Writer’s Life: Seré Prince Halverson

Sere Prince Halverson

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

MeredithMaran

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!

Resolution # 2: Find your heart’s calling, resist “prestige”

Yesterday morning I looked out on a winter’s day in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. My eyes absorbed the leaves, wet and drained of autumn pigment, clinging to skinny dark branches, refusing to fall. It was the kind of day that used to bring the lyrics of “California Dreamin’” to my lips when I was a freshman at Penn, far from my native habitat of Pacific Ocean sunsets. Yes, all the leaves are brown! Yes, the sky is gray! It’s all true! At eighteen years old, my future was unlimited. Every path was open.

Today, many significant reunions later, I’m “safe and warm in L.A.,” back to work, writing and lawyering and mom-ing.

And…checking e-mail, which sends me to Facebook, which leads me to a post by Maria PopovaHow to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love. Uh-oh.

It puts me in the same frame of mind as the couplet closing “The Summer Day” by poet Mary Oliver“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It taunts me. Such pressure! Am I living up to it?

As though he is in cahoots, my ten-year-old son (who has lamented that he does not know what he wants to be when he grows up) asks me, “Mom, do you love your job?” I consider, and answer: “I love writing…I like being a lawyer.” I tell myself that’s pretty good.

Do you know what you are called to do, are you are doing it?

Do you feel that you are glimpsing it, standing at the edge of the cliff and sensing that what you seek is out there, if only you had the courage to leap?

Are you close enough, happy enough, and don’t need to rock the boat?

I am not a leaper; I am a baby stepper. I cringe my way into the ocean and have inched my way for years into the writer’s life, combining it with the lawyer’s (if it’s good enough for Scott Turow, etc…). But one particular wisdom in Popova’s article is for all of us, leapers and baby-steppers alike: Let go of the false prize of prestige.

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

….

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

Prestige lurks and tempts: it is the esteemed career path, without the passion; the appointment to a high-falutin’ committee, without the interest. If the passion is not there, resist! Enlist the help of friends, if necessary. (I once asked my sister to shoot me if I applied to be a Law Review Editor. I knew I’d hate it, but I knew I was susceptible to its golden bauble, resume value.) I resisted on my own. No shots were fired.

What a way to enter the new year. Seek more of what moves you. Move closer to the joyful sound, the bracing splash, of your heart’s calling. Even if you have to inch your way toward it.