7 8 9 10 11 Displaying 57-63 of 82 Articles

I always knew that someday I would write a novel starring Johnny Carson. I first fell in love with the king of late-night TV in the autumn of 1972. I was six years old and had just started first grade. Because I was now officially a "student," my parents moved me into my own bedroom, complete with a wooden desk and a 13" black-and-white TV set with rabbit-ears antenna and a plastic knob for changing the channels.

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Third Girl from the Left started as the story of a woman who failed -- and it stayed that way. The short story that later grew into my most recent novel was quite a surprise to me -- but as I've continued to write novels, I've come to believe that that's how you know it's working. I wrote the story "Show Business" (anthologized in Mending The World) in graduate school. It in turn, had grown out of a short exercise that I did at a place called the Writers Studio in New York City, where I've lived for the past 21 years. Here's the first line of the story: "Every night, I dream of actors." And here's the first line of the novel: "My mother was an actress." In both cases, I went on to tell the story of an actress in the films of the 1970s's that are commonly referred to now as blaxploitation. Actually, the person telling the story was her daughter, who was (I like to think) rueful, wise and a bit more clear sighted than her mother.

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I am an incurable optimist by trade. But even I began to see visions of glasses half-full when first one, then two, then three, then four, then five years passed without a book sale. During that time, I was losing my beloved maternal grandmother, on top of some other personal stressors. Let's just say, I was safely off the chart on sad.

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When I was in Oxford, England, visiting my daughter who was studying there, I looked up into the beams of Merton Chapel and there was a face peering down at me. It was a face with leaves sprouting as hair, vines and tendrils springing from his mouth and nose. I had come to face to with an ancient carving of a Greenman. Greenman have been found in churches in the British Isles since the 12th century and they've been in existence in different forms in many countries for much longer than that. My response as a writer was to ask what if? What would it be like if my hair suddenly turned to leaves, my skin became as rough and fluted as sycamore bark, and vines pushed their way up my throat? My musings turned into a poem, The Greenman, which was published in several journals and anthologies.

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"Write what you know."

How many times as writers have we been told just that? I think it might even be in the initiation packet along with instructions on the secret handshake. But there's no denying that it's a technique that works. Especially for a first book. It gives you a level of comfort that allows you as the writer, the freedom to allow your story to come to life. So for my debut novel for MTV Books, I did just that -- wrote what I knew.

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I began writing Jump at the Sun in early spring 2001. Or wait -- maybe it was late spring 2001. Or maybe it was the fall. The truth is, I don't remember. I don't remember much about that time. The whole thing, frankly, is a hazy blur.

It's a blur because my daughter was two years old and my son was six months and we had just moved from New York to Boston so my husband could take a new job. I was alone in a new city (actually worse, a new suburb) with small children and no friends and no job and no family and I was starting, seriously, to question the whole thing. Boston. (Still questioning that one). Wifedom. Motherhood.

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For a long time the idea was only a doodle in my notebook. "Happy families," wrote Tolstoy, "are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Why, I wondered, do so many intelligent people cite that line... without ever seeming to question whether it's true? Do we honestly agree with Tolstoy that only tragedy is interesting... that happiness is boring, cliché? And if so, what does this say about our own expectations and dreams? Is our choice really between being interestingly tragic, or else being automatons of contentment? Or can happiness be quirky, hilarious, deeply challenging?

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7 8 9 10 11 Displaying 57-63 of 82 Articles