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?
fifteen years of marriage, my wife had an affair with a man she met on the
beach in Morocco—during a six-month voyage she took around the world. She went
back to see him, telling me she was going to Spain to see her sister have a
baby, but instead went to be with the same man Muhammad, and our marriage was
over. Wonder Travels is the story of my process of healing from this
shock, floundering at first in New York City, then traveling to Mexico City,
where I fell in love with a painter, living with her in her studio and making
extensive journeys to remote parts of Mexico together, before continuing on, a
year later, to Morocco, where I met the man my wife had her affair with.
boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of
courage come from?
such as Andre Dubus III have called this memoir “brave” and “remarkable.” By
its very nature, memoir requires a willingness to be tremendously honest, to
portray events as accurately as possible about how they happened, and the
willingness to portray one’s own flaws as well as whatever conflicts and flaws
there might be in others. But I think this book pushes the boundaries in terms
of the level of honesty—a willingness, for example, to describe feelings of
impotence I had after the end of my marriage, a willingness to try to examine
the ways my wife was unhappy with me in our marriage and what her motivations
might have been for leaving the marriage. But, generally, just a level of
honesty about the ways I fell apart initially before I could begin the process
of building myself up again.
also broke boundaries choosing to begin writing my memoir when only a third of
the events told in the book had already taken place. I wanted a sense of
immediacy, a sense I was living events just before I was writing about them,
rather than the long lens of looking back. I felt this was necessary to capture
the emotional pain of the moment and also to use the writing of the memoir as a
vehicle for my search for happiness. Typically, writers believe you should wait
to write a memoir until you have had a chance to get some distance on the
events so you can fully understand their meaning and convey it. But sometimes
the “wisdom” of deep retrospective narrative distance can seem phony,
all-knowing in a way we don’t feel in the actual moments of a life lived. So I
wanted to narrow that distance. Andre Dubus III also felt the book breaks
boundaries in terms of joining “the edifying power of
the travelogue with the emotional truth-seeking promise of the memoir.”
I always feel I need to find the courage to try something new with
form in each book, which I haven’t encountered elsewhere. Otherwise, it seems
there is no point in writing my own work.
us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
high came when my agent read the manuscript and he called me to tell me he was
eager to represent it—this would have been my second book published with him.
But I was in the hospital with the painter from Mexico for a very serious
health problem when my agent called, (by that time we were married), and my
focus on helping Monica recover from her health crisis meant I had to put the
memoir aside for more than three years. By the time I was able to return to the
memoir, my agent was no longer in a position with his own health, mentally, to
be able to represent the book. So the memoir was orphaned, without someone to
represent it in submissions to the large publisher where I had published my
previous book (Hogarth/Penguin Random House). Because of this series of health
interventions, it took a full ten years after the initial writing of the book
to get it published. The one upside of this passage of time is that I was able
to go back into editing the book to make it as perfect as I could and to give
it a little more of the distance that does allow for the full retrospective
look at the events of the past, while maintaining the immediacy of the primary narrative
of the events.
your favorite piece of writing advice?
are different pieces of advice for writers at different stages of their writing
experience. When writers are just starting out, the need to let yourself write
without initially editing your work as you write and the need for concision are
vital. But with more advanced writers the need to focus on the rhythm and sound
of writing is most important along with the idea to write “what you, yourself,
would want to read.” Often writers write things that they think others should
want to read but that they, themself, would not be interested in. It’s
vital for writers to not allow the reader to be bored. And that requires brutal
honesty about whether you are boring the reader, and the need to surprise the
reader. Making sure there is enough conflict in your writing, and understanding
the depths of the conflicts you are writing about, is also a central place for
writers to look at in the process of revision.
favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What
surprised you in the writing of this book?
about everything. I’m always surprised to see my actual motivations written on
the page. In writing memoir honestly, it’s like seeing yourself revealed before
you, like watching a photo in a bath of chemicals where the image slowly
appears (in pre-digital photography). You discover who you are as you write
about yourself, what your real motivations and fears have been. I suppose I
discovered how vulnerable and resilient I am, at the same time. And by writing
memoir, I discovered the way I think, the nature of my thought process and how
I try to make sense of what I have lived and experienced.
something about your book that you want readers to know?
want readers to know that while this book is a memoir about my lived
experience, I think it will provide comfort for the millions of people out
there who have suffered heartbreak or who have had their marriage end in
divorce. It is easy to feel like nothing, when someone has left you. And it is
almost inevitable, initially, to fall apart. But it is possible to fall in love
again, deeply, and perhaps as it was in my case, in a better way than in my
earlier marriage. I did not write this book as some kind of guidebook. It is a
literary memoir written, I hope, in an artistic way. But I think it does provide
the kind of hope I was looking for, when I felt so completely all alone in New
York City, isolated, abandoned, and feeling depressed and lost after the end of
my marriage. Travel, for me, became the means out of that low point. Making
radical changes to my life (leaving where I lived, trying to examine why I was
so unhappy at the time, and allowing myself to take action) gave me a way to
healing. But I don’t want to diminish the slow process of that recovery—it
foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your
book? (Any recipes I might share?)
is a book filled with food delights, as I traveled widely. In Mexico City, I
began to really experience the profound flavors of Mexican cuisine—the pipian
dishes, made with pumpkin seeds, from Puebla, the moles of Oaxaca. There is a
section of the book that conveys my trips through the state of Oaxaca, the food
I ate in the markets there and in the excellent restaurants. The tagines of
Morocco are also a strong memory. And then there is the food of Rome and Paris,
in the later sections of the book. I have maintained a strong relationship with
Mexico, since the years I initially lived there, which are described in Wonder
Travels. So while difficult to choose, I will select one food to share and
pick a black mole recipe.
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