Writer’s Life: Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran

I’m pleased to introduce you to Meredith Maran, editor of the new collection, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (And Others) in the Name of Literature.  I tore through this book, which (like the best memoirs) creates a personal connection between reader and writers. If you want to know more about some of your favorite writers (including Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Kelly Corrigan…), get your hands on this gem. And now, get to know Meredith…

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer? 

The same energy that’s required when a kid is having a tantrum is required when my writer-mind is having a tantrum. Writing is a fine balance between experiencing your feelings and modulating and moderating them, so they can be turned into art. Raising kids is a similar process. You can have big emotions where your kids are concerned, but you can’t express them exactly as you feel them. You have to express them based on what’s good for your kids, not just good for your own need to vent.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

It’s very important to me where I write. As we speak, I’m outside in a garden. I built myself a writing studio and put up a hammock. I live in sunny, warm Los Angeles, and I’m outside most of the time while I’m writing. Its important to me that it’s peaceful and beautiful and also that I can’t see any chores that need doing while I’m writing.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Tell the truth. And hurt self and others as little as possible while doing it.

Who inspires you?

My first inspiration was the French memoirist Françoise Sagan. I read her memoir, Bonjour Tristesse, which means “Hello Sadness” when I was a young teenager. My parents had her book on their shelf. They told me not to read it so of course I did. It was inspiring to me because she was 17 or 18 when she wrote it, and it was so emotional and beautiful and I thought, that’s what I want to do.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

Whenever an issue comes up, you can find me demonstrating for peace, and equality. Day to day, bringing diverse voices into the book marketplace is my cause. I review a lot of books for a lot of different publications, and believe me, I don’t do it for the money. I’m in a position to be able to promote the work of writers of color, women, lesbians, gay men, overlooked writers and small presses, and doing that is my mitzvah, as we Jews say.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just reviewed a memoir called The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky, a memoir of friendship and marriage. It’s stunning. I also reviewed the amazing novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I loved Jillian Lauren’s Everything You Ever Wanted and Claire Bidwell Smith’s The Rules of Inheritance. Thanks for asking!

Meredith Maran, a passionate reader and writer of memoirs, is the author of thirteen nonfiction books and the acclaimed 2012 novel, A Theory Of Small Earthquakes. Meredith also writes book reviews, essays, and features for newspapers and magazines including People, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, and More. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Meredith lives in a restored historic bungalow in Los Angeles, and on Twitter at @meredithmaran. Her next memoir, about starting over in Los Angeles, will be out from Blue Rider Press in 2017.

Why We Write About Ourselves on Amazon or IndieBound

MeredithMaran

Writer’s Life: Julia Claiborne Johnson

Julia Claiborne Johnson ap1

When you meet Julia Claiborne Johnson (and I really hope you do), you will be instantly charmed. She is authentic, humble, and though she hates speaking in public, she pulls you in with her humor and vulnerability in a way that makes her unforgettable. The same can be said of her debut novel, BE FRANK WITH ME, which launches today.  If you are fortunate enough to attend a book event, please go. You’ll make her so happy, and you’ll be smiling all the way home, too. Meet Julia:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

What I have learned from parenting is that I know nothing, though I thought I knew everything. I mean, once you’ve been a kid, you think you understand exactly what it must be like to raise one. So I was an idiotically confident parent in my twenties, when I didn’t actually have any children. Flash forward to my forties, and having kids, and feeling absolutely incompetent when it came to raising them. That’s why there’s an older mother and a younger woman helping her temporarily parent the kid in my book. They’re the two versions of me as a parent, the idealist and the exhausted.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

My very favorite place to work in my house is our guest room. There’s a guest in it more often than there isn’t, but when it’s empty, man oh man, my whole family fights over it. For one thing, it has the most comfortable bed in the house. That’s my husband’s favorite place to work. For me, I like the desks. There are two of them—a big one where I can spread out papers, and a little one where I can put my computer. I sit at the little desk and look out my window at the fountain in our garden where the birds come to drink and bathe. I love it there. It’s also very tidy, because it’s the guest room, and all the furniture is nice, because it’s the guest room. It has its own bathroom. Sometimes I pretend it’s my studio apartment, and I live in it all alone, in Manhattan. I realize all this is crazy since there would be no birdbath outside my studio apartment in New York since when I was young and living by myself I always lived in some dangerous not-Manhattan neighborhood of New York and cried every night when I came home from work because I lived by myself and was sure I always would. No birds, no birdbaths, just stray cats fighting in the yard all night and waking me up so I could cry some more. That thing Fitzgerald said was right: “In the real dark heart of the soul it’s always three o’clock in the morning.”

If you had a motto, what would it be?

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” The thing I’m going to have engraved on my gravestone is “I had a coupon.”

Who inspires you?

You know who inspires me? This is a horrible thing to say, but it’s all the bullies and the popular mean girls in grade school, who laughed at me for being clumsy and chubby, for having to eat food that was different from everybody else in school (allergies) and who picked me last for every team and never invited me to slumber parties. I’ll show them! Clearly, in my heart I’m still nine years old. Some scars don’t heal, I guess.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just read The Expatriates, by Janice Y.K. Lee. Guess what it’s about? Expatriates in Hong Kong. It was fascinating. Then I went back and read her first novel, The Piano Teacher. Also terrific. My favorite book on earth is Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. I also love I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. And one of the best and most helpful books for me as a writer was the biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. I learned so much from that.

Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children. Connect with Julia on  Facebook and Twitter. See her Book video  or read an excerpt from Be Frank With Me.

BE FRANK WITH ME on Amazon or Indiebound  

BeFrankWithMe

 

A Book Club Night to Remember

A couple of nights ago I spent an evening with a book club in Culver City. Let’s call them the Brilliant Educators Book Club. They would never be so presumptuous as to give themselves that name, but after one member introduced everyone in the room, with the name of the school(s) where they had taught or been principals, or the educational foundation they had headed or volunteered for, or the school board they had presided over as president, I think it is an apt description.

Brilliant Educators Book Club

The Brilliant Educators lived up to the moniker. Not only were they warm, effusive and filled with great questions, they raised ideas and taught me things about my book that I hadn’t thought about before, such as parallels between Sarah and her father and how they parented. Of course, they also hit on what has become a popular topic of lively debate, whether Sarah’s actions in a certain part of the book had to happen. (Those of you who have read the book probably know what I’m talking about. Those of you who haven’t…well, that can be easily remedied.)

It was an honor to sit in the Author’s chair at their meeting, for my book to have been given their care and attention, and most of all, to hear that I had created a family about whom they cared deeply. Thank you, Brilliant Educators. I loved every minute, and hope you did, too.

Have a book club you’d like me to visit? I would be happy to hear from you!

A Fleeting Glimpse of Martha’s Vineyard

The seagulls accompanied us to Martha’s Vineyard, flying alongside the ferry as it cut through waters like F-15’s guiding in Air Force One. (Or waiting for dropped potato chips.) Our children did not accompany us. They boycotted the Martha’s Vineyard excursion (and its miles of bike riding) in favor of “rest” at home today (aka watching a Harry Potter Marathon). Knowing they would be in J.K. Rowling’s good care, we acquiesced.

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The last time we left our kids alone watching Harry Potter was 4 years ago. We were at a rented cottage in New Hampshire, and we were only 20 yards away on the dock looking at stars. In the quiet night, we heard blood-curdling screams. We ran to the house, and through tears the kids explained that a giant snake in the movie had leaped out, causing them to jump and knock heads, the source of the screaming.

Much has changed since then. They are now old enough for us to say, “Yes, you may stay home. Here’s money, here’s a map of the 1-mile walk to get food and play mini-golf. We’ll see you in six hours.” This is a happy example of “time passing” — it can be a good thing, a fact I don’t admit to often enough.

In Martha’s Vineyard, we rode bikes six miles along an ocean trail to Edgartown, where we ate lobster and drank local blueberry beer.

There was also this

There was also this, the  “Best Bloody Mary Evah.” A meal in itself.

In addition to lovely food and views, Edgartown was charming, historic, high end, busy, and surprising — I never expected to see a Charles Bukowski poem welcoming shoppers into a preppy store.

Bukowski's reach is far.

Bukowski’s reach is far.

Another fun fact about Edgartown: When I first walked into Edgartown Books, a dozen people were lined up patiently waiting to buy their summer reading from booksellers May and Ann. This was a town to return to.

Busy busy Edgartown Books!

Busy busy Edgartown Books!

May (whose books I hope to be reading in the not-to-distant future) in front of the stairway to Edgartown Books' second story.

May (whose books I hope to be reading in the not-to-distant future) by the stairway to Edgartown Books’ second story.

Then it was time to return. We rode seven miles to the town of Vineyard Haven, and said hello to the good people of Bunch of Grapes Bookstore before rushing to the dock for the five o’clock ferry.

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Booksellers were so busy helping so many customers at Bunch of Grapes, it was impossible to take a photo with them. Good problem.

We queued up with the other cyclists, and sat on the top deck, accompanied back by the seagulls. This time they were hand fed by some passengers.

Made it in the nick of time!

Made it in the nick of time!

During our fleeting visit to Cape Cod, and today Martha’s Vineyard, I am trying to digest these places. I listen and watch, and fill in the blanks with conjecture: there are locals, there are summer people, there are regular weekenders, and there are folks like us — one-off visitors seeking a glimpse of the myth of The Cape, with less than a day to give the Vineyard.

After the ferry delivers us, we return to the rented house in New Seabury and all is well. Harry Potter has commanded the day. Mystery still abounds, there is much still unexplained, and that’s okay. The last installment is coming.