Amazing Author: Sheila Weller

Another Amazing Author interview from Amazing Author Caroline Leavitt!

Sheila Weller Talks about Girls Like Us, the MOVIE!

Didn't you just love Girls Like Us, the groundbreaking bio of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon? Exuberantly told, this book explored the lives of three of music's most important women in a way that was so irresistible that I was carrying around my copy until it was dog-eared. Sheila Weller is equally amazing. The writer of six books, two of them New York Times bestsellers, she also writes about social history for Vanity Fair and is a contributing editor at Glamour. Plus, frankly, she's one of the coolest and most interesting people I know. Thanks so much for being here on my blog, Sheila.

I absolutely adored Girls Like Us. The women in the book were such heroines to so many of us. I've read that the book is now going to be a film. Will Joni, Carole or Carly be a part of that at all?

Caroline, thank you so much! I am so gratified by the nerve the book seems to have struck. As someone who has been a writer since --- well, forever (I've never done anything else!)..., this was the thing I did that I want on my tombstone. I often say, "I wrote a family memoir, but this book is even more autobiographical than the memoir." Because I used Carole's, Joni's and Carly's lives and songs to probe the common journey so many of us took -- the women of the '60s generation.

As to your question: The producers and the studio will certainly want to use their songs, so, yes, the three women (or at least their representatives) will be a part of the process. I hope everything goes happily and smoothly in that regard. It's certainly an opportunity for these amazing icons to be deeply known to younger generations. When you think about it (and I do think about this...), it's still (sigh) the guys who are "ageless" and the women who are..."older." Paul McCartney plays to rave audiences of kids in their 20s, and President Obama and his wife and the entire Kennedy Center sang along with him to "Hey Jude" to bring the last Kennedy Center Honors to a raving close. Keith Richards had a critically and commercially acclaimed $7 million # 1 bestseller memoir. (And Eric Clapton a few years before.) James Taylor (the "boy" among my girls) just got a prestigious medal of honor from the president, performed at the inauguration, just played Carnegie Hall to unbelievable reviews, and, in the documentary -- Troubadours -- in which he and Carole were featured, it was he who was hagiographed. Then there's Bruce, Mick and Sting. Not to mention Dylan! Yet these three women are absolutely every bit as significant -- and beloved. And, in turning the big ship of the culture and in taking personal risks to create, they did, and risked, more than the guys! (How easy was it to be a rock n roll star-and-songwriter in the '60s and '70s and have loving, supportive girlfriends who made your life easy? VERY. How easy to be a -- well, just switch the gender and answer the question.) So I'm so very excited that the book will be a movie, and that the movie will bring their magic, their guts, and their beautiful, culture-defining music music to younger people who don't know them well, and who, apart from Mad Men, didn't know how young women had to stumble and then push through in some pretty emotionally and socially crimped circumstances.

I want people who weren't even born when they were creating Blue and Tapestry and "You're So Vain" (and we're talking 39 and 40 years ago) to walk out of the theater singing their songs, and appreciating those songs' triumphs and costs.

Whom do you envision playing each--if you had your druthers?

Well, of course, next to goofing around on Facebook and checking my Amazon numbers, what is more obsessive fun than "casting" this movie?! I've had a lot of different casting ideas, but here is what I've settled on and I'm sticking to it. (Please understand: I have absolutely NO say in the casting. NONE. Nada, zip.) But, anyway:

As Carole: Michelle Williams. She has a gravity, a solemnity, which was an ineffable part of Carole's resonance and appeal. Like Carole (who was a wife to a difficult, haunted, talented guy, Gerry Goffin; a mother, and a bill-paying # 1 hit writer before she was out of her teens), sensible, older-than-her-years Michelle's love affair with the haunted and excess-prone Heath Ledger left her young with a child when he tragically died -- and wiser and more responsible than her years. She wears that quality of premature adulthood; you can't miss it in her. She's a terrific actress, and doesn't play characters who suffer fools lightly (because she doesn't seem to in real life). When she is shocked by her own naivete and heartbroken (to wit, the scene in Brokeback Mountain when she understands that her husband is gay), she never seems shnookered or should-have-known-better. We are on her side with her broken heart. As it was with Carole, whose love choices were often the Achilles Heel of her otherwise prematurely mature decision making and competence, Williams has an easily-empathized-with dignity, in her life and her movie roles, that makes us take her side. She is never frivolous.

I just -- dearly! -- hope she can play a piano, and really play it. Because, more than voice, that's what Carole is and did and does. Piano -- gospel piano pounding -- is her first language.

As Joni: Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is a huge star among young audiences, and, having just moved to Beverly Hills, she is obviously working hard to turn her music stardom into a film equivalent. Like Joni, she has written famously guessed-about songs about her boyfriends. She is tall, lean, feminine, projects charisma/exhibitionism AND shy, ladylike decorousness...that was Joni in the mid-late '60s and even early 70s. Joni is the easiest to cast, in that, as complicated as she was and is (and, man!, she was and is), on first interpretation, she fills the archetype of the lovely, sensitive, long-blond-haired girl singer (Maybe because she created that archetype), so "indication" of that now-well-understood type goes a long way; the idioysyncracies can be filled in. There are more obvious Joni's than Caroles or Carlys among young actresses today. (Amanda Seyfried, Mia Wiakowska, Jennifer Lawrence, etc.) I'd like Taylor Swift -- a superstar and a lovely girl -- to embrace her Inner Joni (and what girl singer doesn;t have one?), take a ton of acting classes, and run with it, providing the highest-glow wattage for the ensemble, which will shine over the whole project. And, for those who say: But Taylor Swift's a country singer..., well, she's actually from Pennsylvania.

As Carly: Evan Rachel Wood. Carly, in my mind, was always the hardest to cast. For Carly, one needs a long, lean, strong-featured actress who can sing really well (Carly has the classically best voice of the three) and who oozes sexuality, wit, and a certain wacky, highly privileged, genially neurotic, predatory mischievousness. Three things qualify Evan Rachel Wood for this unique mix of prerequisites: (1) her singing in Across the Universe; (2) her years with Marilyn Manson (high points, Evan, for relishing the public's "ewww"-ing of that unexpected love affair). And (3) her a-fucking-mazing performance as Veda (the snooty, scheming, sex goddess daughter from hell) in Mildred Pierce. Case closed.

The book tied together these three lives so brilliantly, but I'm wondering if the film will be structured differently?

Thank you. I think they want to keep the alternating, layer-like quality of the book, where the stories are woven together. The producer-director, Katie Jacobs (the showrunner and often-director of TV's often Emmy nominated and hugely successful House) was give the book, shortly after it came out, by her sister, MIT History professor Meg Jacobs. So, from the first, she saw it as social history, not just entertainment. So does Amy Pascal, the co-head of Sony-Columbia Pictures, who is overseeing its production at the studio. The third in the production team is Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. (Lorenzo is one of the most accomplished and successful producers in Hollywood. When you saw the red-carpet pictures of Angelina Jolie at the Salt premiere and there was this...unknown but self-possessed big guy...in the picture with her -- just the two of them: that was Lorenzo.)

But I'm most excited about the selection of John Sayles to do the adaptation. Aside from being the original American auteur and the most respected, puts-his-money-where-his-mouth-is independent filmmakers in the country, he has such a deep, personally experienced sense of and respect for the '60s and '70s (among many other things, his Return of the Secaucus Seven was the template not only for The Big Chill...but, in a very real sense, for Carole's Tapestry circle of friends; and he did girls-at-[Carly's]-Sarah Lawrence in Baby It's You). And his work -- films and novels (by the way, he has a huge historical novel coming out...now) -- is invariably about the intersection of social-cultural moments with complex human beings who let us see, and sympathize with, all sides of their dilemmas and choices. I'm thrilled that he is adapting. Thrilled and honored.

How involved in the filmmaking process are you and has it been any sort of revelation for you? Does it feel like a new story you are telling now?

I don't think I'm going to be very involved, alas. Sayles, Jacobs, DiBonaventura, and Amy Pascal:They're all real pros, the top of their fields -- they know how to make movies. It's up to them to consult me if they want or need. They know where to find me -- and: I'm pushy, so if things go too long without me being consulted, I'll find a way to knock on that door. Happily, I'm secure -- and they're secure --- with the fact that I did so much original, source- attributed journalism on these women's lives, we have that part under control. ("Life rights" permission/acqusition for "public figures" has a legally lower bar than for non-public figures.) (Music rights: now, that's are another issue... and I will breathe a sigh of relief once that's taken care of.)

Do you think there's an appetite for this movie?

This may sound self-aggrandizing but...I really do. There was a magic, sexiness, integrity, and historical significance about that era and these women and their music that hasn't really been tapped. (Lisa Chodolenko's Laurel Canyon didn't have the expected magic. Todd Haynes's I'm Not There was too abstract. In its own way, I think Factory Girl came close, but critics unfairly panned it. For my money, Across The Universe hit it out of the park, but the young people in the audience I saw it with made snarky remarks while I nostalgically sobbed.) When we lift the veil here and there and see bits and pieces of the specialness of that time -- in Carole's and James's phenomenally successful summer 2010 concert tour, for example -- it's like, "Why have we been deprived of this for so long??" When a great musician biopic comes along -- Walk the Line or Ray -- it's an emotional experience like little else; it's a high. If that movie presents not just an era and a rise to success, but also real characters the audience can approvingly root for (and, unlike Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, these women were non-drug-abusing, consistently productive middle class girls) -- then that's an added bit of popcorn power.

As I said, I think people will walk out of the theater singing.
Now: We just have to get to that part!
Thanks so much for talking to me, Caroline. Readers can visit my book's website -- www.girlslikeusthebook.com -- and / or its companion music / media site:


The dirty R word...

Revisions. I've lamented about them before, and I am doing so again. I just got back notes on my manuscript, a fresh pair of eyes and a fresh perspective, and am looking forward to discussing them at length with the editor today.

It always takes a while to process new information and opinions about the work, especially when I have been living with it for so long. It's a delicate process, sifting through someone else's thoughts, feelings, taste and opinions. I spent the weekend transcribing every note on my manuscript, re-reading what I wrote, and looking for ways to satisfy the desires of all involved. As my husband and I like to say around here, it's a 'high class' problem, ( we stole that line from our friend Jud!) polishing your manuscript so that your dedicated and supportive agent, can start shopping your debut novel with the intention of finding a great publisher!

I'm lucky to have so much support around me, great writer friends, a fabulous mentor, an amazing agency on my side and an editor who is really looking to help me make this book the best it can be.

Now, I'd just love 2 more months of uninterrupted writing time, and for time to stand still. I know, give me an inch...

Happy Monday!


Where does the time go? And Tayari Jones

I've been nutty and computer averse lately, so apologies for the week delay! I am about to start another revision, have a manuscript to read, a script pitch to develop, and a new novel that I need to figure out. Alas, it no time to be wanting to avoid my computer and office!

In the meantime, please enjoy another Amazing Author Interview, by Amazing Author, Caroline Leavitt!

Tayari Jones talks about Silver Sparrow

I first met Tayari at an Algonquin reading at AWP. To say I was enthralled listening to her read is putting it mildly, but what I loved even more was how spirited she was, how generous (this woman sets off sparks.) I took an instant liking to her--and to her novel, Silver Sparrow. Her debut novel, Leaving Atlanta, about the child murders in Atlanta, is being made into a film and was named one of the best novels of 2002 by both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Washington Post. Silver Sparrow, about a bigamist, about daughters, about love and loyalty, is the number one indie pick for June. Tayari is also an associate professor at the prestigious MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.

Thank you so, so much for being a part of my blog, Tayari.

I love the secret that is at the heart of Silver Sparrow: two daughters share a bigamist father. What’s the backstory behind this idea? What sparked the writing?

I feel like I should always start by saying my father is not a bigamist. But that said, I do have two paternal sisters who didn’t grow up with me. I have always been interested in this idea of sisters who don’t grow up together. Me and my sisters are ten years apart in age, and they are not secret, but there is still this divide. I have recently realized that all my novels involve a sister who is far away. In a way, isn’t that the fantasy—that somewhere our there, you have a sister, an ally, but you just don’t know it. Of course, in this story there is so much between the sisters that the idea that they will be friends is unrealistic, but the impulse to try.. Or the burning curiosity to know.. who can resist that?

The structure of the novel is as complex as it is riveting. What made you decide to tell the novel from two voices? What problems did you encounter in the writing process?

Since the sisters have two different worlds—one lives in the shadows and one lives what she thinks is a normal life—there was no way a single narrator could get the job done. My idea was to use FOUR narrators. I wanted both wives and both daughters. But then I decided that the daughters could tell their mothers’ stories. The biggest challenge as a writer was making the voices different. The girls have SO MUCH in common that they have a lot of the same speech issues. And they even have the same dad so they share a lot of references. I wanted it so when you turn to the first page of Chaurrisse’s chapter, you immediately know that you aren’t with Dana any more. I had to revise and revise and revise to get it right!

Silver Sparrow has this indelible sense of time and place—so much so that Atlanta seems to be a character itself. What made you choose Atlanta during the 80s as your setting?

Well, first off—I am a Georgia Peach! I was born in downtown Atlanta and most of my work is set in my hometown. The city is changing so much with “urban renewal”, etc. So writing about the city as it was, feels sometimes like an act of preservation. Many of the settings of the novel aren’t even there anymore. And many of the places aren’t the sort of settings that would be immortalized in literature; I mean who cares where seventeen year old black girls hung out in 1987? Who would erect a commemorative plaque? Me, I guess.

Besides being an incredible writer, you also teach. How does teaching inform your writing (and vice versa?)

Teaching really cuts both ways. The plus side is that always talking about writing, means I am always thinking about writing. Working out the kinks in my students stories really helps me be more conscious in working out the challenges in my own work. But the down side is that talking about writing is not the same thing as writing. I get hardly any work done in the school year. I feel so lucky though—next year, I will be at the Radcliffe Institute on fellowship. No teaching for me, just writing.

The ubiquitous question: What are you working on now and how is it a different challenge than Silver Sparrow?

The new book is historical and I have never written anything that has happened before my lifetime. It’s set in the 1930s. I don’t want to say too much because I am superstitious, but I am so nervous about this challenge. I worry that my ambition may be greater than my ability. When I was in high school, there was this huge sign in the lobby that said, “Not failure, but low aim, is sin.” I am trying to keep that in mind.

What are you reading these days?

Pictures of You, of course.


Refilling the well...

This past week I have been itching to write...something. I got my 7th revision of my romantic comedy script approved, my novel is in the hands of a great editor and ready for a fresh set of eyes to give it the once over and after helping several of my writer friends with their projects, (always a pleasure and an honor), I wanted to work on something new. So I returned to some pages that I had started for my new novel. I have about 10 that I really like. I like the voice, I like the tone, I like the innerlife of the character whom it is about but I don't like that I have a sinking feeling right now at the beginning that it is not enough. I know that it is too early to judge, but at the same time, having written 2 novels and deciding to lead with one, and leave the other in a drawer for now, and having done the same thing with my screenplays, I am painfully aware that good writing, even great writing is not enough.

What is the plot? What is the hook? What is obsessing me enough to sustain me through the next 2-3 years of writing, through all the revisions and debates over story and structure and what it is that I am trying to say and why it needs to be said and sent out into the world to be read? It is a huge task writing a novel and it is also a monumental responsibility to write one that deserves a big life outside of my office. Alas, I find myself on familiar, yet shaky ground, and know that I need to press pause and allow my well to be refilled. I have to read and watch and listen and allow my mind to wander to places that are murky and muddled and trust that somewhere in there, a line, or character or image will surprise me and light the tiniest of flames that will lead me out of the writing darkness.

Sigh. This is the hard part. But it is infinitely easier than getting 100 pages or 300 hours in and realizing that I need to go back to the drawing board. Deep breaths.


Breakfast for lunch...

We had dear friends visiting from Toronto over for Brunch today and enjoyed oatmeal, homemade vegan scones, greek yogurt, berries and coffee! Everything was really yummy, but the company was the best....Jessica Tinkler who wrote The Plan (featured on this weeks amazing authors) and her husband Rob were our guests.

Jessica is an AMAZING cook, and she really liked my scones, which is a huge compliment!! I was so happy that she liked them, that I gave her what was left to enjoy on the plane.

Keeping the breakfast theme going I had it again, for lunch- Steelcut Oatmeal, blueberry greek yogurt and fresh berries. So delicious! Although I must admit that even though I spent lunch at my desk, I have spent most of my day reading outside...glorious. A much needed day off to recharge my batteries.

Have a great weekend!


Pure Love

I am loving these products lately. One of the bad things about sitting at my desk writing all day is that I am always in front of my computer. And the more I stay inside, the harder I find it to tear myself away from my computer to do things like run errands and just basically leave the apartment. As a result of a lot of deadlines, I've been reluctant to leave my office and have started to explore the world of online shopping...dangerous! Although I am happy that I did, because I found this great website! My sister had given me one of their products for my birthday and I loved it. They are all natural, vegetarian, organic, smell delicious, feel great and are really reasonably priced...and they DELIVER!! Check them out, at 100% Pure.

I'm hooked. Now if only Trader Joes would deliver, I may never have to leave my office!
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