle around the house in sweat pants! So I need to think how I can do it all. Write, make progress, return to the land of the living and enjoy their visit.

How do you do it? Balance your life and out of town guests?

And if any of my out of town guests are reading this, I promise you that I am soooooo looking forward to your visit and will do my best to spare you my manic middle mood!

1/26/10

It's Tuesday and I am bringing you another amazing interview by Caroline Leavitt, with another amazing author.

Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. Look for her new book Pictures of You coming out from Algonquin this Spring 2010.

I'm completely honored to host a Q and A with Gail Godwin about her latest novel, Unfinished Desires.Her 30-year career spans short story collections, nonfiction, novels and librettos for ten musical works with her husband, the composer Robert Starer. Nominated for the National Book Award three times, and a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an award for literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Endowment of the Arts grant, Godwin, to me, is a writer's writer, someone who creates living, breathing worlds, and seems to do it effortlessly.


Unfinished Desires moves back and forth through time as Mother Suzanne Ravenel tapes her memories of her years at a religious school, focusing on the worst year, 1951-52. About the perils and pleasures of friendship, and the way the past informs the present,Unfinished Desires is frankly, brilliant.

You nailed down what it is to be a teenaged girls so expertly—the rivalries and the yearnings. Where did that knowledge come from?

This question of yours sets me thinking in the way I love to be set thinking.I’ll have to dig. Why do I still have such contact with the teenage girl in myself? I never had children, so I don’t have daughters to study. Perhaps---and I mean this seriously---I still feel thirteen or fourteen in a lot of important ways. The thought patterns of those years are still visceral and available to me.Could it have something to do with the great chunk of SILENCE that was part of my school life and home life? I wasn’t a boarder at St. Genevieve’s (the school on which Mount St. Gabriel’s is modeled) but the “St. Genevieve’s silence” was a big part of my life. We studied in silence next to one another in a huge study hall (formerly a hotel ballroom).We prayed next to one another in silence. We rode in silence, to and from school, on the school bus. A nun sat on the front side seat. We didn’t talk, we didn’t whisper, we didn’t read on the bus. So what is left for a girl to do?Think. That’s about it. No texting. No I-pod hidden beneath the hair. All you had were your thoughts. Which were? “What does S think about me?How can I win the admiration of K? How can I punish L.? Who am I, anyway? What will my life be like when I have some freedom and POWER?” And when I was at home, my mother was reading or correcting papers (she taught college English); my grandmother was reading or listening to the radio. I was studying and reading and thinking of my life with them. “How do I get them to do what I want? Why are they happy? Why are they unhappy? How do I break free of them and become myself?”

Of course there were noisy fights at school, screaming and shrieking at home, gossiping, plotting, betrayals, playing one against the other, jealousies---oh, the jealousies! It wasn’t all silence. But the silence was always available when you needed to think about the meaning of your noisy life.

You write music, you’re a talented painter, and you’ve done a painting of the school whereUnfinished Desires is set. Drawing also figures in the book, as Chloe, one of the girls, continually draws pictures of her dead mother, as if she is consulting with her. I’m wondering if the painting of the school came first, after, or while you were writing, and how you believe different kinds of creativity inform the others?

These were consuming and extremely pleasurable activities until I reached the age of, oh, about fifteen. Then the demands and horrors of social life took over. It wasn’t until about ten years ago, when I was undergoing a Jungian analysis, (and I started dreaming of particular paintings and drawings I wanted to do) that I bought some sketchbooks and started drawing again. I was attracted to recycled paper, because of its little spots and suggestive irregularities. I would sit on the sofa beside my basket of colored pencils and start evoking an image. One of the first ones was “Good Behavior,” which you can see on my website: gailgodwin.com. Drawing has now become attached to memory, and to situations and people I don’t understand. As I begin my next novel, Flora, about a girl and her summer tutor, the pencil points are sharpened and I’m enthralled by what is going to form itself out of those spots.

As soon as I knew I was going to be devoting the next few years of my life to Unfinished Desires(which during the writing was called The Red Nun: A Tale of Unfinished Desires)

I hunted up old photographs of St. Genevieve’s and composed an image that I could “go into.”It’s also on the website. I kept it on my desk the whole time I was writing the novel. It was my touchstone.

As for different kinds of creativity feeding other kinds, that’s what happened when Robert Starer and I started collaborating back in the early 1970’s. He had a commission from CBS to do an evening length chamber opera at Caramoor. But he couldn’t find a subject or a librettist he liked. I had a failed short story, “Indulgences,” about a promiscuous woman who gets caught up in the story of an apocryphal saint (Pelagia, also a promiscuous woman.) It became our chamber piece, “The Last Lover” for four voices and wind instruments, which later became so popular that Robert re-scored it for piano and organ. We did many chamber operas together. I wrote the lyrics and he wrote the music. Our last one, and our favorite, was “The Other Voice,” about St. Hilda of Whitby. It was performed in New York shortly before Robert died.

I’m fascinated by process. Unfinished Desires is gorgeously structured. It moves seamlessly from the past to the present, presenting its surprises like small, perfect shocks, and it also has an additional layer of meaning—the memoir that Sister Ravenel is writing. Do you map your novels out beforehand or are there constant surprises for you? What’s your process like? You’ve also mentioned getting to the “hot wand” in the writing process, that moment in a book where the creative fire is. How do you get to that point, and where was that in Unfinished Desires for you?

At first, I began the novel with the “Tour of the Grounds” chapter, set in 1951, when the headmistress, Mother Ravenel, is conducting the new teacher, Mother Malloy, on a strenuous walk, to introduce her to the school.This was going fine, but there was something missing. I felt a lack of texture. I wanted a frame of some kind. It would give me more layers, more freedom, but I wasn’t sure how. Then my “hot wand” trembled (this was a concept of the theater artist, some would say villainess, Madelyn Farley, inFather Melancholy’s Daughter. It is the moment of creative fire.) I saw a very old, blind nun being escorted into a room where a brand new tape recorder awaits her on a table. She has agreed, at the insistence of her old girls, to write a memoir of the school. Now the time was May of 2001. I had my frame. Other interiors were also opening: the interior of MotherRavenel’s actual memoir, and then the further interior of dictated parts that never got into the memoir. I also knew I wanted Tildy, Chloe, and Maud to meet again, when they were old women. All of this frame and interior progress was not linear. It came in flashes, throughout the writing.

I read that you said that if you had stayed in the Midwest, you might have been the director of the Writers Workshop, but your writing would have stagnated. As a writer who has to do a lot of other things besides writing to pay the bills, I was interested in how and why you think your writing would have changed?

That interview was a long one, tape recorded in my study. The interviewer and I had drunk our tea and the afternoon was waning and we had our feet up and I was musing in a loose, wandering way about what might have happened had I stayed on in Iowa, teaching in the Writers Workshop. In that interview I was remembering how at the time (1972-3) the academic setting and the subjects I was teaching had become foremost in my mind and had bumped aside other parts of my memory and imagination. I remembered telling my agent, John Hawkins, “I’ve got to get out of here, I can no longer remember what it was like to be a waitress!” But the real reason I left Iowa and my safe tenure track job was because I had met Robert Starer at Yaddoand we wanted to be together. If he had not come into my life when he did, I might have stayed on at Iowa and written---who knows? Maybe a novel about a waitress, drawing on my own experience. Or maybe another “take” on The Turn of the Screw, which I was teaching then. The ironic thing is, the first novel I wrote after Robert and I got together was The Odd Woman(1974) a thoroughly academic novel. And later in our life together I would write another one:The Good Husband (1994). And now, in 2009, what am I writing? Flora. Inspired by---you guessed it!---The Turn of the Screw, which still fascinates me.

But, you know, I still get those warnings (“I’ve got to get out of here if I want my writing to stay alive!”) and I always listen to them and try to engage with them. Only this week I had one. I started wondering if maybe there wasn’t enough “violence” in my work. Did that mean there wasn’t enough reality? But then I started digging, and I realized: your m├ętier is the reality of psychological violence, the kind that crushes someone or forces change. There are no crushed eyeballs, but plenty of crushed hopes and having to start all over.

Thanks Caroline, for another great interview!

1/25/10

Lost in Cyber Space


I did a double blog post on Friday and it seems to have gotten lost in Cyber Space!! I blogged about the FADA art show this weekend and my new free fireplace!! What happened to them... I don't know.

My blog wasn't the only thing to get lost this weekend. Unfortunately the middle of my novel got lost as well and went wandering and meandering all over the place. I've been going round and round in circles. Characters appeared, only to disappear again and I stared for hours at my computer wondering how on earth I was going to bridge the gap from page 150 to the end, which I have written. I tried playing my favorite writing music, ate my meals at my desk, tempted myself with rewards for new pages and at the end of the weekend I came up with 5 pages that I am pretty sure I am going to have to delete. Sigh. Middles are the worst, and this one is no different. In fact it is harder, because it is so emotional that I am often drained after a day of writing. I feel like I have tried everything!

Alas, one thing that I haven't been doing it dawned on me, was walking on my own. I mean, I walk my lovely pups twice a day, but during the writing of my first novel I used to walk every morning before I sat down at my desk, and would often walk around the block when I got stuck. These days, thanks to the extra freelance work, I have been hitting my desk the moment I get up and I can't help but think that I need to start walking again. Walking has always been my meditation, and my best ideas and inspiration come to me when I am moving. And so today, I am going to head out, on my own and see if I can't unstick my middle. I am hoping that unsticking my own middle from this chair, will do the same for novel!

I'll keep ya posted!

1/19/10

Amazing Author Interview Day courtesy of Caroline Leavitt!

It's Tuesday and I am bringing you another amazing interview by Caroline Leavitt, with another amazing author.


Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. Look for her new book Pictures of You coming out from Algonquin this Spring 2010.

Who isn't in love with the story of Alice in Wonderland? In Alice I have Been, Melanie Benjamin creates a hypnotic portrait of the real Alice and her tangled relationship with Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), who immortalized her in his books. I'm thrilled to have Melanie here to answer questions about her novel.


Charles Dodgson photographed other little girls, but what was it about Alice in particular that haunted him so? Was it that she knew her power, and if so, what evidence is there that she did (other than the intense photographs you include in the book?


The only conclusion that I could come to, based on the knowing expression in her eyes in that photograph, is that she did understand her power over him. Obviously, as well, she later asked him to write down "her" story that he first told her and her sisters on that summer afternoon; the story of a little girl named Alice who tumbled down a rabbit hole. Dodgson would go on to photograph other little girls and call them his "child friends," but Alice was the only one who inspired both a photograph and a book. That speaks volumes to me.


I couldn’t help but feel a nod to Roman Polanski, another artist who had a fondness for young girls, the difference, of course, being that Polanski was a predator who drugged and raped a young girl, while Dodgson seemed to just take photos. Recently, though, a letter was found from Dodgson that hinted of his being a pedophile (he admitted liking little girls better than boys.) Is it known if he ever acted on his feelings?|


I can't compare the two at all; there's absolutely no similarity. The letter you speak of wasn't known when I was researching ALICE, but having done a quick check, it seems to me it's quite cryptic, hasn't been authenticated, and doesn't at all add to the discussion of Dodgson's relationship with Alice. You have to remember it was a different time; Victorians dearly loved to discuss romance but acting upon it was often quite another matter; and Dodgson, like all of the dons at Oxford, took vows of celibacy as he was expected to be a member of the clergy, as well. While we will never know for sure, I find it difficult to believe he was very physical. He clearly struggled with conflicting thoughts and emotions - this is obvious in his diaries - but beyond that, we'll never know for sure.


What’s interesting to me, too, is how sympathetic Dodgson is in the book. We understand and feel for him, even though we know something is clearly off. Although his interest in her is peculiar (and John Ruskin’s is truly creepy), instead of taking her innocence, Dodgson actually gave her a great gift, immortalizing her in Wonderland, so in a way, she would not ever grow old. I’m wondering, what do you think would change with the public’s appreciation of Wonderland if it were discovered that Dodgson did indeed molest Alice? Or do you think it is easy to separate a great artist from not-so-great actions?


To me the relationship between Dodgson and Alice is truly complex, as most relationships are. I think they were two very lonely people who found each other at a particular time and what resulted because of this was both beautiful - it gave the world Wonderland, after all - and tragic, in that they were both forever changed and in some ways, denied happiness, because of their early devotion. I was never interested in portraying Dodgson as simply a predator and Alice as simply a victim; the truth is always more complex than that. The truth is we never know everything about those who give us beloved art, literature, music, etc., no matter what we might think. Yet we still enjoy the gifts they have given, all the same.


The great Victorian art critic John Ruskin figures prominently in the book. I remember reading inParallel Lives about his thwarted marriage to Effie (according to that book, seeing her naked so horrified him that he could not consummate his marriage.) What do you think it was about Victorian England that made so many of these literary figures (Jonathan Swift also had an aversion to grown women) appalled by adult females and so interested in little girls?


It's interesting, isn't it? That two men who never seemed to have healthy relationships with adult females would both be captivated by Alice Liddell? I have to think that again, the Victorians so romanticized love and the role of women that for some, the physical reality was just too much to handle. Thus they found it easier to perhaps focus on younger girls who had not yet hit puberty, preferring to extend the fantasy of the pure, ethereal idea of love and romance rather than earthly, physical reality of it.


Your notes about the research were as fascinating as the book itself—primarily about the torn diary page from Dodgson the day the split between him and Alice occurred and a cryptic remark by Alice’s sister Ina, in the beginning of the novel, in a letter, intimating that Dodgson had grown too affectionate? Can you talk about the research process, about what surprised you and what you expected? And what do you think was on that missing diary page?


Since I was most interested in following Alice Liddell beyond Wonderland, through to the end of her long, fascinating life, I enjoyed seeing the world change through her eyes. I have always been interested in the Victorian era and beyond; my interest in history really begins there. Previous eras don't fascinate me as much. So I had a very good working knowledge of all the changes Alice herself faced; gaslights to electric lights; horse and buggy and train to the automobile and even airplane; corsets to bobbed hair. Researching all that was great fun. I also enjoyed learning about Oxford; I knew very little about it, its traditions, history, architecture. Naturally I researched Lewis Carroll's life, but remembered always that my book was Alice's story, so we could only know what Alice herself knew about him. As I said above, as I learned more about Alice Liddell herself, I was very surprised to see the other figures from history that she knew well as the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church; John Ruskin, the Prince of Wales, Prince Leopold. She truly lived in a privileged world.


Others have speculated about what the missing pages of the diary might say; there is one scholar who recently claimed to have found them, although this is disputed. What most interested me was merely the fact that, 150 years later, we still find the relationship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson so fascinating. And we will never have all the answers.


In the book, there’s a great scene where the real Alice meets the real Peter Pan, and while he hates the mantle, she is now able to embrace it, which is a monumentally poignant moment. Would you say that Alice’s growing up, becoming an adult, something Dodgson seemed unable to do, was her salvation?


Yes, definitely. That unflappable, wise little girl in the books was already a miniature adult. Or as I say in the book, "A man who fancied himself a child and a child who thought she was a woman turned to each other on a hot summer day, mindful of nothing, no one, but each other" - that, to me, sums up their relationship perfectly.


You mention the other Alice narratives, Dreamchild, a fabulous film and Katie Roiphes’ book Still She Haunts Me.How do you feel those works act as companion pieces to your book? Do you disagree with any of the material?


I've not seen the film. Initially I did not read the Roiphe book, not until long after I turned in Alice I have Been. I can't agree or disagree with it as it's fiction; obviously it's not the story I wanted to tell, the story I saw in the eyes of that little girl in the original photograph, or the story I saw in the eyes of the wonderful, wise old lady in the photograph of Alice taken near the end of her life. That was my Alice, and it was her entire life story I wanted to tell. The story of this remarkable little girl who grew up to be an equally remarkable old lady, and all the things she was denied yet all the ways in which she ultimately survived - and it all begins and ends with Wonderland.

1/18/10

Why I love Facebook...

Picture this. It was Saturday night and l was at my desk...stuck. The three pages that came out of me the day before had led me to a new dead end, and I was struggling to get anything on the page. I had been at it for hours and all I had to show for it, was one lousy sentence. Worse, I had no idea what I was writing, or where I was writing to. I was in the horrible middle of my novel and feeling completely at a loss. And so I went on Facebook and lamented about what a bitch the middle of my novel is. And out of cyberspace came a laugh out loud comment from a brilliant writer friend who is going through the exact same thing. I can not tell you how much that meant to me. To be able to laugh, to know that I was not alone, to go back and forth detailing our frustrations and referring to our middles as a belligerent drunk (mine), a souped up on carbs bully (hers), and then to have my dear friend and writing mentor weigh in on the whole matter with amazingly reassuring comments, was such a gift. Writing is lonely and hard and can be so frustrating, especially when you are stuck. Facebook has allowed me to make "friends" with so many other writers, some of us from class, some friends of friends, and it has allowed me to build and maintain a great community, who I can discuss the process with and cry out to, so that I never have to feel like I am wading out there in the dark alone.

And if you ever want to reach out from your writing desk and need a friend to talk to...know that I am only a Facebook friend request away!

1/15/10

Your Journey...


I love to travel. I love the experience of going to a new place and seeing how people in a different city/country/continent live. What do they wear? What do they eat? What do they see? Of course there are many similarities, but there are also so many differences. I know that there is a Starbucks or a Gap in every country, but what about going beyond places like these, and discovering the mom and pop shops, the places the locals go, the things the locals do, the must see spots that you might only know are must see, if you already know someone who lives there? And what about sleeping in the dessert, climbing a waterfall, sailing across the Caribbean in your own boat? How do you find out how to do that?

Well, that is where Your Journey comes in. They will help you plan the kind of trip that you want to take. Safariing in South Africa? The best Gelaterias in Italy? A chance to witness the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan in the spring? No matter what your wildest travel dreams, Anna and Karl will plan the whole trip for you. Karl and Anna each have more than 20 years experience in the travel business and, combined, they have visited all seven continents and traveled in over 80 countries, so they know what they are doing! Or, if you are a control freak that can't remove themselves from the process entirely (guilty), but just aren't sure what exactly you want to do, then they will work with you as travel coaches!

I know for me every place that I have ever gone to has informed my work in some way or another. Whether it was taking a day trip up to Solvang or going to Italy, the time away has stayed with me long after the days spent there themselves. It's no surprise that the protagonist of my new novel travels to Italy, and also Africa. Although she doesn't go on a safari, see the spring fashion shows in Paris, or scuba in Costa Rica...hmmmm....might be time for a call to Your Journey.

1/14/10

Love it....

I am slammed these days...in a good way. I have a fabulous copywriting gig with fabulous people, and my first novel is making the rounds with publishers, I am halfway through the draft of my second novel and I am on my final course before graduating from UCLA's Writer's Program in the spring. It's all good and I couldn't be happier to be able to do what I love doing. But it does mean lots of work and less play, and the patience and understanding of friends. Luckily, I am blessed with great supportive friends. In fact my friends and neighbors downstairs, after lamenting that we couldn't hang out more as I had been away all holidays, but understanding why with all my deadlines, surprised me with this great gift. Coffee mugs!! And as someone who could probably fill a pot of coffee these days if you wrung me out, they are perfect!

My friends have a great sense of humor, and I think that when things are busy or stressful, a great sense of humor is really essential to keep things in perspective. As a copy writer working for someone else, and as novelist workshopping my novel, not to mention as an actor auditioning, I get a lot of constructive criticism and it is important that I don't take any of it personally and keep striving for the good of the project. After all, how else would I grow? But my cheeky neighbors, have obviously given me this first mug for those long days when I might just feel like biting my tongue, and this second one makes me laugh. They know I love a good cocktail! And I love a good laugh. Just what I need for long, lucky days like these.

1/12/10

Another Great Interview!!



It's Tuesday and I am bringing you another amazing interview by Caroline Leavitt, with another amazing author.

Caroline is the award winning author of eight novels, most recently Girls in Trouble, which was a Booksense Selection and is now in its third printing. Look for her new book Pictures of You coming out from Algonquin this Spring 2010.




I admit I'm drawn to books about medical mysteries. Maybe it's because for one terrifying year, I had one of my own. Alice Eve Cohen's What I thought I Knewisn't so much a mystery as it is a journey about everything going wildly wrong. Her memoir is as funny as it is shocking, and I'm thrilled she agreed to answer my questions. (Thank you, Alice.)

The book begins with a shocker. You've been told you have a tumor, given all kinds of tests, only to discover that you are 6 months pregnant. I can't get my mind around the fact that this happened in New York City, home of the best doctors in the world. How could this be?

I think there were several doctors who were equally blinded. When my gynecologist did an internal exam, I told her all my symptoms, and she dismissed them--as did the gastroenterologist. I was examined multiple times over six months and I had a number of sonograms. I think it's like the ancient tale of the six blind men and the elephant. Each man examined one single part of the elephant without being aware of the big picture, and none could identify it as an elephant. Like the blind men, my doctors were examining me through the lens of their particular specialty, and were thus blind to the big picture: my gynecologist saw me as an infertile DES daughter and she never considered pregnancy. The gastroenterologist saw me only as a person with stomach problems, and so on. I sued my gynecologist because she made such huge errors, with such profound consequences. But at the same time, I don't think she or any of these doctors was a total moron.

Do how do you feel now about doctors?

That's a hard question. When I'm choosing doctors for my daughter, I use my parental intuition. I'm constantly weighing various options and wondering, when a doctor tells me something, is this the whole picture? I'm not a passive patient. I ask a lot of questions. I never wanted to repeat the 1950s experience my mother had when she was given DES to prevent miscarriage: the drug, routinely promoted as "the pregnancy vitamin," proved to be both ineffective and carcinogenic. You have to make sure the doctor is listening to you, taking your concerns seriously, and not looking at you as a bunch of statistics. I thought I'd learned that lesson well. I thought that an educated approach would protect me from this kind of medical malpractice. But everybody in our health care system is vulnerable.

Were you writing this as this was going on? And did the book change as events changed?

I was so not writing this book while the events were taking place! I was trying to survive. I was taking copious notes for a lawsuit and to keep track of medical issues. Part of my great sadness at the time was that I thought, " okay, I have no will to write anymore, no motivation. I'm too depressed, I have no more creativity. I just need to devout all of my attention to making sure my daughter's life has the best possible outcome." I had just completed an MFA program and had almost finished a novel, and then everything came to a grinding halt. I barely wrote anything for seven years.

One day, though, seven years to the day after I was sent for an emergency CAT scan, I walked to the part of Central Park where I walked that day seven years earlier. It was a brilliant sunny September day, just as it had been seven years before. It triggered memories. I went home and started to write. It was as if I had been asleep and just woke up.

What made you decide to structure the memoir the way you did?

For the first 6 months, I wrote with a kind of stream of consciousness. I didn't know at first that it would be a book. I thought it might be a collection of essays. I experimented with ways to capture the "what I know"
lists--which were my way of reassuring myself, in my most desperately confused moments, of the things I could count on, good or bad, the things I believed I knew, that I could hang my hat on, while the earth was giving way beneath my feet. I have to give credit to Microsoft word for the numbers formatting. Numbering the "what I know" lists heightened and stylized them; they became a repeated musical motif, with variations. These sections helped structure the storytelling by punctuating turning points.

After going through such an extraordinary experience, do you worry that the other shoe is going to drop or are you hopeful?

I do feel hopeful, though I do look over my shoulder to see if the Evil Eye is hiding in the shadows. There are reasons why there are these folkloric superstitions about the Evil Eye and other manifestations of fear and foreboding in every culture, because that's what life is like. Incredible joy one moment and then someone dies; shit hits the fan, and then things are great again. I don't know if I will ever extricate myself from what seems to be an ingrained fear that something terrible might happen, but I am enjoying this exciting year.

What are you working on now?

I've begun writing a new book. It's too early to talk about, except to say that it is a memoir. I'm also working on a couple of children's books--a picture book and a middle grade novel. And I'm delighted to report thatWhat I Thought I Knew is going to be a movie, penned by screenwriter Katie Ford whose film and TV credits include Miss Congeniality, Desperate Housewives, and Lifetime's Prayers for Bobby.

What's your daily life like and where do you write?

This fall has been mostly about my daughter's middle school application process. I pick up my daughter three days a week and hang out with her, and the other two days, she has a sitter. I have two places where I write. I wrote this book at a tiny wooden desk by the living room window. Now I divide my writing time between my home office and the Writers Room, a work space in Greenwich Village. I'm not the most methodical writer, so I don't have a set schedule, though mornings are my peak writing time.


What didn't I ask that I should have?


Is there humor in the book? Yes, yes and yes! Have you won any prizes? Yes! I just won the Elle's LettresGrand Prix for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.



1/11/10

A change of scenery...

After returning from two hectic weeks away and facing a mountain of work for the next few months that will keep us put, Jeff and I decided that we might as well change the look of our living room to freshen things up! Okay, I decided, Jeff obliged, our friends and neighbors got on board and gave us curtains, and pillows, muscle power, design advice and good cheer! We picked the new paint color on Saturday, started painting that afternoon, applied the second coat Sunday morning (Jeff is fast!) and had all the furniture in place last night. It feels like a whole new living room, and I love it. I spent the morning answering e-mails in the bright sunshine and basking in the beauty that is this new space. All our furniture looks different and the room feels different and it makes me really believe in that old saying that "sometimes a change is as good as a break".

In fact yesterday, I also changed scenery by working in a coffee shop, and the few hours that I was away from home, were so productive! New sights, new smells, new energy....and a new living room. I think this change has got me jazzed up, which is a good thing, because I have a lot of writing to do!

1/8/10

Catching up....

Reunited and it feels so good!

I hit the ground running on Wednesday. After a 12 hour journey to get to Los Angeles from Toronto...4 hours in security, 2 hours waiting for the plane, another 2 hours on the tarmac, luggage, car garage, and home, I was in bed at 3:00 am and up early for an audition. The audition went great, and even though I was incredibly tired, I was too tired to sleep, so I spent the day cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking and catching up with my neighbors before an early night to bed. Yesterday I spent the entire day in a fabulous brainstorming session with a fabulous new client that I am doing some copywriting work for. What a terrific welcome back!

Thankfully today is Friday, and I have no pressing obligations other than clearing out the 568 emails in my inbox, (I read them on my blackberry, but need to label and archive them), replying to a dozen or so folks, writing my 10 page novel treatment, and then hunkering down to turn out more pages. It is great to be at my desk in my office, the nerve center of all my creative activity. And it is great to have all of us, back together again.

1/5/10

A New Author Next week!!!

It has been one month since I launched the new and improved Sorell Says...and I am thrilled that people love the new look and format!! I especially love the Amazing Author interviews by Caroline Leavitt, that are posted every Tuesday. I love reading about another author's process, what inspires them, what plagues them, and what their brilliant minds come up with. If you haven't already, please check out the 3 great interviews that have been posted here.

Tonight I am blogging from the Toronto International Airport, having paid $10.00 for wi-fi, which should burn me more than it does, but after so much travel, I have gotten used to what I like to call the $25.00 airport visit; water, a sandwich and a magazine. This time, I was lucky enough to get a free lunch to go at one of my favorite restaurants in Toronto, Mocha Mocha (home of the yummiest and healthiest food ever! I could eat here 3 times a day!) and I didn't have room in my carry on for a magazine, thanks to the new safety rules that prohibit all but necessary items from the one bag you are allowed to take onto the airplane. So in fact, I managed to save money....Gina math.

This visit home was a fabulous one! Lots of friends and family and food and drink and work, and very little sleep. But I am heartened by what I have read in some of Caroline's Amazing Author interviews...that sometimes the work needs to germinate, and be fed if it is to grow. Here's hoping that my novel likes to be fed wine and chocolate and copious amounts of caffeine! If that is the case, then novel number 2 should be in good shape for my return to it.

L.A. Bound!!!

1/4/10

Traveling...

I am traveling tomorrow which means having to be at the airport 4 hours before my plane leaves, due to the man the news is dubbing "the underpants bomber". I am so glad that he was unsuccessful. I am so pissed that as a result of his attempt, traveling will be more of a nightmare than usual. It turns out that leaving the dogs in Los Angeles, was a good decision after all.

It has been a wonderful visit with my family here in Toronto. And it has been an exhausting one. I have had 3 freelance projects to do, I got sick for the first week and I have been doing my very best to see everyone, (never possible, no matter how much I schedule!) and have not even been able to touch the novel.

I am longing to get back to my writing. More than ever, I want to lock myself in my office and complete this second novel by the summer. It will be hard to do so, but I must try, and that means that some solitude is required. Of course I will have my writing buddies Mabel and Lily, to help me along...but I think that I just might institute a self imposed shut in. Good thing I love my office.

1/1/10

Happy New Years!!

2010. I have been trying to come up with a great catch phrase for 2010...and have yet to find one. There was take it to eleven in 2007, and it's gonna be great in 2008, and everything's fine in 2009...but the best we have found for 2010, comes from my brother in law, who suggested...it's gonna be Zen in 2010. Which is good, except that I am not feeling too Zen these days.

What I am feeling, is tired from all the lovely holiday visiting, kinda stressed about the fact that I have a Monday deadline for a project that I have yet to have the time to start, and anxious to get back to my second novel, which I hope to finish by this summer. I feel ready and I feel determined, determined to see my goals realized. All the ground work that I have been laying for the last few years is finally starting to pay off and I am feeling both a strong sense of accomplishment and also a resolve to take all of these projects and plans to the next level. I want to work more and write more. I want to love more and laugh harder. I want to be healthier and stronger. I want to keep on growing and learning and finding new adventures in this crazy, wonderful life.

And I will. I know I will. So maybe in that way, my brother in law is right...maybe it is gonna be Zen in 2010. Less worrying, more doing, and trusting that all the hard work is and will continue to pay off.

My New Year's resolution...Keep on. And what about you? Do you make resolutions? And if you do...care to share?
 
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