Tag Archives: author interview

Q+A With Carol Merchasin

Carol Merchasin, author of the Shebook, How It Goes in Mexico, explains how she swapped out her life as a lawyer for her new post as an expat essayist.

What prompted you to write How It Goes in Mexico?

After I moved to San Miguel de Allende, I was stunned by my own ignorance about Mexico – history, culture, honestly everything except maybe tacos and tequila (actually, including tacos and tequila).  I began to write these essays to try to help my family and friends understand the magic of living here. I wanted Americans to glimpse the Mexico I experience every day – a place so rich, so different and so misunderstood.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

I heard Anne Lamott on the radio doing an interview for Bird by Bird in 1995.  I was driving and I had to pull over into a parking lot to make sure I could hear every word.  I was not a writer then, I was a lawyer, but I took an index card and wrote “index cards” on it. Ten years later, I read Hiruki Murikami’s story about how he decided to become a writer in What I talk about when I talk about running and I took out the carefully preserved index card and decided to become a writer.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I occasionally consult with companies on harassment and discrimination training.

I was a waitress when I was a teenager and that was probably my most interesting job.  As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the people you’ll meet…..”

What is your favorite word right now?

“Village.“ I love the word “village” and its denotation of a small place, a cluster of houses and shops, as well as the connotation of a less frenzied, more human scale, unfiltered life.  I am living in a Mexican village now and it fascinates me!

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now?

Yes. I read on my iPad, which is an extension of my right arm. I usually like to have a lot of books going at once so I can chose according to how I feel.  Right now I am reading The Life and Times of Mexico by Earl Shorris, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.

What’s next?

I am finishing up the remaining essays for How It Goes in Mexico to be published in early 2015.

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Jessica Anya Blau: “My brain is a sea sponge and events are floating debris.”

Jessica Anya Blau, author of the Shebook Mating Calls, chats with us about real sex, stinky cheese, and the universals of human experience.

Blau

What prompted you to write Mating Calls?

Much of my fiction is inspired by real life. Usually something happens in my life that hooks in my mind (imagine my brain is a sea sponge and events are floating debris—some lodge in there, some float by). When I’m spacing out (which I do often), I frequently pick and pick and pick at the memories lodged in my head. I look at events from my point of view and, frequently, I imagine them from other people’s points of view as well. It is this imagining of events from the point of view of others that often sets me off to writing. It is also this imagining that keeps me from watching TV news and reading more than the headlines in newspapers. This projection into other people’s lives can be terrifying and overwhelming with things like war, famine, genocide, and so on.

Are there any themes, characters, or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they, and what is their origin?

People often comment that there is a lot of sex in my writing. I suppose there is, but I don’t think of it as sex writing. Most of the sex my characters have is awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, or just downright bad. For me a scene in which a character has bad sex creates a lot more tension and reveals character in a much deeper way than a scene with great sex. Sex is a part of life, and it is a part of who we are and how we interact and connect with people. So it’s something I look at when I look at my characters. When I’m writing sex scenes, I’m never focusing on the act—who sticks what where. Instead, I’m focusing on the internal lives of the people involved in the act: how it feels to be a particular person with a particular other person doing a particular thing.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Be courageous. It is terrifying to write. It is terrifying to show your writing to other people. It is terrifying to send it out. And then it’s terrifying to have strangers read it. It takes an incredible amount of courage to work hard at something that might never get published. (Every published writer I know has mountains of unpublished work.) In order to write, you have to choose to do it anyway. Do it even if it’s scary (that’s your best work). Do it even if it will never get published (let go of that idea during the process, worry about it when you’re done creating). Do it even if other people hate it. This is your life. You’re going to die. If you want to spend the short time you have writing, then write. Don’t let naysayers keep you back. Also, protect yourself a little by not showing unpublished work to people who don’t “get” you, or people who are envious that you’re doing something so courageous, or people who are afraid of being abandoned when you succeed.

 Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

No. I truly believe that the human experience is universal. We are all afraid, lonely, we all love and want to be loved, we all long for things, we all hate to be embarrassed. If you can imagine your own pain and loneliness, you can imagine the pain and loneliness of anyone else. There are certain things that we might not be able to accurately understand without experiencing them (being in a concentration camp, say). But as writers we can certainly try to imagine what it might be like. And that’s what writing fiction is—it’s the act of imagining what it might be like to be someone else and do things we may not have ever done.

 What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

I am a weirdo, so I could answer this question any number of ways. I’ll tell you this: I pretty much don’t like eating any food that smells like a part of the human body (fish, mushrooms, some cheeses). If you can’t imagine the body parts that correspond with particular foods, send me a note and I’ll fill you in!

 What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a novel inspired by my Shebook The Problem with Lexie.

 Do you have a quote, mantra, or thought that you’d like to end with?

One of the things I frequently tell myself is Do more. I have this great fear of running out of time (death), and there is so much I want to do before I go. I know I can work hard enough. I just hope I can work fast enough.

Another mantra I have is this: Just keep moving forward. Whenever I’m stuck or stalled or even being lazy I remind myself that nothing will happen unless I move forward. Even a step in the wrong direction is a step. So, yes, Do more and Keep moving forward!

 

 

Jessica Anya Blau is author of the Shebook, Mating Calls

Mating Calls

Lucy Jane Bledsoe: “The human imagination is about the coolest thing we have going for us.”

Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of the Shebook The Found Child, opens up about reading disorders, “chick lit,” and the importance of imagination in her work.

 

Why did you write The Found Child?

I’m always looking for ways to tell stories that show—without sentimentality—how people connect rather than how they engage in conflict and dysfunction. I want to show surprising sources of love.

Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

I think the human imagination is about the coolest thing we have going for us. That’s one of the reasons I love writing fiction. I make up almost all of my characters and situations. Of course I use my own experiences for the foundations of the stories, but I extrapolate wildly.

I also do a lot of research for every story I write. I think it’s fine to write about things you don’t know firsthand, but you have to do your homework. And then, if I’ve written about something I haven’t experienced firsthand, I always vet the scene or story with people who have experienced it.

Is there such a thing as “women’s writing”? Do you hate the term “chick lit” or think we should embrace it, like the term “gay”?

I dislike the term “chick lit” because it sounds superficial and “lite.” I write for everyone, men and women, gay and straight—whether or not everyone reads me! Reading stories is about looking through windows into other lives, being invited to look through those windows, and so I would like all curious, smart people to read as widely and adventurously as they can.

So you don’t have an imaginary reader that you write for?

I don’t have an imaginary reader, but I have a couple of friends and readers who I often think of when I’m writing, reaching for humor or emotion that will touch them.

Have you ever written anything personal that upset people who were close to you? Or shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?

Good questions! My family, particularly my parents, have not liked some of the ultrapersonal things (sex scenes, for example) I’ve written, even if they were fiction. And speaking of fiction, no one ever believes it is fiction, so occasionally people in my life have gotten hurt thinking that a character is based on them, even though it truly wasn’t.

As for the second question, I’ve thought about this a whole lot. I would like to think I’ve had the courage to write the deepest truths I know, but do I sometimes self-censor? It’s likely.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your work?

Hmm. I guess the biggest risk I’ve taken is staying true to telling the stories I want to tell, no matter how commercial or noncommercial they might be. I’ve let my own quirky interests guide me, which might not always be smart, but it sure makes my work fun.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

Believe it or not, when I was five years old I “wrote” my first book (it was all pictures and had a religious theme involving devils and angels) and announced that I was going to be a writer. Stubborn as I am, I never wavered. I suppose if I’d found something else for which I had talent, I might have done it, but so far that hasn’t happened.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Find a way to love your work, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to work hard enough to make a writing career work. If you don’t love writing, do something else.

What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I write curricula and have had some really fun jobs. I wrote CD ROM scripts for National Geographic, story scripts for the George Lucas Education Foundation, and science lessons for the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute.

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

People always think I’m supercourageous because I do wild outdoor activities, like ski and kayak in Antarctica and Alaska. But I’m actually very cautious. I do the trips I do by planning excessively and making a bunch of contingency plans.

What or who inspires you most?

Gloria Steinem, Frances Perkins, and Rachel Carson are a few of the whos. Wilderness and great novels are a couple of the whats.

Are you or have you ever been a member of a book club? What does that experience offer you?

My book club has been meeting for 30 years. We’re all great friends by now. I sometimes wish we talked about the books more! We say we’re an eating club with a reading disorder.

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now?

Yes. I just reread most of Carson McCullers on my e-reader, and now I’m reading An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine, an amazing novel that takes place in the head of an elderly Lebanese woman. I like to read on my device, especially on airplanes and sometimes in bed (because I don’t need a reading lamp).

Who are some of your favorite authors?

In no particular order: Cólm Toíbin, Anne Enright, Chimamanda Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Jane Smiley, Sherman Alexie, Allegra Goldman, Toni Morrison, Emma Donoghue, Ali Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro…you asked!

What’s next?

I’m writing a novel based on the life of my aunt, for whom I’m named. It’s a novel of Cold War intrigue, the birth of climate change research, and the foment of 20th-century queer culture.

Do you have a thought that you’d like to end with?

I just saw the Anita Hill documentary, and her example of speaking truth to power is a good life and writing goal.

 

 

Lucy Jane Bledsoe is author of the Shebook, The Found Child

TheFoundChild