What am I working on? I’m finishing a memoir called Homesick about growing up with an immigrant mother struggling with severe schizophrenia. It’s also about my search for a home in the world—a safe space, a safe haven—and trying to build a home that will last, one that can withstand the hurricanes, the vicissitudes of life when my formative years were steeped in turbulent and unpredictable surroundings. I’ve also got a linked story collection, Mangiacake, in its genesis stage that contains the composted remains of a forsaken project from years ago.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
In terms of memoir, everyone has a story that is sui generis and the specific subject matter often takes care of the difference. My favourite stories go beyond the singular events and construct a bigger picture, connecting the reader back to the universal Self and sharing what it means to be human, to be angry, compassionate, fearless and frightened, vulnerable and vulgar. I’m more aware of the commonalities, I think. The themes that surface in most of the memoirs that I read are fairly similar to my work: surviving loss, coping with chaotic circumstances, finding ways to keep your head above water and dog-paddling until you make it to a sandbar or shore.
Why do I write what I do? The short, still-seems-like-she-needs-therapy answer is that I appear to be obsessed and the long weirdo-woowoo-at-work answer is that I’m probably possessed.
Last year I had the great good fortune to meet John Bently Mays, the author of the insightful and profound book, In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression, and I confessed to him that there were dark days that I wished I wrote about witches and werewolves, (my old teenage preoccupations.) I imagined disguising my fraught and violent relationship with my mother in a fictional battle between good and evil; I thought it might spare me the grief I kept encounterng in nonfiction. He kindly responded, “Of course, anything but this.” He asked what it was like for me to write about my experience of depression. I told him the situation felt like Plato asking to speak about philosophy with me: ah, freak out! I wanted to be someone else most of my life, in person and on paper and it never worked. I write what I do because it comes to me and through me and I trust that process.
How does my writing process work? I'm glad you asked. I have a talent for resisting routine. Sometime in my mid-twenties, I realised that I desperately needed structure to write and I started seeking it out. Every time I tried to set it up (around a job, or a relationship) it eluded me like Sasquatch evades being captured on anything but a shaky home video.
The basics are this: Make coffee and write a crummy first draft, one that is so bad it makes me question my purpose in life. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Keep Rewriting. Cry. Think. (NOTE: Do not check Wikipedia to confirm anything about the content of your thoughts; maintain a quasi-Buddhisty approach to the thoughts that may arise—write them down and leave them be, until you can go lurching from link to link like a drunk-on-life word warrior.) Re-structure the piece. Edit. Edit again. Keep editing. Start the “I think this is close to being done” Rewrite. Share with trusted writer friends for feedback. Eat something that combines sugar and salt, (like Milk Chocolate with Seasalt) because writing requires a balanced approach. Work some more. Begin the “I think this is close to being finished” Edit. Go for a walk. Carry a notebook. Ask for assistance. Give thanks for the help.
Next up, I'm thrilled to introduce-tag two more writers. Meet Jael Richardson. Her memoir, The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lessons, a Father’s Life has garnered great reviews and everyone should read it. Also tagged is Tina Biello, a poet whose family happens to hail from Cascalenda, the town right next door to the ancestral village my parents vamoosed-from in Southern Italy! Her beautiful book of poetry, In the Bone Cracks of the Walls, is available from Leaf Press.
Some more stops on this author blog tour: Kathy Para, Ayelet Tsabari, Theodora Armstrong, Lorna Suzuki, Matilda Magtree, Alice Zorn, Anita Lahey, Pearl Pirie, Julie Paul, Sarah Mian, Steve McOrmond, Susan Gillis, Jason Heroux, Barbara Lambert
Visit another tour during your on-line staycation: Maria Meindl, Terri Favro, Michelle Alfano