Monday, February 11, 2019

TBR: How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship by Eva Hagberg Fisher

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

  
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

This book is, at its heart, about intimacy. With our work, with our most beloved friends, our families, our chosen families, our doctors, our colleagues, ourselves. It is about how I was loved so much that I was transformed from being a very lonely person into a less lonely person.


What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?

I wasn’t aware of boundaries while I was writing, though now that it’s coming out I wonder what kind of covenants of secrecy I’ve broken with my family, my friends, etc. I did break one formal boundary, which was about time and foreshadowing: I kept foreshadowing the character Allison’s death, in increasingly present ways, which I did in order to mirror my experiential sense of her dying - which is that I kept knowing that she was going to die, and was still absolutely floored with grief when she did.

I love that your question indicates the presence of courage, but I’m not aware of being particularly courageous. I mostly feel scared a lot. But I wrote this book because I felt driven to, and I wanted to try to solve certain structural and creative issues that I had thought about a lot in terms of memoir as a genre, and I wanted people to get to meet, in some sense, my friend who had died, and so I didn’t really have a lot of analytical self-reflection about how brave or not the writing was while I was doing it. 

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Ahhhhh so many highs, which are never high enough. A starred Publisher’s Weekly review. Being on various lists - Entertainment Weekly and Nylon’s top 50 2019 books list. Tremendously beautiful blurbs. Knowing that I accomplished my lifelong dream. And then lows - the only lows that I’ve felt have been entirely self-inflicted, and all about envy and ego and self-confidence. For instance, yesterday I got the February issue of O Magazine, and wasn’t in it (I hadn’t expected to be, but hope lights the heart forever), and I felt an acute sense of rejection and loss. I had to reach out and ask a friend with experience to remind me that I don’t need to be in charge of my book. I did my job, which was writing it. The rest is out of my hands.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It really helps if you need to write to live - I became a working journalist fifteen years ago and knew that if I didn’t land a pitch or file a story, I couldn’t afford rent. It compressed any creative fear that I might have had, and gave me a really pragmatic approach to writing. So when I sold my book, I just very pragmatically did my job and met my deadlines. I like a very clear exchange of work and money, and I like to need to write in order to afford my life.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

How linear I was able to make extremely non-linear experiences. I have pages and pages of attempted structural outlines, and notes of conversations with my editor, and it felt like it was totally impossible to get a clear narrative out of the events that had occurred and the way that I felt about them, but here we are, with a story that goes from A to B to C, that has a beginning and an ending. 

How do you approach revision?

I wrote about 47 drafts - so I love revision. I approach it with a lot of enthusiasm - something I learned from working with editors for years. A good editor can feel like a miracle worker; my book editor is truly the best. With this, I went over and over and over the text until I felt like I had the basic map, and then I started doing chapter-level revisions, then got more and more granular. I would often email sections to myself and purposefully read them while I was distracted - on the BART or walking around - to see how it felt. For the last few months, I read it out loud to myself every night before I went to sleep to feel which sections dragged or felt boring/obvious. I wrote the book in many parts over a period of a few years, and I think that the last few months of reading it through / out loud smoothed out so many of the potentially rough edges.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes to share?)

The famous Milk Bar birthday cake cake makes two appearances!!!! When I was slipping into a coma, the last thing I thought to myself I wanted to do was - finally make that cake. Two years later, I did. It took three days but I did it! The recipe is here: https://milkbarstore.com/recipes/birthday-cake/

[EDITOR’S NOTE: You must click over and look at the picture of this cake!]

*****


READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: www.evahagbergfisher.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR PILE: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780544991156

READ AN EXCERPT FROM THIS BOOK: 





Monday, February 4, 2019

TBR: Learning To See by Elise Hooper

TBR [to be read] is a new feature on my blog, a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

LEARNING TO SEE is historical fiction based on the life of pioneering artist Dorothea Lange. This novel tells the story of her transformation from San Francisco’s most successful society portraitist in the 1920s to a documentary photographer determined to show the truth of what was happening to America’s poor and disenfranchised in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Dorothea captivated me from the beginning because of the idealism that inspired her work, but she was a complicated woman who had to make difficult choices that placed many stresses on her personal life. I wanted to provide context for her work and life’s decisions so readers could draw their own conclusions.

I also enjoyed fleshing out painter Maynard Dixon, Dorothea’s first husband, because he cut a colorful figure, romantic and talented, but he was not necessarily what you would call a great husband.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

An important source for me when learning about Dorothea Lange was an oral history she had done for the University of California. I had downloaded the  more than 300-page transcript from the online library and used it often. When I visited Lange’s archives at the Museum of California in Oakland, I realized the interview that I had been relying upon was abridged and the original was spread out over nine binders. I experienced momentary panic that I’d missed important information, but once I started reading through the binders, I saw that the unabridged version contained every word that was said. Every word, all the ummms, the nonsequiters, everything. So, whew, I realized everything was okay!

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Write what you would want to read.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

As I wrote this novel between 2015 – 2017, the political climate of our country shifted in a way that felt very relevant to Dorothea Lange. She was a figure who experienced a major awakening during the 1930s and her work reflected her activism.

As I took part in the Women’s March in 2016, I couldn’t help but think that Dorothea would have loved to have seen so many women taking to the streets and raising their voices to support marginalized Americans. I also found myself surprised (and disheartened) that so many of our current day issues are similar to what was happening in the 1930s and ‘40s, but Dorothea’s belief in the power of helping people through storytelling inspired me and kept me uplifted. Her storytelling took the form of creating images, but storytelling can come through many different creative forms and it’s more important now than ever to keep talking and learning from each other.

How did you find the title of your book?
The working title of this book was LANGE for a long time, but I came across an interview with one of Dorothea’s grandchildren in which the she described how Dorothea always told the kids that “seeing” was a learned skill and that it was important to “learn to see.” My editor and I thought this idea captured the book so we went with it.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
Ha, I think Depression-Era food is best left alone. 

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: http://www.elisehooper.com

ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR TBR PILE:

READ CHAPTER ONE:

Work-in-Progress

DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.