Writer’s Life: Holly Brown

If you are among the people who this week may be craving a little extra reality-escape, I’m here to suggest: Read BOOKS! To that end, allow me to introduce you to family therapist and author Holly Brown, and her new psychological thriller, THIS IS NOT OVER.holly-brown-ap1

 

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

In high school, I wanted to be the next S.E. Hinton (no, I’m not dating myself at all here.) S.E. Hinton wrote “The Outsiders,” “That Was Then…This is Now,” and other fantastic books that were all the rage when I was a teenager. She was a teenager herself when she was published, which made her my idol. So when I was about fifteen, I finished writing my first novel. My family lived in Philadelphia, and there was one literary agent that we found in the Yellow Pages. My father drove me to the agent’s office so I could deliver my manuscript personally. Now, barring the fact that this is not at all how submitting to agents works and that I was summarily rejected and that I didn’t get published for many more years, what I love about the story is that my parents never doubted that talent and drive could make things happen. They never doubted that MY talent and drive could make things happen. So I carry that confidence and determination into my writing, and my life. And I want to bring it to my daughter’s life, too.

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

This is the least sexy answer ever, but I love to write from my bed. It’s just so cozy. Sometimes I have the TV on, which is something you would never encourage your kids to do at a time of concentration, but it’s kind of like having a party going on nearby. For some reason, that works for me. And I think it’s important that every writer just finds a system that works for them and embraces it, fully.

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

Stay curious. It’s critical to me as a writer, and as a therapist, and as a human being. It’s dangerous to feel like you know everything. And it’s boring.

  1. Who inspires you?

Sue Johnson, who developed emotionally focused therapy. It’s informed by attachment theory, which says that the emotional bonds we have with our loved ones are vital, starting with our parents. But it doesn’t stop there, and even if you didn’t get what you needed as a child, you can still get it later in life; you just have to work a little harder. Sue Johnson helps couples learn to love well, to become emotionally secure and able to truly depend on one another, and her teachings have made me a much better therapist.

  1. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I feel passionately about an informed electorate, and about the necessity for independent investigative journalism. Investigative journalism is on the decline at a time when we need it most in order to keep elected officials and corporations accountable. ProPublica is an amazing non-profit dedicated to finding, researching, and telling stories that advance the public interest. They’re funded almost entirely through donations: https://www.propublica.org/ 


For more about Holly:

Website: HollyBrownBooks.com       Facebook: Facebook.com/HollyBrownAuthor

Blog: Bonding Time   Buy the Book: http://bit.ly/TINOHB

 


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P.S. If you are lucky enough to be in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area on Tuesday, January 17, at 7pm, you can meet Holly for her launch party at Books Inc. Alameda (a hop, skip and jump from the Oakland Airport), one of my favorite bookstores.

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Carolyn See: The Audacity of Creativity, Generosity, and Persistence

For a moment, I want to put aside all news related to grand-scale pain and death, and reflect on one single candle blown out yesterday, not by terrorism or war or weapon, but by cancer.

I want to pay tribute to author, teacher, inspirer, Carolyn See.

Thirty years ago I read her novel Golden Days. I was so young, I didn’t know anything about her, didn’t know that she was the queen of Literature of California, or even that she lived near my town. I knew only that her descriptions — like how it felt to drive on lazy, meandering Sunset Boulevard — would embed in my brain until they became my own world view.

Twenty years later, I was a mother of two young boys, timidly daring to spend free time writing, though not brave enough to call myself a writer. I came across another book of hers, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

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Carolyn See helped me believe in my idea to write, edit and publish my first book. Her words helped me squash the inner voice that said I was an impostor, wannabe, dilettante. She spoke directly to me, and every other would-be writer hanging onto her advice, saying: Go For It. Cultivate Your Own Literary Life. She invited us in, but advised us that we’d have to push the door open and walk through by our own efforts. It wouldn’t be opened for us.

She commanded two essential ingredients: Write 1,000 words, and one charming note, five days a week. (Her daughter, novelist Lisa See, in the anthology What My Mother Gave Me, described this lesson as her mother’s gift to her.)

The thousand words a day I understood. But that “charming note” seemed so awkward. Who would I write? What would I say? “Hi, I really liked your book. Have a nice day.” How would that help me make a literary life?

I decided to trust her, and tried it. Once. Ten years ago, I wrote a note to Carolyn See herself. (I imagine she got a lot of those from people like me who couldn’t think of who else to write a note to.) I wouldn’t have remembered writing this note, but it turns out I never sent it. It appeared on my desk last week, unaddressed, except for her name.

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I opened it this morning after reading of her passing.

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I took her message to heart, and through years of writing, rewriting, abandoning, returning, and committing to the end goal, I became an author. In the words on the book jacket, “Carolyn See is not only a wonderful writer — she’s a wonderful writer who wants you to be a wonderful writer as well.” The audacity of generosity.

Dear Lisa, and dear Clara, your mother surely gave you many gifts, but I wanted to publicly thank her for the gift she gave me – allowing me to believe that the writing life was open to me, and so many others, simply if we wanted it.

We cannot always know where our inspiration or role models will come from, or to know what piece of advice will stick with us and make the difference years later. In a world whose grand trends can some days fill me with despair, I find solace today in zooming in, on focusing on one creative, original, and generous life lived.

Writer’s Life: Lisa Scottoline

 

Lisa Scottoline--Credit April NarbyWhat I love most about the Writer’s Life interview series is the chance to glean wisdom from so many different writers. Today, Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author of 22 novels (whose current release, MOST WANTED, hit the shelves April 12) offers one of the best nuggets of parenting-cum-writing advice I’ve read yet: Be yourself. Meet Lisa:

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

I was very close to both my mother and my father and they were wonderful parents. I truly think that the thing I learned from them that helps me as a writer is “Be yourself.” There is simply no better way to explain what voice is, in my opinion.

It’s a good thing to tell new writers because there is so much self-doubt in the beginning, and, truly, it never goes away completely. Writers often doubt if what they’re saying is different or original, or if their ideas are good enough, or if their characters are fresh. If you are being yourself when you write, or being your character, then the voice will be authentic, true, and original – and will also be compelling. There are only a few stories in the world. We probably all know the quote that there are only two plots: a stranger comes to town, and a man goes on a quest. But though there are very few stories, there is an unlimited number of stories told by you.  Or your character.  And so “Be yourself” is simply the best thing you can ever be in life and in writing.

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

I write in my home. I love my house so much, especially because my five dogs and three cats are always around, which is like bringing a little nature and unpredictability into every situation. I have a sunroom I like to write in in the warmer months, and I just moved into it today because it’s spring. There’s a cherry tree right outside the window, and it’s very quiet because it overlooks my backyard. With the sun flowing inside, I feel like the luckiest writer in the world.

If you had a motto, what would it be?  

It would be “Be yourself,” for the reason I said above. But if I’m going to suggest a second motto, it would be “Just do it.” I borrowed that phrase from Nike when for so many years I was nervous about trying to become a writer and I had a lot of self-doubt and insecurity.  One day I just got so disgusted with doubting myself, I said to myself, “Just do it.” Writing is very behavioral, in that you have to sit down every day and settle those negative feelings inside, and just do it. I have a writing quota that I meet every day and I write seven days a week. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best way for me to write and to actually finish a draft, then I get to edit. And there will be a time when I’m writing and I come to an especially hard passage or plot point and I actually still say to myself, “Just do it!”

Who inspires you? 

I feel inspired by every book I read, because I see the interesting task that a writer has assigned himself or herself, and how he or she has gone about executing that idea. I’m proud of anybody who starts and finishes a novel, whether it gets published or not!

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

I really love animals. I’m a vegetarian and I am very passionate about animal welfare. I wish we treated animals better in the world, not only dogs and cats, but aquatic animals and the like. I abhor factory farming, which is a disgrace. Paul McCartney once said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, nobody would eat meat. I think he is absolutely right. The more you know about animals, the more you understand yourself in relation to nature. I hope someday we will overcome our natural tendency to subjugate and kill such sentient and intelligent beings.


Thanks to Lisa and St. Martin’s Press for offering one copy of MOST WANTED for a giveaway! To enter, visit my Facebook page and click on “Giveaway” tab.


LISA SCOTTOLINE is a New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author of twenty-two novels. She has 30 million copies of her books in print in the United States, and she has been published in thirty-five countries. She has served as the president of Mystery Writers of America, and her thrillers have been optioned for television and film. She also writes a weekly humor column with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and those critically acclaimed stories have been adapted into a series of memoirs, the first of which is entitled, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog. She lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets. Visit scottoline.com for more info.

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Writer’s Life: Marin Thomas

Marin Thomas is the author of more than thirty western romances, and her first Women’s Fiction title — THE PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS (Berkeley/NAL) – was released March 1. Seeing as Marin played NCAA basketball for the University of Arizona Lady Wildcats, this season of college basketball Madness is the perfect time to talk about her new book, how she came to writing and who influenced her. Meet Marin:

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

I’ve learned that forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give or receive. Not until I became a parent and found myself navigating the rough waters of raising teenagers did I experience a parenting epiphany. I realized that the mistakes my parents had made raising me had been committed with the best of intentions. Every parent strives to do the right thing, but often we’re winging it as we go. Acknowledging the mistakes I made with my children has enabled me to forgive my own parents and appreciate the difficulty of parenting on all levels.

Forgiveness is a common theme in many of my books because it paves the way to a richer, sweeter more meaningful life.

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

I write in the spare bedroom of our home. What I love most about my office is my desk. My husband purchased the Texas Ranger style monstrosity for me after I sold my first book to Harlequin in 2004. To date I’ve written over thirty books sitting at this desk.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Listen more, talk less.

Who inspires you?

My mother, who is now deceased, continues to inspire me each and every day. She was a bookaholic before the term became popular and she passed her love of reading on to me. She became my biggest cheerleader when I confided in her that I dreamed of becoming a published author…before self-publishing was even an option. Then she became my biggest fan when I finally sold. With each book I write, I give a quiet thanks to my mother for supporting my dream.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about supporting the University of Arizona Alumni Association and the Letter Winners program. I credit my college experience with changing my narrow view of the world and broadening my horizons. I grew up a middle-class girl in a small southern Wisconsin town with little diversity. My athletic scholarship exposed me to different races, religions, and philosophies. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t gone to college.

In 1982 I learned my first lesson in racism. While participating in a basketball tournament in rural Alabama our team was not allowed to eat in the main dining room of a restaurant because we had an African American coach and several African American players. Instead, we were escorted to a back room, where we ate in silence behind closed doors out of sight of the other diners.

I’d like to believe my experiences in college have made me a more sympathetic, caring human being. The small-town girl who graduated high school in Wisconsin is a far cry from the one who graduated college five years later and it has nothing to do with earning a degree.

What books do you recommend?

I’m a member of a wonderful group of women authors called The Tall Poppies. I’ve read several of their novels and would highly recommend any of them. You can find a list the authors and their books at www.tallpoppy.org

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“There’s a big promise in this book: love, redemption, and a story so gripping I couldn’t put it down.” – #1 NY Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

Marin Thomas grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. She married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony at the historical Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. They currently live in Houston, where she spends her free time junk hunting and researching her next ghost tour.

Writer’s Life: Julia Dahl

I met Julia Dahl last May at the Jewish Book Council‘s author “pitch fest,” at which hundreds of authors have two minutes each to give book festival planners a glimpse into their synopsis, soul, and speaking capability. When Julia stepped up for her turn, I heard a thrilled murmur of anticipation among the attendees, and when she described her latest book, Run You Down (out today in paperback!), I understood why. Meet author and journalist, Julia Dahl.

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

Well, my son is barely 4 months old, so at this point I’m just trying to learn parenting itself! But from my parents I learned to love reading – my mom’s motto is “bring a book!” – and from my love of reading came the desire to write.

I also brought a lot of my parents into my mystery series, which features a protagonist whose mother is Jewish and father is Christian – just like my parents. Our family celebrated both religions and there was never a conflict. My mother and father respected each others’ faith and saw similarities, not differences. Once I grew up and left home, however, I saw people from both religions who seemed keen on emphasizing what divided the two, and I wanted to challenge that with my writing.

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

I tend to write in coffee shops and cafes and I rotate between about half a dozen places near my home in Brooklyn. I like a little noise and distraction and I like getting out of my apartment to work. It helps me feel like what I’m doing is important enough to get dressed for.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

“Talk about a dream, try to make it real.” – Bruce Springsteen

Who inspires you?

Right now, my son, Mick, inspires me. He was born a month early and wasn’t really ready to be out in the world, but he’s such an unbelievable trooper. He’s endured poking and prodding by doctors and two unprepared and overwhelmed parents, and he’s done it all with grace. I truly can’t wait to see who he becomes.

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

Several years ago I went through training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in the foster care system. I’ve mentored girls since I was in college and while some of the experiences have been tough, I’ve always felt that giving my time to young people who have been let down by the adults in their life is incredibly important. I haven’t been active in CASA for a couple years, but I hope to go back one day. In the meantime, I try to help teens where and when I can. A friend of mine – who left a strict Hasidic community and has managed to make a wonderful life for her children despite the death of her husband – asked me to help her son with his college essays and I loved doing that.

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

The three best books I’ve read in the last few months are The Harder They Come by TC Boyle, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Purity by Jonathan Franzen.

Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for CBSNews.com. Her first novel, INVISIBLE CITY, was named one of the Boston Globe’s Best Books of 2014 and was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, RUN YOU DOWN, is now out in paperback, and the third novel in her Rebekah Roberts series will be published in 2017. Julia was born and raised in Fresno, California and now lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and son. Connect on Twitter (@juliadahl), Facebook (JuliaDahlAuthor) and www.juliadahl.com.


 

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I wanted to tell you.

I’ve been wanting to tell you some things, but I haven’t had enough time or patience to give them their due, to connect them in a coherent story. So they sit in my head, unsaid. Sometimes I’m too busy living my life to write about it. Not writing makes me grumpy. It’s a physical need, to process through words, to wonder. But things move fast, and writing requires stillness.

So I wanted to tell you some things and it may not be perfect.

I wanted to tell you that we’re not too old to play. I nag my kids to go outside and they turn it around, ask me to play Capture the Flag. I have to force myself say yes. Lo and behold, despite myself, I have fun.

I wanted to tell you that my 15 1/2 year old niece joined in last time and was as into it as any of us.

I wanted to say how fast they, and we, grow up. My sister pulled into the driveway to pick up this teenage girl who had been screaming with abandon, “Get the flag!! Get the flag!!” My sister moved to the passenger seat, and my niece took her place behind the wheel. I watched her drive away.

I wanted to tell you to keep playing, as long as you can, even though our bodies can’t keep up with our spirits. A couple of weeks ago my husband’s softball team learned that bitter lesson three-fold, with a broken leg, a torn Achilles, and a fractured finger. Yet wary teammates will return to the field, weighing real risk against real fun.

My Dad plays football every Sunday with the same group of guys. Football is for him like writing is for me. It fills his well. Last week a player came out of the game feeling sick. Tight chest and nausea. My Dad rushed his friend to the hospital a few blocks away, where he had a heart attack in the waiting room, surrounded and saved by paramedics, thank God.

I wanted to tell you so much more, to unravel the string of words that is knotted in my heart and head. I wanted to tell you to play while you can, that there’s not enough time not to play. There’s not enough time for perfection.

I wanted to tell you I appreciate you.

And it’s time for the next thing…

 

Writer’s Life: Seré Prince Halverson

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Seré Prince Halverson is the internationally bestselling author of The Underside of Joy and All the Winters After, which was released yesterday! She is a sensitive observer of the beauty and frailty of the human condition, and her novels are infused with humanity, compassion, and love. In the brief meeting we had last Fall, I got the distinct sense, in the midst of the bookish hoopla going on around her, that she was infused with a calm, steady wisdom. Having four grown kids may do that. I’m pleased to introduce you to Seré Prince Halverson.

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

Trust the process. (My children are grown now, so allow me this benefit of hindsight.) Like most parents, I had my share of self-doubt, the realization that I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, there were those shiny moments when I knew, with renewed certainty, that I had this down, that no one else could so expertly raise these particular children into adulthood without the benefit of my vast understanding, humor, and intuition. Ha. But soon things would fall apart again—on the drive home from practice or at the dinner table. We’ve all been there. Still, we keep showing up, trying to do our best, trying to listen, learning as we go, mostly learning from the kids we’re attempting to teach.

All this can be said for my characters too. I keep showing up, writing through the self-doubt, listening, trusting that when it’s time to let them go, they’re going to somehow find their way in the world.

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

We live in a house that’s surrounded by trees but fortunately still gets a lot of sun. I write in a small room that was an open loft before it was finished off with sloping wood-lined walls and lots of angles. It’s like a starving artist’s garret, but more comfortable. (My husband is a great cook so there’s no starving going on here.) One of the windows looks out over our living room and to the trees-and-sky view beyond. I have a cozy daybed, a desk, an old upholstered chair, lots of books, and my dog and cat for company. What do I love about it? Everything. But it’s a little too comfortable. Recently I moved my mini trampoline in to encourage me to get up and move more.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

My motto, like life, is always changing. Right now it’s: Get Up and Move More.

Who inspires you?

I’m lucky; I’m surrounded by people who inspire me in different ways: my husband, my kids, my family and friends, other writers and artists. Small and big acts of courage, kindness, vision, honesty, generosity, and tenacity all inspire me to try to be better. My dog, Stuart, inspires me to greet each morning with more tail-wagging enthusiasm. I’m working on that—but only after coffee.

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

I recently read Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton—a tender sword through my soul. Everyone should read it, and apparently everyone is. I just started The Story of a New Name, the second book in the addictive Elena Ferrante Neapolitan series. So good.

Recommending for book clubs: Three wonderful books that just came out in paperback: Pieces of My Mother, a memoir by Melissa Cistaro; The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy; and A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison. And I devoured The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which is available in March. [Ed. note: And who will be interviewed here in March.]

Recommending for writers: Because You Have To by Joan Frank; Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memorists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran; The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop by Steven Koch

On the top of my towering to-read pile: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa; The Spirit of Grace by Terry Thomas; A Paper Son by Jason Buchholz; Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond (I’ve heard this one is exceptionally good). [Editor’s note: Isn’t she sweet?]


Seré Prince Halverson is the international bestselling author of The Underside of Joy (2012) and All the Winters After (February 2016)—novels that explore nature, grief, forgiveness, and the intimate layers of family. Her work has been translated into eighteen languages. She and her husband have four grown children and live in Northern California in a house in the woods. www.sereprincehalverson.com and www.whomovedmybuddha.blogspot.com.

All the Winters After on Amazon and Indiebound

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Kachemak Winkel never intended to return to Caboose, Alaska, after his family died in a plane crash twenty years earlier. When he finally musters the courage to face the abandoned homestead where he grew up, he’s surprised to find a mysterious young Russian woman hiding from her own troubled past. Nadia has kept the house exactly the same–a haunting museum of life before the crash. And she’s lived there, afraid and utterly isolated, for a decade. Set in the majestic yet dangerous natural beauty of Alaska, All the Winters After is the story of two bound souls trying to free themselves, searching for family and forgiveness.

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

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Coming Tomorrow…the Writer’s Life Interviews.

Think of this post as the soft opening before the Grand Opening of a new series on this blog, Writer’s Life Interviews. Tomorrow, you’ll meet author Julia Claiborne Johnson, whose debut novel BE FRANK WITH ME is launching to excellent reviews. Julia is the perfect author to kick off this series, as her novel tells the story of a unique child, Frank; his overwhelmed, reclusive author mother; and the idealistic young assistant who enters the fray to help them both.

I’m so excited for this new series of Writer’s Life interviews. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that my children turned me into a writer; motherhood was my muse. So I love to hear how writers blend their personal and writing lives, to peer into their creative processes, and to get to know them outside of their books.

I’ll ask everyone these questions, and they can answer as many as they want:

1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?
2. Where do you write? What do you love about it?
3. If you had a motto, what would it be?
4. Who inspires you?
5. What charity or community service are you passionate about these days?
6. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I hope you’ll enjoy meeting new authors, or getting to know “old favorites” in a different way. For me, preparing the interviews have already paid unexpected dividends in the form of parenting wisdom and great book recommendations.

See you tomorrow with Julia Claiborne Johnson!

– Laura

P.S. What burning question do you have that you’d like me to pose?

Behind the scenes of Shelter Us

I thought I’d share some “behind the scenes” of how my debut novel, Shelter Us, evolved from first draft to final form. Today’s tidbit: Torah study.

What’s that? You heard me.

After I had completed the first draft and was working sloooowly on revising, I began attending Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein, at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, a progressive and all-around awesome place. (Her podcasts are here.)

Every week in Torah study we read and dissected ancient stories, and found connections to modern human foibles, habits, and yearnings — both personal and universal. What surprised me about Torah study, and what kept me coming back, was twofold: how relevant it was — how much I learned from it as a parent, a friend, a citizen. And how completely beautiful its purpose — to inspire humans toward becoming our best selves, all the while recognizing hey, we’re only human.

So nuts and bolts, how did this affect Shelter Us? Well, the first draft already had Sarah meeting and reaching out to Josie, a young homeless mother. (Obviously, my good Jewish Tikkun Olam training had already seeped into the plot.) But I went back and deepened Sarah’s motivation for doing that, deciding to make her late mother a Jewish convert, someone who often modeled the most important Jewish value: Remember we were strangers; welcome and take care of the stranger.

There more I think about it, the more Jewish values I find infused in Shelter Us, from its title, to the idea of passing values from one generation to the next, to the role of ritual, and even to the biggie: beliefs about God. And the more questions there are to explore.

  • How do you continue to learn and grow, be it philosophy, spirituality or history or something else?
  • Have you found yourself more or less drawn to religion or spirituality as you’ve gotten older?

Thanks for reading. Any questions you’d like answered? Feel free to ask in a comment, or contact me. More to come soon!