Monday, December 30, 2013

STILL WRITING


Review of STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF A CREATIVE LIFE by DANI SHAPIRO
(based on a review copy)

I subscribe to the idea that writing discussions divide relatively easily into three categories: craft, business, and philosophy. STILL WRITING falls in the latter category: a collection of numerous, very brief essays (1-4 pages each) in which Shapiro muses about her writing philosophies. Though divided into three parts (Beginnings, Middles, and Ends), I found the categories rather arbitrary; most essays could be moved to either of the other labels. In fact, a reader could easily peruse this book at random without losing any necessary context. I’m a front cover to back cover type of reader, but if you like a little more originality try flipping the book open to any page and reading the nearest essay. I read most of STILL WRITING in one day, but in retrospect the essays are probably better absorbed here and there, piece by piece.

I felt a teeny bit skeptical when I first started this book. As a writer, I naturally love books about writing, but the only thing I dislike about writing books is when the author assumes all writers must be the same as him or her. I wouldn’t say Shapiro generalizes about all writers so much as focuses on her experiences (lending a memoir taste). I nodded along, laughed aloud, or even noted the page number of certain essays that resonated, but I also shook my head or mentally grumbled at others, thinking, “Well, I’m not like that.” Of course, I didn’t shake my head very often and, as I kept reading, my opinion of the book rose more with each new essay that had me nodding along.

I’ll only mention one of my disagreements first and then move on to far more examples of essays that I loved. In one piece, Shapiro writes about a friend who published a book about her family’s secrets. The book became very successful, but her family - not to mention many friends, acquaintances, and strangers - resented the author for this perceived betrayal. In an interview, the woman said that we don’t choose our stories, that our stories choose us. Shapiro extrapolates on her friend’s quote with obvious admiration, but I strongly disagree with that sentiment. Now I don’t want to be sidetracked by the particular writer. I’m not standing in judgment on the rightness or wrongness of her decisions, but rather I take issue with that viewpoint. To me, saying stories write themselves is deflecting responsibility. Of course, writers choose their stories. Sure, we don’t choose our inspiration. We might feel inspired to write or publish a particular story, but that hardly means we must. We decide whether or not to turn inspiration into action.

Now on to the positives and, believe me, I have plenty of them. In “Habit,” Shapiro discusses the necessity of making yourself write everyday. A writing career requires discipline and sometimes you won’t feel like writing but once you sit down and write you find that changes. “Being Present,” as it sounds, focuses on being present in the moment and taking in every sensory detail. This is useful as a writer, but especially important as a person. “Next” compares writing a book to having a baby, an inevitable, arguably cliché metaphor, but if it pops up everywhere that’s because it’s so apt. I also like what Shapiro says about paying attention to the senses and individual tics. I, too, count those things as vital in distinguishing characters from people.

“Corner” utilizes another perhaps cliché metaphor to which I relate strongly nonetheless: the jigsaw puzzle metaphor. I like Shapiro’s advice: build a corner. It’s easy to look at all those pieces and feel overwhelmed, but most skilled puzzlers fixate on some trend and work from there. I had just finished a 1500-piece puzzle the day I read this essay, so perhaps that’s part of the reason I hopped aboard with the comparison so readily!

In “A Short Bad Book,” Shapiro emphasizes the importance of writing without, well, overthinking the importance of your writing. She shares a story about a writer friend who declared she would write a short, bad book to pull herself from a slump. Freed from any expectations about that book being great, writing it felt easier…and then it went on to become a bestseller. In contrast, Shapiro recalls a time when The New Yorker invited her to contribute. When she started thinking about how good everyone would expect the piece to be, she felt paralyzed by the expectations. 

I really connected with “Patience,” which exemplifies the virtues of, yes, patience. When a writing student asked Shapiro for career advice, she told her to wait. Her writing was good, but not quite ready yet. The student submitted her work anyway, soon landed an agent, and not long after that snagged a two-book deal. Other students in the class felt awed, overshadowed, bitterly jealous, heartbroken - some all at once. The student’s first book, once released, received minimal attention and an overall “eh” response. Many critics agreed that it’s good…not great and could easily pick out the flaws. That writer has yet to publish her second book many years later. Meanwhile, many of the other students in that class, some once so disheartened by someone else’s apparent fast track to success, have become accomplished writers. I myself am a big believer in patience, especially in relation to a writing career. Publishing takes a lot of determination and time. One question always makes the wait easier, for me at least. I ask myself, “If I knew for a fact that I would never be published, would I still write?” (I’m happy to say that question needs tweaking as I am published now, but it’s still the same concept: “If I knew for a fact that I would never be published again, would I still write?”) The answer is a resounding, don’t-have-to-think-about-it, what-kind-of-question-is-that “YES!” Writers who want to publish their work often feel a desperation to see results ASAP, but it’s all part of the process. At a stage when people are rejecting your work, you can learn from their critiques. As long as you keep writing, you will continue to improve your craft. As Shapiro points out, it’s not a race and there’s no finish line.

I also really enjoyed “Envy.” Shapiro comes right out and acknowledges how hard it is admitted her own envy and how she didn’t even want to write or include this essay because envy is so ugly and shameful. She opens with an anecdote about her agent who had another client on The New York Times bestseller list - number three on the list. At first I assumed this would be an essay about Shapiro’s own envy over her colleague’s accomplishment, but instead we learn how this seemingly successful author obsessed over the writers placing in the two spots above her. This led Shapiro to the realization that envy will never be satisfied. There’s always more to covet. Even if that author earned the number one bestseller spot, perhaps she wouldn’t be there for as long as another author. Or perhaps her book won’t win any awards. Or maybe it wins lots of awards, but not that award. Envy has an insatiable hunger. Best not to feed it.

Quite a few of these essays revolve around quotes from other writers. Three of those jumped out at me. There’s E.L. Doctorow’s classic comparison between writing and driving down a dark road in the fog. You can’t see very far, but if you continue forward slowly and carefully you reach your destination. Shapiro uses this as a reminder that many authors think every other author must have a better idea of where their story is going, but the truth is that most writers don’t know; most writers trudge through some kind, some level of fog.  In “Channel,” Shapiro shares Martha Graham’s insistence that there is no satisfaction ever in writing, that dissatisfaction is a key to creation and growth…though painful for the individual. My favorite, though, is Dorothy Parker’s “I hate writing. I love having written.” Writing is sometimes fun and sometimes challenging. If it’s a hobby, you can only write when it’s fun for you and skip over whatever you don’t enjoy, but if it’s a job you’ll have to face the challenging bits eventually. Sometimes the joy of writing is in the act, but other times it’s in the product: when you struggled and suffered through a problem you doubted you could fix…and finally you did.

I want to end on the core of this discussion: why? In “Ambition,” Shapiro shares an application from a startlingly egotistical student as a lead in to the only reason to become a writer: because you have to. If I had to pick out one piece of advice from all the writing advice out there, it’s that. You need to write because you need to write. A writing career has plenty of negative aspects (despite media portrayals). The only thing that will keep you going is a love of writing. Those who want to publish because they have delusions of money or fame filter out in the literary world. Expounding on this, the essay “Still Writing” addresses that common question writers (and most creative people) dread: “So are you still writing?” I’m sure that, to a degree, we writers are oversensitive about this. Most of these encounters come from people you don’t know too well and who don’t know you too well. Most likely they’re merely trying to grasp how your life might have changed since you last spoke. Oversensitive or not, though, there’s a subtext to that question, an implication that there’s a reason - in their mind, at least - that you might not be writing any longer. On the innocent end, maybe they think your interests or priorities changed. Or perhaps they have opinions they’re projecting: it’s not a sensible “job,” your work isn’t very good, you’re clearly not successful enough, books are boring. Because writing is so important to me, that question “Are you still writing?” is like asking “Are you still breathing? Do you still do that?” If I’m alive, I’m still writing!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Art of Reading: Own vs. Borrow


The Art of Reading: Own vs. Borrow

All bibliophiles have at least one thing in common: the love of books. Still, as I'm reminded every time I talk to another reader, that doesn't mean we express our affection for the written word in exactly the same way. I'm referring to how we read.

This post's theme: owning versus borrowing books. Any preference?

When people define themselves as bibliophiles, some mean they enjoy the act of reading and others mean they covet books as physical objects. Plenty mean both! I fall in the latter category: I love reading as much as possible but I also like owning plenty and plenty of books.

This steers away from a simple bookish conversation into other mindsets and philosophies about property and hoarding, among other things. I don’t own every book I ever read. I would be buried alive! I borrow from the library and friends and I always give away books I didn’t like - no point in those taking up space. Still I have a lot of books and when I one day buy a house I certainly want my own library.

This sounds like it’s a print book specific conversation, but collecting habits sneak into ebooks, too. I know people who delete ebooks from their ereaders after finishing them; they don’t want anything superfluous taking up space, regardless of how much space is available. I also know people who amass ebooks to a ridiculous extent. They crowd their ereader with near as many books as it can hold, even if they have absolutely no intention of ever reading many of them.

How about you? Do you prefer to own or borrow a book? Why? If it’s circumstantial, what makes the decision?  

Monday, December 23, 2013

IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME?


IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? (AND OTHER CONCERNS) by MINDY KALING

This book lingered on the fringe of my to-read list for a while. From what little I know, Kaling seems like an interesting person, but I only know a little and I suppose I worried her biography would mostly appeal to those obsessed with either her or The Office. I read and heard things about or quotes from her that kept drawing my attention back to her memoir, but what finally sold me was this online article with quotes about her pet peeve interview question. The question: Where do you get your confidence?” And her interpretation of the subtext: “You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?” I, for one, hardly think she’s being oversensitive. Her statements on that topic struck a chord and I bought her book only a few days later.  

Given the marketing, it’s no surprise that the book’s funny. Kaling had me chuckling aloud more than once and often with jokes made even more entertaining because the humor wraps around an insightful truth. Also, she scores major honesty points with this memoir. I can’t imagine laying myself open for strangers as much as she does here - from sharing painful memories to embarrassing confessions. 

Perhaps due to both the humor and the honesty, the wisdom kind of sneaks up on you. I marked one quote early on in the book: “One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.” It’s not a new revelation, but it’s a mindset with which I’ve always strongly agreed. And I found many more perceptive tidbits scattered within the jokes and recollections. 

My only struggle with the book is all the celebrity names. On the spectrum of how invested people are in celebrities, I’m hovering very close to the “not at all” extreme. What I do know I tend to pick up either from the covers of magazines while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store or from friends who care more about this stuff than I do. So not only do I not care when one celebrity starts dating another etc, but I usually don’t even know who either of those people are. I found the book peppered with dozens of names I didn’t recognize, though I acknowledge that most people are far more well-versed in this arena than myself.

It’s not so much a criticism as an observation, but there’s not much continuity - or even transitions - between the chapters in this book. This feels more like a collection of essays and each could be subtitled “Mindy’s thoughts on [fill in the blank]” - a collection of sometimes random but nevertheless entertaining musings.

There’s very little about The Office in here. Not a point of complaint for me, but Kaling’s still primarily recognized for her role as Kelly and I expect many people gravitate towards this memoir for that reason. So if you’re expecting a kind of insider’s guide to The Office chock full of cast and backstage trivia, you’ll be disappointed. In my opinion, though, what you get instead is something far more worthwhile.

Friday, December 20, 2013

BLACK POWDER WAR


Review of BLACK POWDER WAR by NAOMI NOVIK
(third in the TEMERAIRE series)
The short review of this is simple: if you liked the first book you'll like the latter ones and if you didn't you won't. In some ways, it's all same old same old, but for those enjoying the content that's a virtue not a flaw.
The end of THRONE OF JADE left Laurence and Temeraire ready to leave China. BLACK POWDER WAR swerves away from any likely predictions with a surprise mission for our beloved duo. From there, nothing goes as planned and everything becomes far more complicated than it originally sounded...and some things sounded plenty complicated already.
I had no trouble getting back into this world, because I adore the characters. There's a huge cast, but Laurence and Temeraire remain the stars and ever worthy of my loyalty. Temeraire is perhaps the most charming dragon I've encountered. I'm immeasurably jealous of his knack for picking up new languages. (I comfort myself with the fact that he's fictional.) Despite his intelligence, though, he often misses human social cues, a trend that provides plenty of entertainment. Laurence lives by a strong sense of ethics and concepts such as honor, duty, and courtesy practically become characters in their own right in this series. In fact, Laurence has such a steadfast sense of honor that he passes over a huge potential victory in BLACK POWDER WAR because it clashes with his understanding of right and wrong. I'm avoiding spoilers, but I felt thoroughly involved in the story at that point. I related to Lawrence and wanted to argue with him at the same time. His decision actually makes a great ethical conundrum perfect for posing to a group for discussion. 
After seeing how dragons in China live differently than those in Britain, Temeraire wants better treatment for his peers back in Europe. This turns into an overarching plot line through the series and has become a source of friction between Laurence and Temeraire. Laurence understands Temeraire's desires, but worries the dragon doesn't realize how much effort, time, and resources some of his desires would require. More importantly, though, Laurence's sense of honor tells him it's disloyal to demand more from your country when you're in the middle of a terrible war and his sense of logic that overcoming any kind of prejudice takes far longer than Temeraire's willing to wait.

In some ways each book in this series feels like only a chapter, but I had trouble articulating why in my review of THRONE OF JADE. Now I realize it's because the series has such a wide story arch. So many plot lines stretch across numerous books rather than within one. Laurence and Temeraire's debate over dragon rights, for example, doesn't make that much progress within BLACK POWDER WAR. They discuss their opinions near the start of the book, then find themselves quite...preoccupied, and then continue the discussion near the end, but they're far from any definitive course of action. I hope we do see them strive for change, but I expect that might not happen for a few more books.
There's far more warfare in this third book than the earlier two. Unfortunately for Laurence and Temeraire, they often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, always in the middle of disputes. Not so bad if they can play the neutral party, but more often than not both sides wind up their enemy, or at least not particularly friendly or helpful.

This series continues to surprise me with how invested I am. At pivotal emotional moments, I’m startled by how much I feel every twist. I can’t help wanting Novik to go easy on Laurence and Temeraire, because I love them so much!

Monday, December 16, 2013

CATHRYN CONSTABLE


Interview with CATHRYN CONSTABLE
Cathryn Constable is a journalist whose articles have appeared in Tatler and the London Sunday Times among other publications. THE WOLF PRINCESS is her first novel. She is married with three children and lives in London, England. 
What are you reading right now?
TIME REBORN by Lee Smolin. Smolin is a physicist and is arguing (I think) for the laws which govern the universe to operate within time. I’m also reading a biography of Sir Isaac Newton. Physics is on my mind.
What first sparked your interest in writing?
Reading. 
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
When I’m alone and in my study and writing, even if I’m not particularly pleased at what I’m writing, I feel content. I think I’ve always had a ‘Rapunzel’ complex...a tower, solitude, no interruptions.
The thing I like least is when I can’t get to my desk. I’m really happiest in my own world.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
I have a pinboard at home and I find images in magazines or on tumblrs that I find interesting. I can’t say why they attract me, and I don’t ask. I print them out and put them up and somehow, even though they might start off being quite disparate, a pattern starts to emerge. For example, on my pinboard at the moment are images of a velvet manicure, a carved angel, a girl in school uniform standing in an open window, and a sheet of alchemical symbols. When I start writing, I don’t necessarily know how these things fit together, but after spending some time thinking about them, a pattern emerges. 
I aim to write every day (of course); the minute the house is empty, I make a cup of coffee and sit down at my desk. At the moment, the day goes very quickly because I am writing a first draft of my second novel, THE WHITE TOWER. There are times during the day when things are light and easy and the work seems to shape itself; other times it is like doing Geography homework (with apologies to any Geographers). I’ve learned not to get panicked when things get a bit sticky: usually it means I’m not paying attention properly and need to slow down and listen and watch. 
What are your passions?
My family. It’s odd because having children really does scupper you when it comes to writing. However, becoming a mother is an extraordinarily creative process, too. You have to pay attention really closely, which I think is good preparation for writing. 
I read pretty much constantly...I would feel quite agitated without a book. But there are so many things I’m interested in. Basically, if you pay attention to anything it becomes fascinating.
What inspires you?
I’m not sure what inspires me. I know that I feel a sort of shiver of excitement whenever I encounter something wonderful...That might be a sentence someone has written or a piece of music. But I can become quite excited over a cup of coffee in the sunshine on a winter’s morning. 
Why middle reader?
When you remember your own ten- or eleven-year old self, I think you probably have the purest expression of yourself. It’s that extraordinary transition from childhood to more than childhood and what happens to your mind and imagination in that time is quite remarkable. Also, I’m not sure I could write about diamonds, white wolves, and orphans in a way that would be appealing to an adult and if that was what I wanted to write about, it seemed writing for middle grade readers was a safer option. 
How was THE WOLF PRINCESS born?
I read to my children a lot when they were younger. I found copies of the books I had enjoyed and it was a really lovely way to rediscover those stories. But we read a lot of current writers, too. Also, in my own reading, I had given up on almost everyone other than the Russians. I can’t say why, but nothing else appealed to me. So without realising it, I started writing a children’s story set in Russia.
Did THE WOLF PRINCESS require a lot of research?
I did spend some time looking at photographs of forgotten Russian palaces, but I think that was probably the only specific research I did. The rest of it came from years of reading that was not done as research.
The WOLF PRINCESS feels magical even though it’s not fantasy. Is that deliberate?
I didn’t make a conscious decision to make the novel feel magical. I wrote what I would have loved to have happened to me at that age. I think one of the disappointments of being a grown up is that there are no diamonds in the chandelier. 
Did any specific fairy tales or folklore influence THE WOLF PRINCESS?
I collect old books of fairy tales, often because the illustrations are so beautiful. There is one Russian tale, Snegourochka, the Snow Maiden, which I think is one of the saddest stories ever... I used a quote from it in the book... but really, there was no one tale in particular. 
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read.

Friday, December 13, 2013

DOG ON IT


Review of DOG ON IT by SPENCER QUINN
(first in the CHET AND BERNIE mysteries)

I rarely read mystery novels. When I do, I usually pick cozy mysteries rather than gritty ones, often with a specific theme that appeals to me. I’m obsessed with books and dogs, so when I read a mystery it almost always features books or dogs.

In the case of Spencer Quinn’s series, DOG ON IT and sequels are narrated by a dog. I can be critical of dog narrators. It’s always tricky anthropomorphizing something, because you have to decide how human they should be versus how much their original self. Dog narrators irritate me when they feel purely human despite the author’s insistence that they’re a dog. I like to see some differences in thinking pattern. Even if it’s doubtless not how a dog thinks, I don’t want it to be how most humans think. My little tangent aside, this book’s dog narrator - Chet - worked for me. He’s funny and charming and provides a very interesting, not to mention amusing perspective. Chet picks up on important clues, but either doesn’t know how to communicate the information to his owner, the private investigator Bernie…or gets sidetracked by food or good smells. He also tunes out observations that might be interesting to a human but aren’t to a dog, like when Bernie asks if a women is married. We don’t find out the answer, because we’re in Chet’s perspective, he doesn't care, and he stops listening to the conversation. Also he has a tendency to fall asleep when Bernie goes to interview someone so he’s likely to share the beginning and the end of Bernie’s conversation but we know there’s a good chunk missing. 

In this first installment in the series, Bernie’s hired to track down a missing teenage girl. As I imagine must be the case for many police officers and private investigators alike, Bernie has to wade through all the lies, misinformation, and contradicting stories to figure out what’s really going on.

The whole book had me glued to the page, though the novel ends rather abruptly with a dramatic showdown followed by a mere page and a half of summation. I’ll be interested to see if later books follow this pattern of ending pretty much at the climax or if I can expect more wind down.  

I found this a fun read and a nice palate cleanser (as someone who often reads a lot of dark fantasy). I look forward to following Chet on many more adventures!

Monday, December 9, 2013

KALEENA FRAGA

 
Interview with KALEENA FRAGA

Kaleena Fraga is from Bainbridge Island, Washington. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2013 with a double major in History and French. Currently, she is spending a year in France teaching English in the small Normandy town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët. 
 
What are you reading right now?

I just finished MADDADDAM by Margaret Atwood. It was the third in a series and really fantastic! I'm about to get started on THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton. I’m also rereading HARRY POTTER in French, because I’m in France now and trying to immerse myself in the language.

What first sparked your interest in writing? 

I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't write. Even before I knew how to hold a pencil, I loved telling stories. I was the kid who had dolls with detailed backstories and, of course, an imaginary pet dog/sidekick. 

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I love it when one idea leads to another, and another, and another, and I look down and I've been writing for an hour without realizing it. It's the feeling you get when the ideas come so quickly you can barely type fast enough. Basically, I love to be immersed in a story. I do and don't like starting things. On the one hand it's exciting and new and that can be a great feeling - but to find the right inspiration, the right way to approach the story, to think about the characters and their journey takes time (sometimes a lot of time) and I'd rather just start writing than over-think things. 

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I take an idea and run with it. I read about how some authors have detailed outlines of what will happen in their novels/stories...I’m not organized enough for that. I've always just written and written and surprised myself with what appeared on the paper. 

What are your passions?

Writing and reading, of course. I'm passionate about history, especially presidential history, and I have a budding passion for long runs.

What inspires you?

The people around me, things I see on the news or online, and questions I have about the world that I try to understand by asking my characters to struggle and figure it out for me. Writing, for me, is a way to understand the world. If I don't get something, maybe I'll understand it better through the eyes of one of my characters. 

Why speculative fiction?

I really like the blurry line between fact and fiction. With speculative fiction you can either stay close to that line or go much, much further. I prefer to write stories where, among the characters living normal lives, one thing is slightly off. I love how much freedom speculative fiction gives to the writer to explore that one, strange thing. 

As both a writer and reader, do you prefer either science fiction or fantasy over the other?

I prefer science fiction because the "science" part can be discreet - normal people, normal lives, one odd occurrence. That being said, I am waiting along with the rest of the world for George R.R. Martin to finish up with the next GAME OF THRONES novel!

How was “Island of Dreams, Island of Fears” born?

I think I was fifteen or sixteen when I wrote "Island of Dreams, Island of Fears." I was travelling with my family when I first saw the news coverage of the tsunami in Sri Lanka and it really stuck with me: the incredible tragedy of the event, the sheer destructive power of nature, and all the stories that the people who survived started to tell. It made me think about how sudden death can be. So I took that idea and tried to explore it through my story.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Just to write, write, write. And read! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

HIS SACRED BONES


Review of HIS SACRED BONES by GINN HALE
(third in THE RIFTER trilogy, based on a review copy)

Ginn Hale’s high up on my favorite authors list and I already adored the first two books in this trilogy. THE HOLY ROAD, book two, left off on a gut-twisting ending, so I started HIS SACRED BONES eager to discover what happens next. Of course, that cliffhanger isn’t addressed until halfway through the book, since Hale has been dividing these novels into two parts - kind of a before and after. An agonizing wait, but she makes it all enjoyable.

Speaking of the structure, this series is wonderfully plotted. Many elements simply wouldn’t work in the hands of a different author. The first half of each book tells John's story while the second half jumps far into the future. I'm impressed that Hale makes me care so much about John's part after glimpses into the future reveal some "spoilers." I'm nevertheless riveted to know how he gets from point A to point B and mourn tragedies despite being warned they would happen.

I normally feel mildly irritated by books opening with summaries (because I remember and feel insulted), but in this case I'm grateful for this technique given the complicated nature of the plot structure. With the help of that brief "reminder" I slipped easily back into the story with my investment in the characters effortlessly revived.

My only criticism of the trilogy is the slightly rushed ending in this final book. There's so much buildup throughout the series and then a somewhat abrupt final showdown that left me wondering why it couldn't have happened earlier and saved everyone a lot of trouble. Of course, let me emphasize “only criticism.”

THE RIFTER series presents top-notch writing, plotting, and character development. I can't wait to see what Hale writes next!

Monday, December 2, 2013

LAURIE GRAFF

 
Interview with LAURIE GRAFF

Laurie Graff, author of the bestselling YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF FROGS, has also written the novels LOOKING FOR MR. GOODFROG and THE SHIKSA SYNDROME. She’s also a contributor to NO KIDDING, COMPLAINT BOX NY TIMES, LIVE ALONE AND LIKE IT, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIE, and SCENES FROM A HOLIDAY.

What are you reading right now?
 
I just last night finished reading Ellen Burstyn’s autobiography, LESSONS IN BECOMING MYSELF. It is amazing how you think you know someone’s background and how blindsided you are by their persona. She really overcame huge familial obstacles alongside having a spirit that created a lucky streak. Of course no one’s life is linear, and the story of what she did to heal herself is compelling. She said something so astute that the moment we accept it (whatever it is) is the moment transformation begins.

What first sparked your interest in writing? 

Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Tama Janowitz. I was reading all of those women in the 80s’ and just got into the whole “look inside the urban single girl’s head” and started to write down the stories I was telling to my friends. And they came out with a “voice” that was me, but not. It was a writer’s voice. Since I had been working up till then as a professional actress it was a pretty cool surprise.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I love when I get lost in it and hours go by and I had no idea how that even happened. And when that is not happening… well, I like that the least.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I think about it as I’m walking, at the gym, running, on the subway, and then I go. It’s a movie in my head and I just let it spill. I don’t like to outline or make notes. I like to know what happens next and organically let it come out. There are points when I must write and organize but mainly I like to let it spill.

What are your passions?

Outdoor cafes, having wine anywhere near or on water, affection, great humor, food, beautiful environments, themed parties, fashion, the tradition of Judaism, New York City, theater, romance, and the great magic that can surprise us in life.

What inspires you?

Feelings I get from 70’s music. All the passions I just mentioned above. And people who manage to overcome their fears.
 
Did you know without a doubt what you would write about in your NO KIDDING essay or did you have a few topics from which you narrowed it down?

I did not know what I would be writing until I was writing it. But that first image of being up in the country at sixteen years old with my friend outside her bungalow hanging the laundry popped into my head when I sat down to write. And I kept from there.

Was if difficult writing about something so personal? 

It was clarifying to discover I really felt that way. I love the personal essay. You don’t worry about plot twists; it is just making a point for what has already happened in life and how you already feel. My brother asked why anyone would want to share that, but to me it is encased in a literary package and so I don’t feel exposed. But I do feel I help share a point of view that is helpful and interesting to others.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Write. Write what you want and do it just for you. And then worry about whether or not it’s “something.” Just self-express.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I wrote in my essay the best is yet to come and I really want that to be true!