The following interview was conducted by Joan Axelrod-Contrada, moderator of the Secrets of Successful Writers panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.
Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?
In high school, I realized I might have some talent, because I was getting A’s on writing assignments in a really hard writing class while some of the kids who always got A’s in the classes like AP Chem (which I was barely passing) were not. So I was like, Huh. And I even liked writing the pieces, which were mostly stories about my best friend’s Italian Catholic, fun loving, mafia-involved family, with whom I spent most of my time (I later wrote my first novel about them). But I was in no way one of those kids who sat around reading classics or sci-fi series as a teenager or who wrote my first novel at age four. I was much too busy acting like an idiot, being a twirler, playing on sports teams, dating pumped-up jocks, and having fun.
What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?
Along with working in my pajamas? Getting to explore things that interest me; being able to learn from my work. And being able to read books during the day (in a good year) and feel like it’s part of my job.
The most frustrating?
The lack of financial security, and the constant insecurity about what you’re writing, or that you have nothing to say that’s worthwhile, or that no one would ever get off Facebook or stop texting or tweeting or Instagramming or Skyping or scrolling through their news-feed or binge-watching The Kardashians or The Bachelorette or I am Cate or The Biggest Loser (all of which I have watched myself, btw) to read what you’re writing. The shrinking number of people who read books these days is somewhat terrifying for someone who makes her living as a writer. You used to walk down the aisle of a plane and see a sea of books. Now you see a sea of phones and laptops, people laughing at videos of kittens hanging from chandeliers. Yikes.
Can you tell us about your latest release?
My last novel was GONE, about a mid-life couple where the husband goes to drive the babysitter home and doesn’t come back. Told from both points-of-view, the husband and his wife, it’s about midlife marriage and motherhood, about art and depression and obesity and teen angst and solitude and love.
What inspired it?
Probably at least partly my own life, which, I’m embarrassed to say, pretty much inspires everything I write. I try to answer the questions I have about life – not just mine, but overall – in my novels, or to do in my stories what I might be tempted to do but don’t want to do in my real life – I can play it out in fiction, instead of in reality. So, for example, with SWEET RUIN, my second novel, I could have the midlife affair in the pages instead of in my own marriage. (I call it my midlife crisis novel.) I also try to debunk the clichés, I think. GONE was trying to present the depth and reality of someone, a good person, running from his family life – to make you see his side, as opposed to just the clichéd view that he’s a “jerk” or “selfish” for leaving his wife and kids. SWEET RUIN tried to show the other side of adultery – to make you understand, if not exactly sympathize with, someone who cheats (in this case, the wife). People are so fast to judge, to label things in black and white: this person is good, this one is bad; this one was a jerk, this one is to be pitied. But life is rarely like that. Real life is complicated. The more you know, the less you have to say. I like to try to present some of that complication in my writing.
You’re sitting on the Secrets of Successful Writers panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?
I think the theme of my ideas about success for a writer, if I have one, is that there is no one answer to What’s the right way to do this; there’s no formula for The Way To Write or How to Succeed as a Writer. It depends on who you are, what your process is, what you’re writing, what your life is at the time. It depends if you have a book contract or not, or if you’re writing a novel or nonfiction, or if you’re writing for your main job, or on the side, or if you have small children, or an aging parent or three to take care of that has to take precedent over your writing. It also depends if you’re the sort of writer who works best writing on a strict schedule in a single place, or the opposite. It depends if you like to work from an outline, or look at a blank page until something occurs.
The important thing is that you do it. Not how you do it, but that you do it. If you want to! If you don’t, you’re not a writer. The only secret to being a writer is that you write. But, just in case that sounds like I just give away all my secrets, I promise to have more for the panel!
What are you working on now?
Finishing an anthology called THE BITCH IS BACK, a sequel to my 2002 anthology THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE. It’s overdue at the moment. Yikes.
Where can we find you online?
My website needs to be updated but first I have to finish this book!