NOTE: The Next Big Thing is a blog chain, winding its way through cyberspace. Today, I’m delighted to participate by answering a few questions about my new book, Mother Daughter Me. Big thanks to Louise Aronson for inviting me to join in. You can find out more about Louise’s new book, A History of the Present Illness, here.
The Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is the title of your book (or story)?
Mother Daughter Me
Where did the idea come from for the book?
In the summer of 2009, in the wake of a crisis in her life, my mother moved from San Diego to San Francisco to live with my 16-year-old daughter and me. My mother was 77. I was determined to do what I could to help my mother. I also held fast to a fairytale view of our relationship that made us certain everything would work out fine. We referred to our adventure as “our year in Provence.” What I found instead was that I was sandwiched squarely between my obligation to my aging parent and my responsibility for my teenager.
I entered into the experiment in multigenerational living with my mother with no intention of writing a book. But as it turned out, I wasn’t over my feelings about my childhood, which had been, to put it mildly, less than ideal. Soon after my mother moved in, I began acting out, in small, often cruel ways. I rejected the things she brought with her into our co-habitation, right down to her kitchen knives, which I considered inferior to mine. If she needed me to do something for her, I did it, but grudgingly. I lay in bed at night confused, angry, sorry, and tormented. And that is how the book happened: one night, while in this state of mental anguish, I thought to myself, ‘either this experiment is going to kill me, or I will write about it.’ I got out of bed and wrote. I usually struggle to write 500 words, but within a few hours, I had written 5,000. That’s not to say that what I had written was any good (it was more stream of consciousness than anything), but I had written it straight from my heart. Over the next few days I refined it and that turned into the book proposal, which turned into Mother Daughter Me.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
My Mother – Jennifer Lawrence as the young woman; Helen Mirren as the older woman
My Daughter — Morgan Saylor (she plays Dana in Homeland)
Me — Diane Lane
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Mother Daughter Me asks a central question: what is our obligation to our parents as they age, particularly if those parents gave us a childhood that was far less than ideal? (You will have to read the book to learn what my answer to this question is
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book is represented by Levine-Greenberg Literary Agency and will be published by Random House in July 2013.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Hah! I thought this would be the easiest of all the books I’ve written (Mother Daughter Me is my sixth). After all, it’s a memoir, and it required little in the way of research or reporting. But it turned out to the be hardest of any book I’ve written because it was so emotionally wrenching. The first draft took a year to complete, and the subsequent drafts each took many months.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Three of my favorite memoirs: Mary Karr’s Lit; Carolyn Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story; and Philip Roth’s Patrimony.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My family, my life, and my large circle of friends, many of whom now find themselves squarely in The Sandwich Generation.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
This is non-fiction, but I have approached the writing as one might a good novel — i.e., it’s all in the storytelling.
Here are the writers I am pleased to tag for next week’s The Next Big Thing:
Deborah Strobin, a new friend with a great memoir out: www.facebook.com/
Gould’s beloved old instrument is going on permanent exhibit at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Martin Knelman of The Toronto Star just wrote a nice piece about the June 20 event celebrating the piano, and Karl Brown. In our interview, Knelman asked me if, when I visited the piano while researching the book, I ever played it. I said I didn’t dare touch it.
A very kind fan of AROTL from the Ottawa area, offered to sell copies of the book at the at the NAC event. He enlisted the help of his daughter Emily at the sales table.
It was wonderful to see, during a recent sojourn in Rome, that the Italian edition of A Romance on Three Legs, published by Einaudi in the spring, was displayed face out at a bookstore in the center of Rome.
As if that weren’t gratification enough, it turned out that Einaudi’s own little shop in Rome is a few hundred meters from the apartment on Via Giulia, the historic street where said sojourn took place.
And inside the little Einaudi outpost, the book is also prominently displayed. I met Maurizio, the man tending the store, who was only too happy to shake my hand and ask me to sign a copy of the book. Still better, he told me that someone had actually come into the store to request the book!
The German edition of AROTL is out! And the title is wonderful: Romanze Mit Einem Dreibeiner: Glenn Goulds Obsessive Suche Nach Dem Perfekten Klavier.
The publisher, Schott Music, is one classy outfit. Not only is the book elegantly produced, but the translation, by Matthias Müller, is excellent. Matthias was painstaking in his work, to the point where he spotted some errors in the English version.
Here’s the classy jacket from the classy publisher:
AROTL is just out in paperback, and it looks, well, more bendable than the hardcover. I was a little dismayed to see that none of the corrections I had sent in to Bloomsbury made it into the book. Okay, I was more than a little disappointed. I was a little miffed. Okay, I was more than a little miffed. I was a little extremely pissed.
But enough of that. I gave a reading at Moe’s Bookstore in Berkeley last week, and the turnout was very nice. Friends came, but so did a few strangers, too. My friend Mark Seiden was there, and he asked the best question I’ve ever been asked during a reading: “What about those G.I. uprights that Steinway dropped by parachute for use by troops during World War II?”
Another nice highlight of the paperback so far has been a radio interview where Anthony Wright, the interviewer, actually came to my house and set up his equipment on my dining room table. I served him tea, and we chatted — into microphones. The interview will air on Anthony’s show, Attunement, on KWMR, the community radio station in Point Reyes Station.
Here’s Anthony with his equipment:
Attention all German-speaking GG fans. AROTL is going to be published in Germany in March by Schott Music, the renowned German publisher of all things musical.
The translation is nearly finished, but there is still no title.
In English, the title works beautifully (and it was actually Gould’s own description of his relationship with the piano). But it doesn’t translate well in German, in part because in German a piano’s legs are actually called Füsse, so “A Romance on Three Feet” would be strange indeed. The literal German translation would be “Eine Liebesgeschichte auf Drei Füssen,” which sounds like something written by a madwoman.
So we’re stumped. Which is why we (Stefan, the editor at Schott, Matthias, the translator, and I) decided to throw the problem out to the world of GG lovers.
Assignment: Come up with a German title for the book.
Deadline: December 1.
Reward: Your name in the acknowledgments of the German edition, a copy when it comes out, and the satisfaction of having done something truly creative — and helpful!
AROTL is the November pick for “Whistler Reads,” a book group in Whistler, BC, a small town two hours north of Vancouver.
Whistler appears to be a community of serious readers, with an heavily-trafficked Web site called BookBuffet.
Paula Shackleton, the founder of Whistler Reads and BookBuffet, has interviewed hundreds of authors. We had a wonderful interview for a multi-part Podcast, which is here.
I had a wonderful evening on Thursday at the San Francisco Public Library, speaking to a group of classical music enthusiasts. I had the presence of mind to bring my little speakers with me, along with my iPod that I had loaded with the 80-CD Complete Original Jacket Collection. During the talk, I played Variation XX of the Goldberg Variations for the group so they could hear the unbelievable speed with which GG’s fingers flew, as well as one of the Brahms Intermezzi I love so much, partly because they are so uncharacteristic of Gould. Someone also requested a bit of Schoenberg, which I was only too happy to play.
A few other topics that came up: the intriguing Disklavier re-performance of GG’s 1955 Goldberg Variations made by John Q. Walker of Zenph Studios; the Pygmy chair; and the reason GG stopped performing in public.
Last Wednesday, I gave a talk at Google as part of its ongoing series of author talks. It was, of course, a pleasure and an honor. Leave it to Google to do everything right. I was very pleasantly surprised by the turnout, and delighted to see that very few people who showed up were multitasking on their laptops while I talked. In fact, they were rapt (or were making a very good show of seeming very interested).
The audience was composed of a lot of Googlers — and one young daughter of a Googler, a young pianist named Sara — who also happen to be accomplished musicians. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it turns out that there are quite a few musicians at Google (could they get a full orchestra together, I wonder? Now there’s a question worth pursuing). And their questions, again not so surprisingly, were quite technical — so technical, in fact, that one of them stumped me altogether. A software engineer who is also an avid amateur pianist said that, like Gould, he prefers a light action, and he asked if Verne did anything to the pedals. I had no clue. So, loath to try to stumble my way through an answer, I seized the moment — and my iPhone — and called Verne right then and there, and the Googler put his question to Verne directly.
Afterwards, a number of people came up to me to say how much they appreciated the sponataneous nature of the talk, especially the fact that it was PowerPointless. I said I appreciated their appreciation, and confessed that I’m actually completely hamfisted when it comes to PowerPoint, so there wasn’t much danger of my showing up with a bunch of slides to throw up on the wall.
I did, however, bring my iPod, and I used it to demonstrate the sound of Gould’s speed demon hands while playing Variation 20 of the Goldberg Variations.
Of course, Google sound and video engineers were on hand, and they put the talk up on YouTube.