Frequently Asked Questions
This is a self-important section where I portray I am asked personal information by the general public all the time. I have added it because it makes me feel like a kid who invents a questionnaire for her family to fill out, but no one has time so she ends up writing her own answers – the advent of some bipolaresque neurosis.
I was successfully published in my high school and college periodicals before being launched into the crueler world of national magazines and journals. While I have some desirable ‘personal rejections’ where New Yorker editors wrote notes on their form letter encouraging me to submit again in the future, I have never been published outside a few tiny independent presses.
This is for lack of trying. The impersonal nature of submission – same as with my college applications – was very intense for me, as in destabilizing. I like to share that openly, because it made the difference between me being able to continue my successes as a writer in school to the open market after I graduated. I just didn’t have the stomach for it or stamina. Instead, literally, I created children and found that to be an immensely personal, provocative experience.
Lately I have been submitting to a few periodicals, but I see as ever my love of writing trumps my discipline to submit. I can just be excited for myself that I am a dedicated and focused writer, which is the bigger battle, while I slowly and with continued resistance remind myself to try to get my works out there.
I saw it all around me. My mother and her father were both professional journalists. It was expected of me, and it was by osmosis. In particular because my mother had an electric typewriter, I was drawn in. I suppose, upon reflection, I was not that different than kids now sneaking access to their parents’ cell phones. When my mom was at work at the local newspaper, I entertained myself after school making stories on her fancy writing machine.
I then wanted to write because it was a solace. I became someone with a diary of stashed secrets. I wrote to please my teachers, as well, to get their reassurance against my strongly negative self-image. I then wrote because I was told I was good at it, and had the wherewithal to not rebel and destroy that gift.
Writing, now, I describe as connection to my idea of god. So it’s a journey, a prayer session, a convocation, a promise that I’m protected and loved. Woo-woo, I guess. I am a lifetime Californian and get a little out there. I write and what comes through my fingers typing is what I believe I am supposed to share with the world. If that sounds arrogant, I would say it’s just efficient. I don’t write easily or enjoyably unless it’s obvious I am writing for my highest good, to offer others something that has emotional merit.
Levi is the main character, outside my narrative self, in my first memoir, Two Sociopaths in Love. I do not speak about his ultimate fate outside my written work. I have included him in my second memoir, Men I’ve Loved Too Much, because I think he may be the last in that canon, so you can discover more of his story’s evolution there.
No matter what physicalized fate Levi has engendered, I think what matters most about him after the books end and his private life continues is that he be seen, felt as a deep soul, not reduced to sordid villain or troubled deviant.
My written examination of him is meant to speak about alcoholism in general, soul mate experiences as they occur occasionally in our lives. Levi was a specimen for a teaching I received on unconditional love, hopefully relatable – especially to other women who have loved wrong in society’s eyes but learned how large their heart capacity is in the process.
I attended public school in Northern California until I was jetted to a Swiss boarding school for my junior year and became uber-accomplished under European tutelage. That dynamic putsch got me into an Ivy League university where I promptly lost my footing amid uniformly brilliant underclassmen. I did continue to excel at creative writing, my major, and graduated from Brown, with honors, in 1990.
I studied with Anne Lamott after college, right before her first bestseller, Operating Instructions, became her breakthrough. I credit her for the best lessons I’ve received on writing discipline and spiritual purpose behind the craft, although it took me another twenty years to apply them to my life.
I wrote as a little girl, a lot. Lists of objects I wanted, then prayers and requests for character assets I lacked. I wrote easily for school assignments and then ventured out into storytelling my life in journals that grew longer, the writing denser and more psychopathic, each year of my growth.
I never stopped until I had a baby, and then it was impossible to be so new at something alien that I could do nothing outside mothering and being married at the same time. Except one summer when I wrote every day while my daughter – pre-school age – slept for three uninterrupted hours in the afternoon. This freedom was a miracle, after all the interrupted sleep that characterized her earlier years.
That was when I wrote my first screenplay, which is pretty terrible, but it represented a renewed commitment to writing in my adulthood which I have never completely lost. So when I’m honest with myself, working the percentages, I have pretty much always written, with some exhausted and distracted breaks that lasted a few years.
I try to cite the advent of email as the most solid return to prose writing, for myself and so many others. Unwittingly, by almost accident, writing was revived in the age of the Internet, and everyone has been filling their days composing letters ever since. I always overdo it, making my email scholarly and literary, but it’s helped my prose muscles and given me endless opportunities to explore my voice.
I don’t lie in my writing. If I started, there would be too much unbound freedom, which I experience as chaos. I only write what I remember to be true, and I have a memory capacity that has been labeled a ‘steel trap’ by more than one observer. I just don’t forget anything, which makes me both capable of being a writer, and sort of driven to be one. How else can I get the words and images out of my head? They seem to dissipate once they’ve been recorded.
I protect the people I write about by being as sly and ambiguous as possible about the surrounding details. I also write from my heart, so if people are astonished by the candor that comes with it, I tend to argue it’s all loving, no matter what. I guess that’s a convenient justification and probably biased. But it’s apparent to me in an age of much peacock-y selfie-obsession that we need more people being voyeurs, willing to watch and make observations instead of just putting the focus on themselves.
My memoirs have me as an adjunct character to much more outlandish star players. These folks have each in turn been my muse. I write the truth of us – ‘our truth’ – as I see it, and they are revealed as I believed them to be. I always encourage someone to call my bluff and write their version, hundreds of pages’ worth, and get it to a publisher.
So to say: if I can deliver a book-length compelling narration of a true story I remember, perhaps I have been empowered, by some larger source than the people in it, to tell it publicly. That’s the cool linguistic link between author and authority, right? 🙂
I am not good at making up stories except these over the top lovelorn fantasias that read too much like romance novels or soft porn. I don’t even write those down, mind you, they just exist in my mind warp, a practice of always having an eye out for a good love run.
I am really great at remembering everything. I have a hard time forgetting, actually, and there are many events it would be amazing to not have stuck inside my mind like bats rooted to a cave ceiling. Because I remember everything, it’s what wants to come out when I turn the spigot on. Maybe after a few more memoirist editions, I’ll turn to fiction. I doubt it. I’ll more likely just share what I remember about my day or week, whereas my first books seem to have a backlog of childhood and adolescence which must be brought to light.
I really appreciate that the Internet age’s preoccupation with self has a literary parallel in the trend of memoir. I feel part of that genre’s evolution into ‘narrative non-fiction’ because my writing voice holds an expository overseer who comes in and talks almost journalistically at times, about recovery or prison immorality or whatever other soap box I step up on.
I would rather read the truth than fiction. It’s stranger, it’s most relatable. When I read I am looking for connection. When I write, I am offering it. I am making myself available. I’m offering you my story in case you need to be reminded you’re not alone. And I need to share it. I need to be unburdened of it, confessional, so you in some way help me carry the load. And I need to give it away to keep it. That’s a recovery slogan, but it serves as a principled and compassionate way in the world. I am trying to give you my honesty in case it becomes your strength.
The short answer is, I cut 140 pages in my next two drafts. First-time authors are restricted in their page count due to the expense of publishing particularly a hard cover edition of their work. I thought the longer my book, the more expert and accomplished I might appear (and it was accidental; I had a lot to say and I tend to overwrite). But the inverse is true, in the eyes of an agent and publishing house. An overly long book means more likely that the writer did not edit effectively or reign in their vision, keep a focus and be efficient in their storytelling.
When I went back to my manuscript after this heavy wake up call, I realized it was apt. I did need to pare and prune each sentence, paragraph, chapter. It took weeks of diligent and microscopic toil, then I had a 75,000 word book (260 pages, approximately). I had a lean machine. I killed my darlings (some are stowed away on this website), excising extraneous words and ideologies.
The rest of the story of how to get published – my personal experience of success – is still unfolding and detailed in the podcasts I’ve recorded. Stay tuned, keep the faith of your own project.