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I’ve Got To Get You Into My Life

PHOTO: Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in a scene from the movie Dirty Dancing.

When I was fifteen, I went to an “alternative” camp. There I met an older camper named Fred. He had long hair, a wash of freckles,  and a lot of swag. I’m quite sure he didn’t know I was alive (was I alive?), but I worshipped him from afar. One day, somehow, we got to talking outside the theater barn. It was there he told  me that he believed authentic feeling was all that mattered.  I disagreed. I believed that execution was all. We all have feelings, what separates artists and writers is their ability to execute a work of art.  He chided me for this. He was all for undiluted feeling. Did I still want to fuck him? Yes, of course. But it was a demarcation for me of people who believed in feeling over form.

Feeling or form? Where do you live?

 

 

When You Ain’t Got Nothing You Got Nothing To Lose

Image result for albert camus

Thank you for all the beautiful notes about losing my mom. Until now, I truly believed that there was no excuse for not writing. I believed that a writer should write under any conditions. That a “real writer” wasn’t derailed by things like love, war, life or death. I hated hearing writers make excuses for not getting their work done. Of course, I’d always act deeply sympathetic, but internally I was full of judgement and disdain. Since no one is asking you to write, since no one cares if you write, why would anyone want to hear your excuses for not writing. You’re literally not doing something that no one wants. I prided myself for writing all my books while holding a full time job. I prided myself for writing two books on the Metronorth train from New Haven to Grand Central. I prided myself for getting up at five and blah blah blah. Ever since my mother died, I’ve been in a fog. To avoid facing my own inability to concentrate, I have given myself seven pap smears, make a bumper crop of baked apples, reorganized my button tin, flossed, and brought a pair of slacks I bought in 2013 to the tailor.  I’m not humbled. I’m pissed. No one ever called Camus an asshole.

What stops you in your tracks?

 

What’ll I Do When You are Far Away

I’m writing with sad news. My mom, my bridge lady, died last month. A lot of people have said they felt they knew my mother through my book, The Bridge Ladies. I always wanted to ask: what, what do you think you knew about her. I feel bereft that I barely scratched the surface. My mother was beyond complicated and our relationship covered the spectrum. The dressing room wars. The thirty years in therapy. The symphony of criticism. The covert encouragement. When I was eleven or so, we drove past a snow covered field with dead corn stalks sticking up. I said it looked like stubble on a man’s face. My mom was delighted by the comparison and explained what a simile was. Then the field burst into flame.

What did you learn from your mother?

 

When My Smallest of Dreams Won’t Come True

Every night when I go to the gym (okay, on the rare occasion that I haul my ass into the gym), the woman who has the locker next to me is always there. Yes, we make the perfunctory remark about how the place is empty and here we are right on top of each other. Of all the! This woman takes off all her clothes and sits on the bench and looks at Facebook. She has an athletic body and is proud of it. And why not! I, on the other hand, use my towel like a magician hoping no one can see what’s hiding behind it. I can literally get dressed and undressed behind a towel the size of a postage stamp. Tonight, she was talking on the phone while sitting there naked. It sounded like she was getting estimates on flowers. She liked the paper whites.

Do you have a writer’s body?

 

Deep Inside I’m Blue

When I handed in my first draft of Forest for the Trees, my editor had one comment. She said is was too negative. She said no one would want to read it they didn’t think there was some hope. She crossed out a lot of paragraphs and wrote “No, no, no” in the margins . I’d like to tell you that I stuck to my guns, but instead I made the changes she recommended. I wish I could tell that I carefully weighed her suggestions but it was my first book and did everything she said as if I were her little love slave. In the end, I had to admit she was right. The relentless negativity probably would have been off putting to many if not all readers. But for the record: writing is amazing and if you’re too dim to understand the gift of language then it’s lost on you anyway. But publishing is cruel and mercurial and inexplicable. It is not a reliable source of self esteem.

What’s your most negative thought about publishing?

 

 

Heaven Holds a Place for Those Who Pray

I never have ideas. I have a character, a line, a situation. I don’t really even know what an idea is or what it looks like or how it talks. For me, it’s the wheel on a grocery cart that wobbles. That’s what gets me started.  That is the pebble in my shoe. The fine crust of mantle in my nostril. You have five new ideas for a screenplay!  You have an idea for a new novel. Mazel tov! For me an idea is: let’s get ice cream from Bill’s, or let’s go to the mall. I’ve never had a Eureka moment. If you sink a few putts in life, you should be happy. Whenever a writer says he started with an idea, excuse yourself to make a phone call, get  a drink or powder your nose.

Virginia, where do ideas come from?

Money Doesn’t Talk It Swears

We’ve never talked about this before. Not once. So let’s rip the roof of the fucker. I want to talk about bank. Money. Moola. Mool. Coin. Benjis, Clams. Pigs in Blankets. Soda cans. How much do you make as a writer. Nothing? Are you in debt? Are you scraping by? Rolling in it? I think Samuel Johnson said only a fool writes for anything but money. I know so many writers who do it for very little or no money. There is nothing better than being paid for your writing, though having readers and being loved isn’t bad. When I was a new agent, I sold two novels at the same time. I thought one was really commercial and it got a small advance. The other I thought was very literary and it got a huge advance. To this day, I don’t get it. It’s not mysterious, it’s mystifying and logic- busting.

Do you write for money?