Tuesday, March 31, 2009
AN INTERVIEW WITH SUZANNE FINNAMORE
As many of you already know, I have a love that borders on obsessive with the book Split. What many of you may not know, is why. I have loved Suzanne Finnamore's writing since I first read Otherwise Engaged and later The Zygote Chronicles. She is a masterful, dead-on writer, and mercifully FUNNY.
And therein lies the major reason I love Split, she takes on a subject so not funny - being unceremoniously dumped - and makes you pee your pants while you're wiping your eyes with the deep truths and profound insights she has. Deep and funny. What's better than that? Nothing. Not if you ask me.
So, I was able to convince Suzanne to do a blog interview with me in honor of the fact that SPLIT is now available to order (paperback) on Amazon!
Get a cuppa, sit back and enjoy a funny and deep interview with SUZANNE FINNAMORE! The first part is a previous interview she did, then my questions immediately follow:
Q: ARE YOU WORKING ON A BOOK?
A: always and never. i cling to freelance advertising copywriting because
it's so much easier than writing, and i get to work with a partner in crime: my art director sean mullens or ken woodard.
Q: DO YOU WRITE AT THE SAME TIME EACH DAY?
A: yes. morning. in front of the computer. coffee with cream, no food.
digesting food requires energy and makes one sleepy.
Q: DO YOU HAVE WRITING ROUTINES, OR DO YOU AVOID THEM?
A: no. routines are necessary. writing is a habit. a vice.
Q: DO YOU EDIT AS YOU GO?
A: never, ever. just spew it all onto the page. the more flawed and
outrageous, the better. there's always time later to organize and
edit. in fact, rewriting is the real work of writing. i may rewrite a
single page 60 times. but that comes later. after i've got, say, 400
pages of messy, senseless bile.
the only thing necessary is to spell check at morning's end, after
you've spewed. otherwise, you'll forget what you meant to say when you
wrote "trghdllty ghyry tkissk"
Q: DO YOU WORK FROM NOTES?
A: yes. i write down everything as it occurs to me, or as i witness it. i slap it into files
on my desktop. i generally have 3 or 4 books cooking at once. the
strongest one will emerge in time. DIALOGUE is the most important
thing, i believe, it’s the engine of a book. inner dialogue or
caught-from-the-air dialogue. eudora welty knew this, updike knew
this. dialogue, if you overhear it or say it , must be captured word perfect
immediately. dialogue is never rewritten; dialogue is only cut or filled
in to capture meaning or further the plot. if i’m in a meeting and the
dialogue is fantastically perverse, i'll write down everything everyone
is saying. it's priceless; the best opportunities are always agency- wide
meetings or "brainstorm" meetings. really, all organized meetings are breeding
grounds for perverse and often hilarious dialogue. i also use dialogue
from my own emails... write
to a close friend and in the process you discover what you know or
feel about an issue or event. some meat of my books comes from emails
or phone conversations or meetings, and then i write the book AROUND
the dialogue; i include body language and gestures, the smaller the better. you must use what you know.
writers: we're vampires and grave robbers, is what we are. "journalists of
the human condition" is a nicer way to put it.
Q: WHAT ABOUT OUTLINES?
A: never, ever, ever. that presumes i know what will happen or what is
best at the beginning of the process, which i don’t. what i know is
nothing, except the subject matter of the book. it's best to retain
that innocence as long as possible. it's easier for me to deliver a
manuscript than an outline. even the word Outline smacks of fascism.
Q: WHAT ABOUT INDEX CARDS, ALA ANNIE LAMOTT?
A: sure. keep some around. always carry a pen and some paper of some
kind. ALWAYS. in the car is especially important. while driving, the
body is occupied and creative thoughts are free to roam exactly where
they should. keep a pen at hand, write things down at the red lights, or pull
over. never attempt to talk into a small hand held tape recorder: again, fascism and
pretense lives there, in those little machines: you will never transcribe them and if
you do, you've lost the gist. it’s blather and a lot of pipe dreams spoken aloud. it's
gaseous babble of the pissant.
Q: WHERE DO YOUR IDEAS FROM WRITING COME FROM?
A: i only write about what i know, what happens, and
what is making us live or die in the era we're currently in. i'd like
to be another kind of writer, but I’m not. if you're like me..and i desperately hope you're not, you have to know what kind of
writer you are; are you a storyteller, or are you a chronicler? decide.
And my questions:
1) For whom did you write this book? (You already told me, and it's written in your dedication, but I want that in the interview, because I love your answer, and don't hold back!)
When my husband left me and I was caring for our baby, I felt totally alone and depressed and there was NOTHING TO READ about divorce that would lift me or make me laugh. (There were only clinical, dry self-help books and impossibly silly novels about divorce, where the heroine is swept away by her Portuguese gardener, etc. It wouldn’t do). I decided within 2 weeks I would write Split: A Memoir of Divorce for all the abandoned wives and mothers, because it was a necessary tool for them to survive. And I’ve gotten a lot of mail from women who say I accomplished this, that it saved them. It’s a tremendous honor.
2) The raw honesty and pain in the book, is so noteworthy because so many books lack that. Was writing the book cathartic, re-traumatizing, or a mix of both?
It was mildly cathartic but it was much more work than anything else. I wrote the entire book as a novel and then was asked to rewrite it as a memoir. It was a long process and yes – many days writing the memoir felt like going back into a dark cave and excavating the past and then coming out feeling traumatize, ridiculous and spent.
3) Sorry, but I got to have you weigh in on the "memoir debate." What's your philosophy of what to tell, what to leave out, and "subjective truth?"
My philosophy is that you own your experience, as a writer. I left a great deal out of my memoir so as not rock the boat more than I had to in order to tell my story with emotional honesty. As far as I’m concerned, all truth is subjective where writing and even remembering are concerned. The moment you try to pin an experience down on paper, it becomes fiction, because you’re only telling your side of things and some of that will necessarily be subjective. Also, once a memoir is accepted for publication, the publisher’s lawyer will usually legally vet the entire manuscript, to avoid issues of slander and liable.
4) And in that same vein, do you wish you could go back and re-classify your first two books, Otherwise Engaged and The Zygote Chronicles "memoir," and/or Split as fiction? Having written both ways, which do you recommend?
Oh I much prefer fiction. One has so much more leeway with fiction, and there is no second-guessing involved. Otherwise Engaged contains a lot of fiction, it is primarily fiction, and based on my emotional truth of that year I was engaged. But apparently in terms of the prose and the dialogue, I wrote it so well/close to the bone, that everyone assumes it’s completely autobiographical. It is not. Nor is The Zygote Chronicles a memoir. It’s a novel about a woman who happens to be having a baby close to forty, as was I. There are some autobiographical elements, certainly. But the only “true” part is the delivery scene at the end of the novel – that was pretty much exactly how it happened for the birth of my son.
5) How did you decide to structure the book around the Five Stages of Grief, and do you find yourself still moving back, in and around all five, or are you pretty much staunchly placed in Acceptance?
My friend and mentor, Fay Weldon, told me that divorce is certainly like a death. That’s when I decided to section off the book into 5 chapters corresponding to the Kubler Ross Five stages of loss and death. It also gave the book some structure. And the arc of the 5 chapters/stages happily suggests the fact that divorce is a multi-stage process that passes… that its attendant grief and trauma is finite and can be quantified.
I’ve been blessed with Acceptance for many years, now. I talk to my ex almost daily; we’re good friends. And as far as romance, I’ve moved on. Boy have I.
5) In your Anger section you say you'll never marry again - still feel that way?
Of course not. That why it’s in the Anger section. People think and decide all sorts of radical things when they’re angry. It passes.
6) What's the one piece of advice you give to women in the grieving process - regardless of what they're grieving?
Find a grief counselor. I found a great one; she’s in Split and so is her advice to me. So if you read Split, you’ll get all the advice I paid $100/hour for, and you can get it in your bathrobe.
7) I know you said earlier that you are always and never working on other books, like four. I get that. Can you just give us a hint what you think your next (published) book will likely be about?
The Little Black Book Of Signals:
A Neanderthal's Guide To Knowing She Wants You
It’s a guide for men who have no clue as to the signals women send out, Also, women can read it and see what their signals are telling men, A hand-sized book.
After that? A novel about finding love after 40—via the Internet and so on. The heroine will be a cross between a Cyclop and Pollyanna.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Picture at right, is Augusten Burroughs. Pictured below are my parents on their wedding day in 1956 (see bookjacket). This was a great day; I wanted to make it into a fine, ironic dustjacket for my divorce memoir, but Fate and PenguinUSA would have none of it. Fourteen years later they were divorced. They went on to marry a total of three other people and they never stopped loving each other; divorce is a tight cornered game without explicit rules.)
I grudgingly admit that for the kind of attendance and service I desire, marriage is the only game in town. I want to learn about true commitment and connections. I honestly do. I think most men are full of grace and heart, beneath their hard, shiny armor. I think love fills their workman's boots, I think it seeps from their lock-box hearts into the atmosphere as they sleep.
So I asked Augusten Burroughs, a fiercely candid man who is happily coupled and also gay, which gives him an objectiveness impossible to find elsewhere. I pry hard for valuable, insider trading tips. Here are his edicts on mating, fresh from the information highway.
BWABEE, STANDARDS get in the way of finding TRUE LOVE. Because you know what? The man who is RIGHT for you is going to look nothing like what you imagine. I, for example, always knew I would end up with an Iranian physician -somebody with chiseled, masculine features, a 5 o'clock shadow that began to appear at noon; a man who wore Armani suits and just reeked of brilliance and utter competence. Somebody who would surprise me with a gold Rolex Daytona just "because it's Tuesday and I love you."
Instead, I landed a guy who, the year before last, gave me shampoo for my birthday. And who has no interest in physics or cosmology and no matter HOW MUCH I SCREAM AT HIM or try to explain it WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND these things which matter most to me. But? he cooks. If somebody is mean to me he withdraws a meat cleaver from his back pocket. And even though he's about as romantic as a shoebox, he's perfect for me. And he's ten years older. I mean, when he's sixty? I'll be ONLY 50. So no, throw all your expectations and lists and MUST-HAVES directly into the trash and start over.
Here are the ONLY requirements:
1. Must have own source of income.
2. Must not be a criminal
3. Must not be married
4. NEED not be handsome but you MUST find him attractive, more so on each date.
6. Is patient, non judgemental and has no history of mental illness -especially manic depression, chronic depression, treatment-resistant depression or any other fucking flavor of incurable depression.
and that's really it.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
"The Tower card suggests that your alter ego today is the Survivor, whose superpower for revolution lies in your epiphany for change, brought on with the aid of a serious reality check. Today you have reached a turning point. It may be all over but the crying -- but you have the strength to move on and create a better situation for yourself. One may say that you never saw it coming or learned the hard way, but with profound change comes new opportunity. One door closes -- another opens. So tear down the wall, and rebuild anew!" In other words: you will lose everything, every fucking dime and teaspoon, but find the pair of hoop earrings you lost in college. Your face is falling but not so fast that it can be detected by overnight time lapse photography...rejoice, for you are not worm food yet, but a rather splayed yet vertical person who rarely has an occasion for shoes. Debbils will very likely dance and sing as the door to Bitch Hell swings wide for you. Don't make any long-term plans, just dig the free fall. We'll be letting you know if it's going to end badly by sending the Death card to your email inbox within the next seven days, babe.
What I know about men
Fay Weldon, writer, 78, married for the third time, four sons
Interview by Eva Wiseman
The Observer / Sunday 8 March 2009
When I was five my parents divorced, so at home there was just my mother, my grandmother, my sister and me. I went to an all-girls school and I lived in a male-free world. All this femaleness moulded me. I assumed women ruled the world, and even when I got to college and discovered otherwise, men still seemed romantic rarities, rich, exciting and strange, a feeling I've never quite recovered from. Back then fathers didn't have much to do with their daughters anyway - it was women who brought the children up. Now the genders have blurred, but in a world of domestic slavery, before washing machines, vacuum cleaners, central heating, microwaves, and when potatoes took more than an hour to cook, home was where the women had to be. Men left the house to earn, work, go to patriotic wars, come back heroes. Boys and girls were kept apart. We went in one school entrance, they went in another. We might as well have been Muslims. Girls weren't sexualised the way they are today. We wore gym slips and were discouraged from looking in mirrors. So I had very little to do with boys. Mainly I just fell in love with girls. There was no eroticism there, just obsession and adoration. We were so innocent.
So of course when I got a grant to go to university, I fell in love with every man in sight. My ambition, quickly realised, was to lose my virginity as soon as possible. Many of the students were ex-servicemen who'd been to war: it seemed ill-mannered to thwart them. The idea that men had emotions the same as women never occurred to me. That a man could be hurt or upset by something I did, or feel rejected or humiliated? Surely not! I would fall hopelessly in love with impossible men, but if men fell in love with me, how I would despise them! A good therapist would have sorted me out, but there were no therapists. And no contraception, so sex was thrilling and dangerous.
I got pregnant when I was 22, when it really wasn't the thing to do. I thought I could manage, and didn't marry my baby's father because I didn't think we were suited. But things got more and more difficult until in order to keep a roof over the baby's head I married a man 25 years older than me, with a house and an income. Of course I didn't love him, but it was a fair trade - I needed the security and he needed a wife. It didn't last long.
Monogamy is nice work if you can get it, but who can, in these days of serial partners? Patterns of living change. There's no way one can say that way was more desirable than this. Falling in love is a kind of madness, which you don't even recognise until you wake from the delightful dream. Or he meets someone else. Heartbreak is the other side of love's exhilaration. The sense of rejection is overwhelming. But it's all part of the natural selection process. The only cure for one man is another. You keep on searching for love until something sticks. And I would suppose that I'm there now, stuck.
Today's young women do seem to want men to be made in their image, and spurn them if they're not, but girls are for chattering, men are for grunting. That's what they do. They're a different species. Women can only be happy for 10 minutes at a time, while men can stay happy for the duration of a whole football match. Some people, either gender, are just born better at being happy than others. Men like reassurance and love and flattery, but mostly what makes men happy is sex and dinner.
• In Bed With (Little, Brown, £7.99), a collection of erotic stories, includes a contribution from Fay Weldon.
Friday, March 6, 2009
The Sun card suggests that my alter ego is the Golden Child, whose superpower for celebration lies in expressing my love, joy and pride. I will be happy today, reclining in a jetlagged stupor on the deck, reflecting on the simple joys in life and my glory days, including the bottle of white Bordeaux Kate Christensen thrust upon me at Balthazar only hours ago in Manhatten. It's all good! You are in your happy place -- shining brightly for all to see. It may seem too good to be true, but don't worry and enjoy the experience while it lasts. Karma and a cruel God will doubtless lower the cosmic boom shortly.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Dateline: March 4, 2009.
I JUST gave a speech at the Barnes and Noble event when I awarded the grand prize
for fiction to Gin Phillips, author of The Well and the Mine. She’s
from Alabama. No more than 30 years old. SHOCKING. A NATURAL.
FIRST I said that I didn’t have a written speech and that didn’t
believe in them. Which is true; I just talk into the microphone and
see what truths float up.
I read the first sentence from the book, which says that Tess has just
seen a woman throw a baby down the well.
I said, Not only did the author put
Chekhov’s rifle over the mantle, she FIRED it in the first sentence of
the book. Who does that? I asked. NO ONE.
After a pause, I said that the jurors and I had had a fist fight over the
winner but in the end I prevailed because they had BOTH used the word LOVE
in ALL CAPS when they emailed me about her book. Which they had. And I
said, SO. That’s how it went down, butter bean.
Then I said that all her characters were real people and that the town
exists, the coalmines exist, and the baby is in that fucking well.
And I named every character from the book. Then I softly sang a chorus
from the Union song
from the Depression (it's in her book). Then I said that I was not a
good enough writer to judge Gin Phillips, and that my books weren’t fit
to be embossed on Bounty paper towels.
I quoted how Updike said that you had to write 300 pages to be taken
seriously and 500 to win an award. Gin Phillips is the exception that
proves the rule.
Then I said that I was really still VERY sad that john Updike had died
and that I missed him terribly.
I asked if anyone else missed john Updike, RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU DO
I said. A few people raised their hands. COME ON, GET EM UP THERE, I
A few more people in suits raised their hands.
And I got straight back around to the author, Gin Phillips. I said she was
obviously a liar because this could not be anyone’s first book. I
asked about her secret life in Mumbai. WHERE ARE THE OTHER BOOKS? I
demanded to know. Who are you REALLY?
Then I read snatches from her book. I channeled Eudora Welty. I pulled ALL THE STOPS. Ms Phillips was openly weeping by the time I said that Harper Lee has met her match.
Afterward I talked to David Sheff, a lovely man who won for BEAUTIFUL
BOY. I was delighted to hear that his equally talented son, Nic Sheff, is doing great and working on a novel, now. David Sheff and I live in the same county. During his acceptance speech he quoted Obama on how to fight druigs through healthcare reform and not through law enforcement. Yay.
My agent Kim and i met for coffee
this morning and read her the 3 pages I have from my next book. Kim was SUPER
EXCITED. Which for Kim means she said, Yes, paperback, moleskin jacket,
deadline of March 31.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Colm Tóibín: No Pleasure in Writing.
With a touch of Irish gloom perhaps, but without self pity, Colm
Tóibín tells the Manchester Review that he writes at least 355 days a
year and says -- three different times -- that he takes no pleasure in
Oh there’s no pleasure. Except that I don’t have to work for anyone
who bullies me. I write with a sort of grim determination to deal with
things that are hidden and difficult and this means, I think, that
pleasure is out of the question. I would associate this with
narcissism anyway and I would disapprove of it.
Which of your books did you most enjoy writing?
No enjoyment. No, none.
If there’s no pleasure in it, why not quit?
Because I have things that will not go away. Some of them are true,
some slowly become imagined. They do not disappear just because I
write them. If I don’t write them, I find that suddenly I am writing
them. They make their way into sentences and I feel a need to finish
what I began, to formalise it and then publicise it. I emphasise that
it heals nothing. Quitting would be like deciding never to listen to
music again. It would be mad, unnecessary. I also have sought fame as
a novelist – the phrase is V.S. Naipaul’s - and I presume that the
urge for that is essentially neurotic. I don’t think we have a right
to enjoy our neuroses; in fact I believe that we have a duty not to.
But we cannot walk away from ourselves. Who else is there to become?