Monday, October 30, 2006

From book to the big screen


I love it when I see that a book is being turned into a film and always wonder how a screenwriter adapts the novel to film? I have not read this book but I know it was quite popular for a while.

There are many times I read a book and think it would make a fantastic movie, what's the process for taking a book and making it into a movie? Is it the screenwriter who brings the project to the table? A producer? If anyone knows, feel free to email me or post! I've long been intrigued with books to film. So many wonderful books would make interesting movies.

Here is the news about The Jane Austen Book Club:

Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kevin Zegers, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, Amy Brenneman and Jimmy Smits have all signed on to star in The Jane Austen Book Club for Sony Pictures Classics and Mockingbird Pictures.The film is the adaptation of the Karen Joy Fowler novel; Robin Swicord wrote the script that revolves around a California-based group of women and one man who form a club that meets periodically to discuss Jane Austen novels. As they meet, their lives unfold, with marriages being tested, affairs beginning, unsuitable arrangements becoming suitable and love happening.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Brenneman will play Sylvia, whose husband Daniel (Smits) leaves her after 32 years of marriage. Bello will play Jocelyn, her best friend who never married. Zegers will play an oversexed teen who gets involved with one of the club's members, while Blunt will portray Prudie, a teacher with a worthy husband but is nagged by fantasies of sex with other men. Grace will play the lesbian daughter of Sylvia and Daniel, while Dancy is Grigg, a sci-fi fan and computer whiz.The Jane Austen Book Club is scheduled to begin shooting Wednesday in Los Angeles.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Jancee Dunn, But Enough About Me...


If you tell me a book is about a girl growing up in the 80's, I'm all over it. But if you tell me the girl also grew up in my home state of New Jersey, you better believe I'm going to devour the book like it's a New York City pizza, hot from the oven and dripping with greasy cheese.

But Enough About Me...by former Rolling Stone interviewer and MTV2 host, Jancee Dunn, is so much fun, a great book with parts that are equally nostalgic and hilarious. Jancee peppers the book with descriptions of her interviews with many, many celebrities. She also talks about growing up in New Jersey which made me homesick for living in the suburban oasis of Jersey. No one here says they are going "down to the shore". I miss that- along with bagels, big hair, hero sandwiches and really good Italian good.

You should absolutely run out and get a hold of this book, I know you will like it as much as I did. Before I read it, I thought for sure I wanted to interview celebrities. Now, I'm not so sure.
Writers are much more interesting!

You worked on MTV2, do you have any idea what happened to the music videos on MTV? Where does one find music videos these days?

They have them all in a huge library – sad, really, because they’re just going to waste! I find music videos on VH1 Classics, which is the closest thing to MTV2 in the old days. They have 80s pop videos, alternative videos, dance videos. The best is the All Request Hour, because then you get the really nutbag, obscure ones.


I moved from New Jersey six years ago and have yet to find really good pizza and/or bagels. If you moved out of New York, what would you miss the most?

I would miss all of the things I love about Brooklyn: Grimaldi’s Pizza, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the beautiful, historic Green-Wood Cemetery, and just the weirdness of New York. I was just eating at a sidewalk café and a guy came up and offered me a giant vacuum cleaner. He sort of heaved it over the rails.


Which interview subjects have been most interesting, movie stars or musicians? Who, specifically comes to mind as being really charismatic? Who surprised you?

I think it’s more of a generational difference in terms of who is most interesting – I really like the musicians and movie stars who came of age in the sixties or seventies, because they’re less inhibited and usually more eccentric.

In terms of charisma, Bono was hands down the most charismatic person I ever met. I really was embarrassingly swept away, and he’s so intelligent, and funny, and granted he was cocky, too, but, y’know, with good reason. I love Cher, who says whatever comes into her head and really has that It quality. Also I rarely want to be friends with people but I really did with Rosie O’Donnell, who was one of the funniest people I ever met and is really smart. James Brown just electrifies a room, too.

You know who surprised me? Aerosmith. The guys were sort of dull offstage. And Christina Aguilera was incredibly nice, as was Mary J. Blige – they’re supposedly ‘difficult,’ but they weren’t. And I’m telling you, I had the best time with David Spade, of all people.


After reading your book, Barry White seemed cool and suave, Loretta Lynn was nice and down to earth and fun, Dolly Parton was exactly as I imagined her to be. Did you ever just click with someone and maintain a friendship?

Shirley Manson of Garbage, for a little while. But mostly, I only get a few hours with people and because our time together is all about them, it’s hard to get your personality across, so it’s not like they get a real sense of me. I’m sort of shy, too, so I generally flee, and they, too, are wary of people wanting things from them. But maybe that’s an elaborate justification for the fact that I don’t have any famous friends.

Is there a downside to interviewing celebrities? Aside from long airplane rides, I can't seem to find anything terrible about jet setting with the rich and famous. (note to self: find those Calms mentioned in the book)

There really isn’t. I would sound like a jerk if I complained, right? The only thing – aside from a cranky celebrity every once in a while – is that you need to have a strong ego and a strong sense of self, because you are not really part of the equation. It’s all about them. I have spent days sometimes with people and they don’t know my name. They certainly don’t ask anything about me, because it’s an interview, not a conversation. So it’s a little weird sometimes, in that regard, but fortunately I don’t get my validation from celebrities.

Aside from that, believe me, it’s a cakewalk. What’s not to like about staying in nice hotels and flying to London and talking to good-looking people? I am very lucky. I still jump on the bed in nice hotels. I don’t take anything for granted.

Is there a person you would like to interview but haven't had the chance yet?

Elizabeth Taylor. Bill Clinton. Peter O’Toole. Mick Jagger.

Your family is so close and I think that's great. You didn't have the wacky, dysfunctional childhood that many people write about. Did you read Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs? Do you like reading memoirs?

I did read it and I didn’t love it the way everyone else did, but I think he’s a good writer. I generally don’t read contemporary memoirs and to tell you the truth, I really felt funny terming my book a memoir. To me, Winston Churchill is memoir-worthy, or Eleanor Roosevelt. You know? But, as they say in Jersey, what are you gonna do.

If there was a soundtrack to your life, what would be the first five songs on the album?

Ooh, what a great question!

The first would be the theme to “The Electric Company,” which I watched incessantly as a sedentary kid. Then it would be any song from Canadian folk troubadour Gordon Lightfoot, because my father played that goddamn album every weekend of my life. Then “Borderline” by Madonna, because I loved her throughout my teen years in the 80s, followed by “Satisfy My Soul” by Bob Marley, whom I played to death in high school when I went through my requisite suburban reggae phase. Then maybe “In Between Days” by the Cure, which reminds me of all of the high school soccer players I had crushes on.

Since I grew up in suburban New Jersey just like you, I want to write something, sort of like those "You Might Be A Redneck …" books. Mine would be called, "You Might Have Grown Up in New Jersey During the 80's If…" What stands out in your mind during the 80's in NJ?

Ha! I love it. You might have grown up in New Jersey during the 80s if: you paid a dollar for Jenkinson’s Beach in Point Pleasant; you requested songs from WDHA, the Rock of North Jersey; you ‘sprunched’ your perm with Aussie Sprunch Spray; you bought Guess jeans that zipped at the bottom at the mall; you puked in front of Maxwell’s in Hoboken, you wore your Hard Rock London (or Los Angeles or New York) t shirt over your bathing suit at the shore with your Esprit shorts, you sprayed on Anais Anais perfume, or Giorgio Beverly Hills, or Love’s Baby Soft, or Benetton Colors; you sang along with Bruce at the Brendan Byrne Arena during his three-hour concerts and you tailgated beforehand in the parking lot with sloppy joes (no, not the ones with ground beef, and those from Jersey will know what I’m talking about.)

What's going on in your life these days?

I am writing for magazines like ‘Vogue’ and ‘Oprah,’ and starting a second book (set in the 80s, as it happens) and also “But Enough About Me” was optioned by Lisa Kudrow’s production company. The whole thing has been a little surreal. They want to turn it into a half hour show so they are writing a pilot now for NBC. These things have to go over a lot of hurdles to actually happen, so I’m not counting on anything (some of my writer cronies get their stuff optioned but it often just kind of peters out) but just the experience has been really exciting. I was just in Los Angeles meeting a bunch of TV people last week. I almost passed out from nerves.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jane Heller, Some Nerve


When you sit down with a Jane Heller book, you know you are in for a dose of entertainment with lots of laugh- out- loud moments and a heroine you could easily be friends with in real life. I became hooked on Jane's novels after reading The Secret Ingredient a few years ago and proceeded to read every novel she ever penned. Her books never let me down.

There are times when I want a heavy book, a memoir, or a historical novel. But most of the time, I want to laugh and escape my every day, mundane life of martinis, colonics and press junkets. Thankfully there are authors like Jane Heller who write novels that are as delicious as a huge cloud of pink cotton candy.

Last year Jane was one of my very first interviews and hers is one of the only book signings I've ever been to. In person, she is super fun and full of happiness, the kind of person who lights up a room. I'm thrilled to invite Jane back for another interview!



Jane you can claim two disctinctions here. One, you are one of the only authors to have met me face to face and two, you are one of the only authors to appear on this blog twice. Feels a bit like winning the lottery, doesn’t it?

I totally feel like I've won the lottery! If the people at "Oprah" calland beg me to come on her show, I'll say no thanks because I've already goneas far as an author can possibly go by being right here, right now.

Do you care about the reviews you get? Do you ever let any negative words get you down?

I do care about reviews. I care about the fact that my kind of book -i.e. commercial fiction as opposed to literary fiction - doesn't get reviewed at all. Even People magazine, which used to review my novels every year, now tends to give attention to "serious" writers instead. Pisses me off! But aside from that, bad reviews hurt. My agent always says, "Don't take them seriously, the good ones or the bad ones." But when someone doesn't like something you've worked so hard on, it's tough to take. Early on in my career, I'd cry if I got a bad review. Now I just get a bad stomachache.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, in fact, I read it in one day. Your writing is warm, engaging and fun. When you began your career, did you set out to write this kind of book? Have you ever tried your hand at something darker or more serious?

When I started writing, I didn't know what to expect. I knew I loved happy endings, so chances were good that I wouldn't be writing something tragic and depressing. Also, my favorite show growing up was "I Love Lucy."And I was the kid in school who was always telling jokes and getting in trouble for it. Now I tell jokes and get paid for it! I love making people laugh, love entertaining them. When readers send me e-mails and tell me the books cheer them up, it's the best compliment ever. I've never tried writing anything darker or more serious because I'm too happy and shallow!

I ran a celebrity gossip blog for a year so I totally understand how the character Malcolm Goddard hated the press, I see how Ann could have fallen into such a glamorous yet ultimately unfulfilling job. Where do you think the line should be drawn between press/bloggers/paparazzi and a regard for privacy?

I think celebrities have a duty to give interviews about their projects. I don't think they have an obligation to tell us how much they weigh, who they're sleeping with, or whether they're on speaking terms with their mother. Mostly, I think celebrity "journalism" has gotten way out of hand. When Vanity Fair puts Suri Cruise's photo on the cover, it's messed up. Did
I want to see her eventually? Sure. But she's a BABY.

Do you read Star, US Weekly, InTouch? I think it’s a harmless source of entertainment. However, if I were featured in an unflattering light, I’m sure I would change my tune. What are your thoughts?

I subscribe to People magazine and devour it when it comes every week. But the others like In Touch Weekly and the Star are garbage. One of those two had a headline the other day: Jessica Simpson Loses Eight Pounds in TwoWeeks! I mean, really. Why would I care?

How did you find out that Angelina Jolie was afraid of fire? Did you make that up? How much creative license are you allowed to take when writing about a celebrity/ real person?

Angelina Jolie isn't afraid of fire, as far as I know. I made that up in"Some Nerve." How much creative license am I allowed when writing about a celebrity? I think it's okay to weave their stories into fictional ones. ButI wouldn't write anything truly hurtful or malicious, just as I wouldn't want them to write anything truly hurtful or malicious about me.

You just moved from Beverly Hills, a town I adore for the beautiful tree-lined streets and pretty homes. How do you like your new residence? What does your office look like? Tell me- do you have a view of the ocean from where you sit and work?

I moved from Beverly Hills to Santa Barbara about eight months ago and I'm in paradise. My office is in the house, which is way up high with a view of the ocean and the mountains. The trouble is, all I want to do is stare out the window instead of write. Writing was easier when I had an office that overlooked a parking lot.

You are so petite and in great shape. What do you do to stay so fit - Yoga? Pilates? Kick boxing? Vibration therapy?

You'll hate this answer, so don't kill me. I stay thin by doing NOTHING.No Pilates. No sports. I do try to walk a lot, but mostly I stay skinny because I got my mother's genes. Well, and I don't pig out on Crispy Cremes. I eat healthy stuff like broccoli. My husband always threatens to leave the house when I cook it because he says it smells rank.

What’s your favorite way to relax and unwind after a long week of writing?

My favorite way to relax is to watch "Days of our Lives," which I tapeand watch at night. I've been watching that damn soap since I was in collegeand I'm addicted. I wish there were a 12-step program I could go to! I also see a lot of movies. There's nothing better than shutting down the computer, driving to the theater and sitting in the dark letting somebody else tell a story.

And what’s next for Ms Jane Heller, best selling author?

I'm writing an original screenplay. My first script was an adaptation of my novel "The Secret Ingredient," but I wanted to try writing one that wasn't based on one of my books. So this one's a comedy and I'm writing it with a writing partner. I've also started my next novel and it's a bit of a departure for me. It's the first book in a three-book series. I've never done a series where the characters reappear, so it'll be a nice challenge. Book one will be out in 2008.


Monday, October 16, 2006

CWFW Seen around the world!



This is a sample of my sitemeter pie from two weeks ago. I received a lovely email from Esther who lives in Germany which prompted me to check out where everyone who reads the site is from. As you can see on this particular day, people from all over the world have been stopping by to read the author interviews! Another day I checked and saw someone had been on from Pakistan. Good books bring people together and I love that. Don't we all want to escape into a well written novel from time to time? And for the authors, isn't it an amazing feeling to know that the words you write are being read across the globe? It's the highest compliment for me when I get an email saying how much someone enjoys the site.

I want to give a shout out to all the readers who come from various countries to check out Conversations With Famous Writers, like John who emailed me from the UK this morning!

I started this blog and my only readers were my friends Stephanie and Kiersten. Slowly two readers become ten and so on, now my daily site views are averaging about fifteen hundred viewers a day with friends from every state and many countries. I am so pleased to be encouraging people to seek out books and authors they might not have discovered otherwise.

Keep reading! Peace to our friends around the world!


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Susan Shapiro, Five Men Who Broke My Heart


When I heard about this book all I could think was, I have to read it. We all wonder what our past loves are doing, have they forgotten about us? Maybe - and we can hope- they are chubby and toothless and fall asleep every night clutching our picture, wondering what ever happened to us. They cry themselves to sleep at night because we got away. Of course I'm joking, but sometimes...we all wonder.

I’m always interested in a good memoir, especially when there is humor injected into the pages.
Recently I got wind of Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (The Nanny Diaries) penning the screenplay to this very book. I'm intrigued! Always fascinated with book- to- movie deals, I can't wait to see how the casting goes on this project. I believe the movie has enormous potential and after you reading the book, you will see why. Five different past loves + one current love + one witty, smart main character = great book, huge movie hit!



Is your book, Five Men Who Broke My Heart, ever confused with the Five People You Meet in Heaven?

Nobody has ever confused my R-rated, New York edgy sex memoir FIVE MEN WHO BROKE MY HEART with the mild mannered middle brow fictional Five People You Meet in Heaven. The only thing we have in common aside from the number five is that the author and I are both from Michigan. My book came out before his. I actually stole the number from Nick Hornby's great novel High Fidelity, where the guy goes back to meet his Top Five Heartbreaks of all Time. When a guy does it, he just notices if the girl is still cute and if he'd still want to sleep with her. I thought the female version would be much more emotional and complex, with long journal entries, therapy sessions, multiple photo albums and saved gum wrappers from their first date...

The book will be made into a movie which must be so exciting. Which actresses would you to see take on the role of you? Who can pull off funny, yet vulnerable with a hint of dry wit and charm?

When Paramount Pictures, who optioned FIVE MEN, casts the FIVE MEN movie I'd love to see someone who can be funny and poignant as the heroine, like Mary Louise Parker. Or Teri Hatcher.

It's a juicy role for a 40ish actress- and for 6 men, I'd pick Vince Vaughn as the husband and Robert Downy Jr. and Clive Owen as two of the bad boys. My brother Eric wants Ron Howard to play him. He said Carol O'Conner should play my Dad but he's dead. I'd choose Gene Hackman and Helen Mirren as my parents but she'd have to dye her hair red. (Not thatI've wasted a lot of time fantasizing about this or anything.)

How did this book-to-movie experience unfold? I didn't know Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (authors of The Nanny Diaries) were screenwriters, how did they get involved in the project?

When my fantastic literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan sold the filmrights of the book to Paramount Pictures, my husband, a TV/filmwriter for 25 years, told me to stay out of it. So I did. I have no idea how Paramount producers got "the Nanny Diaries" authors to write the script to FIVE MEN, but I think it's an inspired choice and I loved their novel. It's also cool that the movie to their book is filming now in New York with Scarlett Johansson. Also that the FIVE MEN movie has recently been mentioned in Variety and other publications. I'm trying to sell another chicklit book right now so maybe this will get heat on the project, as they say in L.A.

I admire your ability to be comedic in one sentence, then be serious the next. Are you aware that you do that or is it simply the way you write?

When I moved to New York, I did my masters degree in poetry andwrote really depressing gut-wrenching confessional poetry emulating my early literary idols Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes andRobert Lowell...As I got older, happier, and more successful my writing became much funnier. I hope I retained a bit of that sadness and edgy vulnerability but I love making people laugh. I think it balances my overly psychoanalytic take on everything...

What kind of writers do you admire?

I have so many favorite authors I'd have to list them by genre. Post-modern Poetry: Yehuda Amichai, Joseph Brodsky, Adrienne Rich, LucilleClifton, Rita Dove, Anne Carson and my friend Harvey Shapiro. Novels: Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," Marquez's "Love in the TimeOf Cholera," A.S. Byatt's "Posession," Phillip Roth's "Portnoy'sComplaint," Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying." Essays Collections: byDavid Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Daphne Merkin. Criticism: Pauline Kaeland Stanley Kauffman. Memoirs by Frank McCourt, Mary Carr, Augusten Burroughs.
Travel writing: Jan Morris. Self-help: Deborah Tannen andMartin Seligman. And I like how Suzy Orman analyzes everyone's money issues... The list is endless and changes all the time...

Is having the talent to write something one is born with or can it be learned? Do you think a person with no formal education in creative writing can sit down and write a good novel?

I've taught writing at NYU, The New School, Mediabistro.com and I've done a special writer's group with homeless people at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen for the last dozen years. (That work is gathered inan anthology I edited with the writer Ian Frazier called FOOD FOR THESOUL.)

You do not need formal education to be a good writer or to get published. In fact I teach what I call the "Instant Gratification Takes too Long" school of journalism where the goal is to get a piece published by the end of the class to pay for the class. I have a rule - if you sell an assignment for $1000, I get dinner. I've had hundreds of dinners... Most of my students get published, or get jobs and internships. Many have published books. I give blurbs to all my students who get book deals. (My editor calls me "a blurb whore.") But my new rule is that if a student's book does better than mine, they have to give me a blurb back. It's already happened a fewtimes...My website SusanShapiro.net lists my upcoming classes, panels and seminars.

If you were single and writing a personals ad, what would it say? Along the lines of..."If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain. If you're not into yoga, if you have half-a-brain..."

When I was single I didn't do personal ads and fear it's too easy to lie and be deceptive with online dating services, who are out to make money and don't verify or check any of the information posted. As I argue in my upcoming book SECRETS OF A FIX-UP FANATIC, I think the best way to meet your mate is to be fixed up by someone you love and trust. I've fixed up 12 marriages and was fixed up with my husband, and his runner up.

Would you rather be the one who has the broken heart or the person who breaks someone elses?

When I was young and raw and passionate, I agreed with Auden's line"If equal affection cannot be/Let the more loving one be me." Now that I'm older, and obsessed with my career, I think I'd have an easier life and get more work done with someone who loved me more. Luckily my husband and I are madly in love with each other lately,though the balance always changes which keeps things interesting.

In your opinion, is it easier/simpler/less complicated to write non-fiction or fiction?

Poetry was my first love and I've just finished a novel. But I made aliving for 20 years as a journalist and I find it much easier towrite nonfiction. One of my mentors says that it's because I have no imagination whatsoever. I tell my students to write about their obsessions, which is what works for me, at least 6 books worth. What's that Edie Brickell line "I'm not aware of too many things butI know what I know if you know what I mean."

I particularly love writing first person essays and memoirs. My book LIGHTING UP, which was really fun to write, chronicles how I quit smoking, drinking and other addictions. I've been clean, sober, and smoke-free for five years now. In that time I've sold five books and a movie. My addiction specialist Dr. W. tells me that in order to remain so healthy, happy and successful, one should "Lead the last secretive life you can." I use that to rationalize my existence but it works!

Are you happy with your life so far? Is there anything you would change?

After decades of struggle with love, work, and addiction, I'mcurrently living the life of my dreams. I feel very blessed to have such an amazing husband I adore, a fantasy Greenwich Village apartment , supportive family, and two careers I love: writing books by day and teaching by night. My "core pillars" are my shrink, agent and book editor, brilliant advisors I hope to have forever. I have the warmest, coolest colleagues and friends in the world too. If I could change anything I'd want my books to sell more. But maybe having small success is better cause this way I'm more humble, hungry and have to keep writing better!


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Book Expo 2007, let's party!


Ever since I found out about the existance of the Book Expo, I wanted to go. I promised myself that when my book was published I would go. Well, {{{fingers crossed}}} in November, my book, *A Thousand Dollars For a Kiss will be out and when people ask me what I do, I can say...I'm a writer! A real writer. Usually I sort of hesitate and then mumble something about wanting to be a writer.

Book Expo 2007 will be held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Is there any better city than New York City? No. I haven't been there since I saw The King and I many years ago. By the way, when I say "party" I really mean let's talk about books over coffee.

I know many, many writers, editors, publishers attend this event, basically everyone involved in the industry is there and it's a great opportunity to network. I am anxious to meet up with several of the New York based writers I have interviewed. Plus, I want to shop in Greenwich Village and get muffins at Dean & Deluca and take in a show, maybe go somewhere for cocktails and hit the museums, take some photographs of the city, you know...be a tourist.

Who's going to Book Expo 2007? Who has been? And who lives in New York City and wants to make me dinner? hardy har har...



*A Thousand Dollars for a Kiss offers a priceless—and hilarious--look at what can lie beneath the glitz and glamour of celebrity. Cindy infuses this "be careful what you wish for" tale with great energy, humor, and sharp, witty social observation.

Gayle Brandeis, author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for WomenWho Write, The Book of Dead Birds, and Self Storage


Monday, October 09, 2006

Wendy Blackburn, Beachglass


Beachglass is the story of Delia, a teenage addict who meets Timothy at rehab. The two form a bond and develop a friendship that is a source of strength for both of them as the years go by. Delia is living in Seattle with her husband and daughter when Timothy summons her back to California to take care of him during his final days battling AIDS.

The story is told in flashbacks as Delia cares for Timothy. We learn about Delia's family, her alcoholic father and enabling mother, her friends and life in West Hollywood during and after recovery. We witness how she pulled herself together and created a very decent life for herself, all while Timothy was there for her.

Beachglass is sentimental and touching and sad. I loved the wise character of Joan, she seemed to take on the persona of an angel in human form. Delia is completely relatable especially as she tries to distance herself from an old boyfriend. I would love to have a friend just like Timothy- gay male, creative soul, decent, loving person. He cared deeply for Delia and wanted the best for her. She in turn, wanted only the best for him which is why she was by his side as he lived out his last days.

This book was written by Wendy Blackburn. I can only imagine the emotional toll it took on her to write this book. I am really excited to interview Wendy and get the word out about Beachglass. Be sure to check out the Beachglass website and Wendy's blog. Oh and of course, buy the book!

Does beach glass mean anything to you personally? Do you collect it?

I don’t collect it per se, though after I started writing this book I have picked some up here and there, and I was given some beautiful pieces as jewelry when the book came out; my dad gave me a necklace-and-earring set that I wore to a few of my first readings. Also one woman gave me her grandmother’s collection, which has some really beautiful and rare deep blue and aqua colored pieces. But historically, no, it’s not a ‘thing’ of mine. It just seemed to work so perfectly as a metaphor/analogy for the characters in this book: their transformation from trash to beauty, from sharp to soft, from worthless to precious.

Are you a writer who struggled with addiction or are you an addict with a story to tell who happens to have a talent as a novelist?

Um…yes. I have always written, and I have always had my addict genetics. I have been in recovery for more than half my life, a counselor for 14 years. Recovery is a very familiar, very well-trodden landscape for me. So while this novel is not “my story,” recovery is something I felt comfortable writing about and a subject about which I have a lot of passion and experience and a TON of material to draw from.

I would like to think that this novel could stand on its own as a piece of literature, with or without my personal background being a part of the equation. But then, I like to imagine lots of things.

I have to ask what you think of the James Frey debacle. Yes, his book was powerful and gritty enough to help addicts and to teach how unpleasant recovery can be, but there are many who think he did a disservice to the addict community. Your thoughts?

The answer lies in your words “how unpleasant recovery can be.” My novel shows the opposite. My experience is the opposite. The experience of the people I surround myself with is the opposite. Recovery is not “unpleasant” (at least no more or less than regular life)—it is amazing and brilliant and miraculous and filled with joy and contentment and wonder.

I know real life isn’t all of those things all of the time, which is why I brought some struggle and sadness and “real life” into the story: to say, ‘okay, so tragedy strikes, relationships fail, family does not support, bills have to be paid, people die, whatever—things aren’t always perfect—but here’s this great set of steps and friends and new behaviors and tools to help you through it, and isn’t that just nifty?’

I hear time and again when I talk with friends and families of addicts, “I wish there was a treatment center for us, or meetings, something, just so we could get the tools and do all this self-discovery like they get to do.” Not have to do—but get to do. I think James Frey’s only mistake as far as his book goes was not including a small disclaimer letting people know that there were parts of the book that were more like creative non-fiction, or even fiction, than straight “fact.”

As far as a disservice to the addict community…? We as the recovering community know what’s what, and are used to dealing with stigma and weird press and misconceptions, and his book gave us one more thing to have to try to explain (that we aren’t all liars, that recovery isn’t a big freaky drama, that we don’t all throw chairs and get root canals without Novocain, or not, or whatever). As far as those addicts still using, I don’t think it kept anyone from getting clean, but that was a thought, like those still using may have read it and gone, forget it! What I worry the most about is the potential disservice done to the non-addict community: do they now think that’s what recovery is like, or that all recovering people are bitter and grandiose and dishonest? I hope not. My book had already been finished when his came out, and I remember wondering if mine would be seen almost as a rebuttal, an anti-Frey. Which would be fine with me.

There are lots of different views on recovery, different ways to get there (AA or not, rehab or not, etc) and A Million Little Pieces was basically an account of his own experiences and opinions, whereas mine is a novel and therefore encompasses more than one person’s story and gives a general picture of what it can be like—there is creative freedom in writing fiction. I got to combine all the thousands of recovering people I have known into these characters and this story. And hopefully the disservice can be undone with the message of healing, hope, and happiness found in Beachglass. Of course, more people have read his book, so I have a lot of catching up to do! But what’s been great for me is hearing from recovering people that I hit the nail on the head. That’s very gratifying.

How long did you think about writing it before you actually began working on this book? How long did it take from writing page 1 to having the published book in your hands?

I started writing this book in 1998, and from the moment I started, it just sort of poured out; there wasn’t much thought given to it beforehand, and I never did an outline or a plot treatment. I just wrote and wrote—but my older daughter was a baby/toddler then and I was an at-home mom, so I wrote in small snips of time, during her naps, with long stretches of not writing, or just moving things around on the page without making much headway.

About 300 pages into it, my hard drive crashed and burned and I lost about 150 pages. No, I didn’t have them saved onto a disk. Or printed out. Or backed up anywhere. I took the poor hard drive to a data recovery place, one of those places that recovers data lost in fires and works with the FBI? No dice. It was all gone. Dust self off, get back on horse. I completed the hefty (688 page) “first draft” in 2001, and the editing and revising took about as long as the writing did (three years, on and off). It was submitted to publishing houses late in 2004, I signed with St. Martin’s Press in February 2005, and the book was in my hands in May of 2006.

There are many themes throughout the book including addiction, recovery, friendship, and loyalty, truth, love, family. If you had to pick only one main theme, what would you say it is?

A tie between friendship and recovery.

Delia's dad was so mean. Do you think it was her father who drove her to her destructive, addictive behavior?

No—I am a firm believer in genetics and in taking responsibility for one’s own actions. So while Delia may have inherited the gene from his side of the family, and while his drinking, having alcohol in the home, and/or being unsupportive of her sobriety might not have helped her any, it certainly didn’t drive her to drink, so to speak.

There’s never one thing that drives an alcoholic to drink, though I know some who would like to tell you there is, when they’re in that angry, blaming, victimy place. But it’s never the boss’s fault, the husband’s fault, the childhood trauma, the prescription-happy doctor…it’s a disease, and until the person is treated for it, it’s going to be active, regardless. If anything, I think there’s more of a connection between Delia’s dysfunctional relationships with men and her dad than there is with her addiction and her dad.

In your experience as a counselor, is there a single common denominator of all addicts—an overbearing parent, childhood abuse, depression?

There are two common denominators: A genetic predisposition and chemical use. Combine those two things, and it really doesn’t matter what side of the tracks you’re from, you’ll probably find yourself addicted. There are plenty of abuse victims who don’t become addicts, and plenty of people with untraumatized lives who do. That’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions out there—that something “had to have happened.” It didn’t. There’s no event that causes addiction, and there’s no guarantee that “a good life” won’t produce an addict. If the gene and the use is there, your chances are higher than average that you will become chemically dependent.

Why did you make Timothy have AIDS as opposed to cancer or another serious disease?

Living in Southern California through the 80s and 90s, I knew lots of people who died of AIDS, who were living healthily with it, who were slowly dying, who were testing positive, who knew someone that was dying, I mean, it was everywhere—it was all hospital visits and funerals. And although I have never experienced the direct caretaking relationship that Delia had with Timothy, I was on the fringes of that world, if not a little closer in than some.

At the time I started writing Beachglass, it seemed like HIV/AIDS was starting to fade from our consciousness, from the media, from the ribbon-wearing, walk-a-thon, fundraising, cause-supporting people. They had moved on to other causes, but I wanted to bring it back into our awareness, I wanted to put a very likeable face to the name, and I wanted to honor those people that have died and their family and friends. This book is my square of the AIDS quilt. I wanted to capture a time and place that feels already gone, and that slipped away too quietly. Coincidentally, the book came out in 2006, the 25th anniversary of the first case of AIDS in America.

I know you edited the book down quite a lot (got that from your website!). What did you leave out? Was it hard to delete scenes and dialogue? I don't think everyone realizes how much editing goes into a novel; writing is only part of the process.

There were entire characters, 3 or 4 of them, cut out completely, a trip out of the country that was no longer taken, one character’s suicide that was scrapped (we let him live, as there was too much other dying going on), a bunch of descriptive prose and back story that was just not needed. Pretty, but extraneous.

Yes, it was hard to delete, and there were times I doubted my ability to make the changes. There were other times I kicked and screamed and argued and didn’t like the changes that were being called for, but the beauty part of computers is that I still have it all in a file somewhere, and I can go back through and see if I can use any of it another time, like when you find stuff in your closet from 5 years ago that is now back in style. A quick dry-cleaning and different accessories, and you’re good to go. The thing is, I trusted my agent, my editors, and my writing group, and I trusted that they were right. I knew that the paring down would make the story better. So while it’s not exactly the same story I started out with as a “first draft” (which was nearly double the size of the completed manuscript), it’s a better story.

I know you live in Washington, are you near Kirkland, home of Costco? Will your book be featured in the store? Do you wear Kirkland jeans?


I actually drive past the flagship store on the way to and from work every day—which is in the Seattle suburb Kirkland, hence the brand name. Imagine my delight. I actually do not wear the jeans myself, though they are quite popular up here, especially paired with either a fleece or a Microsoft polo shirt. This is quite upsetting to me at times, having been born and raised in Los “it’s not who you are, it’s what you wear” Angeles. And no, Costco is not yet carrying my book, though I think they should. I think they should sell it in bulk.

Can you tell me what your next book is about—will there be a next book?

I don’t know if what I’m working on now will turn out to be an actual book or not, but I am writing again. I am resurrecting one of the characters who was deleted from Beachglass just because I loved her so much (my hypochondriac pill-popping nurse). This new story seems to be about a 40-ish year old woman, her teenage daughter, infertility, pregnancy, and some juicy family secrets. I hope it turns into novel number two. Perhaps if I clad them all in Kirkland jeans, Costco will feature it in their store.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Coming Up....



I'm reading as fast as I can but there is not enough time in the day for all the books I have piled up. I have given up on watching television with the exception of Project Runway! It's true, I have a slight crush on Tim Gunn.

I just finished an advanced readers copy of Self Storage by Gayle Brandeis. The book isn't hitting the stores until January which makes me all the more grateful for the sneak peek of this fabulous novel that you will love. I will be talking with Gayle as the release date gets closer. Pick up a copy of Leaves of Grass before you get Self Storage!

On my bookshelf this moment is a variety of novels and I am hoping to get the chance to talk to every one of the writers including- The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards, Some Nerve by Jane Heller, Model Student by Robin Hazelwood, Five Men Who Broke My Heart by Susan Shapiro, But Enough About Me by Jancee Dunn, Remember Me by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, The Confession by James E. McGreevey, Kidnapped by Jan Burke. I'm looking forward to A Life Less Convenient: Letters to My Ex by Jennifer Clare Burke and A Dangerous Dress by Julia Holden.

Tell me, besides a deep tissue massage and a really good cup of coffee, what on earth is better than a good book?

Currently, I'm caught up in Beachglass by Wendy Blackburn which is a compelling and touching story written by a talented debut novelist.

Now you know what I have up my sleeve. You can find these books on Amazon.com so you can read along with me.

Happy reading, friends!


Monday, October 02, 2006

From books to the big screen


crotch shot of Sam the Cat- doesn't look feline to me

Benderspink has optioned Sam the Cat and Other Stories, a collection of short stories by Matthew Klam, and has set Matt Corman and Chris Ord to write the adaptation, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Klam's acclaimed stories tackled relationships and the quest for love through the eyes of young American men. Klam was named by the New Yorker as one of the 25 best fiction writers under 40 and has won an O. Henry Award for his short fiction. Benderspink is combining the stories into one narrative, all revolving around a central story, that of a political consultant who finds the woman of his dreams at the worst possible time in his life.

Interesting. I'm always very intrigued to learn which books are going to hit the big screen. I think there was a show like this with women - their 'relationships and quests for love'...um, yeah, Sex in the City. Let's see this from the men's side now.

I've never heard of Matthew Klam (he's never heard of me either I'm sure) and he's one of the 25 best fiction writers under 40. I'm wondering who the other 24 best writers are...anyone?


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