Thursday, December 20, 2012

Interview: Composer, George Higgs

 Interview with Dublin, Ireland based Composer:  George Higgs


Composer in Latin means, “One who puts together.” What are your

methods as a composer?

Each time I create something I try to think of a distinct way to approach

an audience, and then to create a narrative using that approach. This is

generally my way of working. My most recent piece, DOOR, is a good


You have always had a unique perspective on life. How does that

influence your work?

I think I'm always barking up the wrong tree. It just so happens that I

never give up, no matter how misguided my approach might be.


As a child, what propelled your fascination with invented languages and


My feeling of intellectual alienation from my older brother and sister,

with whom I was always trying to catch up in terms of learning. I

figured the only way I could outdo them would be to create my own way

of communicating, and thereby alienate them!


What artists of any genre inspire you and influence your work?

At the moment, I am fascinated by an astronomical clock created about

a thousand years ago in China. The creator of this clock inspires me.

Actually, I like the Chinese poetry from that period as well, the Tang

dynasty. It's very much based on immediate experience. Poets like Su

Tung Po, and Tu Fu.


In Ireland, you have brought your art to working with the deaf. Can you

describe this work and your impressions on this endeavor?

The main thing I can say is that, just as with hearing people, deaf

individuals each have a distinct way of approaching music. There is no

pattern for their response based on a lack of hearing.


What are some of your most successful and favorite pieces of your own art?

 I like all of it for different reasons. I also feel

disappointed by all of it for equally different reasons.


How do you balance your work with parenthood and what do you hope

to give to your children as an artistic legacy?

There is no balance. It's generally a mess. I try to keep aware of what

interests my children. I try to have fun with them and teach them what

I can. I do my utmost to mix my work with my life, but it's not always



You were born in Pennsylvania to British parents. What made you

move to Ireland as a young adult and what do you miss about the United


I went as a student, and became romantically entangled. Three children

later, I am still here and will probably never leave. I don't miss the US,

except for my family. It's not that I don't like it, but I think that any place

is simply what you make of it.


As an accomplished artist, what can you share with everyday people?

about using their short lives to become more creative?

I like to think of myself as an everyday person, so I would feel out of

line to patronize anyone else. We're all creative in our own way. Some

people, like me, simply go out of their way to prove it.


What is currently exciting you and driving your artistic passions?

That Chinese clock.  I love that clock.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Caroline Leavitt Interview: Jennifer Gooch Hummer

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You. Her new novel IS THIS TOMORROW will be published in May by Algonquin Books. She can be reached at

It's very strange that you started out as my student, writing about Apron, and

from the first line, I knew the novel had something special. When did you know?

First of all, thank you for saying that. And second of all, when you told me it did!

In the middle of that first novel class with you, you sent me a note that said, “Your

characters are breathing off the page.” I jumped up and down and cried a little.

And then I did something really smart; I asked if I could work privately with you.

As my mentor, you were my traffic cop. This subplot? Too long. That scene? Not

enough conflict. You treated me like a “real” writer way before I did.


When did you first become a writer, and when did you first feel as if you could

call yourself a writer, and why?

When I was seven years old I was brushing my teeth one day, minding my

own business, when this girl in the mirror pointed at me and said, You’re going

to be a writer. Nope, I said. Writers wore huge glasses, had really frizzy hair and

weren’t famous (it was the 70’s). Plus, I already had big plans to be a singer. But

then in Fourth grade the headmaster of my school read a poem I had written to

the entire student body. That was when I realized it was true; I was doomed to be

a writer. Now I prefer to call it “destined” but back then it was definitely “doomed.”

It took me two years to write Girl Unmoored and eight more to get it

published. I didn’t tell anyone but my family and a few close friends that I was

writing, so when the book came out I had some explaining to do. And that was

when I first allowed myself to be called a writer.


What's your working life as a writer like? Do you plan things out or just follow

your pen?

The blank page is my mortal enemy. We can’t even be in the same

room together. So we’ve worked out a deal: Four pages and I’m out. I’m really

competitive so there’s no way I’m going to let that blank page win. I write when

my kids are in school, which isn’t as many hours as I wish it was. Some days

our oldest one goes to school at 10:00 am and the youngest gets out at 1:30.

On those days it means keeping my laptop close and sneaking in more work at

a daughter’s dance practice or while dinner is cooking. It makes me a little crazy

truthfully but I don’t know how else to do it.

As for the way I write, that makes me crazy too. After I get the blank pages

out of the way, I rewrite and cut, rewrite and cut, rewrite and cut until it’s worthy

of being read by outside eyes. And then I do it all over again for the second draft!

Your road to publishing with Fiction Studio Books is really fascinating. Can you

talk about that process? And what has it been like working with the Fiction Studio


For eight years my book was rejected by just about every credible editor

in New York. A few times it got so close that my husband sent me congratulatory

flowers… but then in the last second for one reason or another it didn’t happen.

So when I sent my book to FSB and a week later the publisher contacted me

with a contract, it was a whole lot of awesomeness all at once. Fiction Studio

Books is a small press so there are unique gifts and challenges that come with it.

I had a big say in my cover art, for instance, but marketing was virtually all up to

me. So I did two things: I hired BooksparksPR and entered my book into every

awards contest I could find. Crystal and Kim at BooksparksPR have done

magical things for me (Entertainment Weekly to name but one) and I have been

floored and so honored by the successes I’ve had with the book awards.

I have also been utterly amazed by the dedicated and insightful book

bloggers out there. For authors who publish with small presses, these bloggers

give us the review opportunities that traditional magazines usually don’t. Megan

at, Mandy at and of course

Jenny (to name but a few) have been so incredibly supportive of me. They tweet,

they review and they give me opportunities like this to be interviewed by you, all

for nothing in return but an advanced copy. Book bloggers are doing God’s work

as Grandma Bramhall would say, and an author like me owes them a debt of



If you had three pieces of advice to give to writers, what would you tell them?

1. Promise your characters you will tell their story. The truth is that not too

many people really care if you ever finish that novel (unless you’re paying

their salaries/mortgage with it.) And it’s bending-a-spoon-with-your-mind

hard to write a book, so there are a bazillion reasons never to do it. But

by promising your character(s) that you will tell their story you have no

excuse not to. You promised.

2. Give yourself permission to write the worst first draft in the history of the

world. Because even if it is so horrible that you wouldn’t read it to a deaf

dust mite, there is still a tiny fragment of a good idea in there somewhere

and you’ll find it in the second draft.

3. Show up at the page. If you don’t show up how do you expect your

characters to?


What's obsessing you now and why?

Right now I’m writing the worst first draft in the history of the world (see above)

and it’s so hard not to hurl my computer through the window. But I made that

dang promise (see above) so I have to. Arrgh.


What are you working on now?

A fairy(ish) tale. Which means that while I’m writing it I’m in a place far, far away

and snapping myself back into reality tends to make my head explode. Dinner?

carpools? bills? None of these exist in my land far away.


What question didn't I ask that I should have?

What does Caroline Leavitt want for Christmas?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Anthony: Lisa Genova


Love Anthony: Lisa Genova

In her third fictional novel, Love Anthony, author Lisa Genova examines the themes of autism, marital infidelity, motherhood, and female introspection against the beautiful backdrop of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The novel deviates between the female voices of Olivia, a recently separated mother of an autistic child named Anthony and Beth, a local Nantucket mother of three daughters who has found out that her husband, Jimmy has been unfaithful to her. The novel digresses between the two voices of Beth and Olivia.  Olivia struggles to find meaning in life after losing her beloved son, Anthony, as Beth tries to find a new normal without Jimmy. Beth is drawn finding her former writing voice about a young boy she saw one day on Dead Man’s Beach, a place Olivia has frequented before with Anthony.  Similarly, Olivia begins photographing families on the Nantucket beaches to support her income as a single mother. As the novel progresses, their lives intertwine and the women become immersed in each other’s stories. The novel examines themes of motherhood and maintaining the creative voice that drives our artistic passions.

Lisa Genova has built a following with her fantastic gift of portraying authentic female protagonists in her novels. The voices of these women seem real and readers become quietly immersed in her plot lines. In Love Anthony, Genova has also again brought her expertise as a Harvard trained scholar of neurology to discuss the field of autism. I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of Love Anthony and am happy to report that Ms. Genova’s third book is currently receiving rave reviews.  If you are looking for a wonderful novel to dive into in the cold months, this one will not disappoint. I am waiting with excitement for her fourth book to arrive!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reflection on America's Great Loop: George & Patricia Hospodar


Reflection on America’s Great Loop:  A Baby Boomer Couple’s Year Long Boating Odyssey
America’s Great Loop is a well known boating journey through the waterways of the Eastern United States and Canada. The route covers over 5,000 miles of rivers, canals, and intercoastal waterways and is popular for its relative safety and proximity to more populous areas.
George and Patricia Hospodar, are a couple who have been married for over four decades and share a passion for sailing and boating. George is referred to as the Captain and Pat is the Admiral.  The beginning of their informational book on boating chronicles their early maritime escapades and includes witty anecdotes.  After, Pat’s retirement as a music instructor, the baby boomer couple decides to tackle America’s Great Loop in their 48 foot boat, Reflection.  The book is structured in fifteen chapters which present their trip in a diary form along with practical boating tips and captions detailing facts on the ports visited. The book includes photos, maps, and a glossary.  Some highlights for this reader were visits to the Florida Keys and Charleston, SC. In all, the trip took almost a year (324 days) and the Hospodars visited sixteen states, traveling 5,474 total miles in the Reflection. Areas that they visited included: New Jersey, New York, Canada, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and more.  They ended their odyssey in their home port of Brick, New Jersey.
This non-fiction informational narrative is a must read for those embarking on America’s Great Loop.  Readers will gain points of wisdom to help organize and plan their own trips. Finally, the book is a testament to the human need to explore our environment and follow our dreams.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Don't Leave Me This Way (Julia Fox Garrison)


A few years ago before I started this blog, I read a touching memoir by Julia Fox Garrison.  Ms. Garrison was a young mother who suffered a debilitating stroke at the young age of thirty seven. It was a powerful account of a person who overcame a devastating health event and confronted the challenge with great character and drive.  While doing research for my last post, Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, I was excited to learn there was a connection between the two authors. Julia Fox Garrison was an early fan of Ms. Genova’s work and helped garner interest in Genova’s new genre of fictional books with a neuroscience theme. This discovery made me reach out to Ms. Garrison and I was fortunate to get an update on her current endeavors and health. I hope everyone who is currently reading Lisa Genova’s work will also take the time to read this post and make sure to get Don’t Leave Me This Way (or when I get back on my feet you’ll be sorry) by Julia Fox Garrison.

Author Bio:

“Julia Fox Garrison is the author of Don’t Leave Me This Way (or when I get back on my feet you’ll be sorry). The book chronicles her struggle to regain control over her life and her body, following a massive hemorrhage resulting in a paralyzing stroke. Julia was never one to proclaim that she would write a book one day, but in the aftermath of her stroke, dealing with the medical community and insurance companies while rehabilitating, she realized she had a story to tell. Her experience was a blueprint for how not to let the system dictate the direction, pace, and objectives of one’s recovery. But the message in her book is universal and transcends far beyond a stroke survivor’s handbook.

Julia originally self-published her memoir in May 2005.  It reached the Boston Globe bestseller list within two months by word-of-mouth alone. The success created a stir among national publishers and it went to a publisher’s auction in August 2005. HarperCollins Publisher won the bid and after some editorial changes released it in June 2006 as, Don’t Leave Me This Way or when I get back on my feet you’ll be sorry."
Update from Julia:

Since the publication of Don't Leave Me This Way (or when I get back on my feet you'll be sorry), I have become a national speaker, evangelizing for humanity in medicine. The primary focus of health care is the patient’s recovery. Speaking from the patient perspective, I advocate for improvements that go beyond the medical textbooks and the diagnosis--treat the whole patient: the mind and spirit as well as the body.

I am often asked about the changes in voice that occur in the book, the thinking being that as a memoir, it should be entirely in the first person. The first few chapters are written in third person. It is human nature to fall into a daily routine and I thought it would be interesting if the reader was a voyeur into mine. After the brain surgery, I shift to second person. I want the reader to be on the gurney with me, experiencing the confusion and frustration as I did. In the end I switch to first person. I had learned so much on my journey, but did not feel it was my place to preach nor expect the reader to feel as I did. It is my hope that readers gain insights into their own journey as they experience mine.

I continue to struggle with the effects of stroke. Aging with stroke has proven more difficult than I anticipated. But I continue to get up each day, still standing and breathing, and for that I am grateful.

My next writing project is a memoir of growing up with eight brothers, no sisters, and an eccentric dad. There's not only drama, but loads of humor in my family dynamic.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Left Neglected: Lisa Genova

Left Neglected: Lisa Genova
In the follow up novel to her bestselling book, Still Alice, author Lisa Genova tells the story of a modern mother who confronts a traumatic brain injury. Dr. Genova holds a PhD. from Harvard University and brings her background in neuroscience into the lives of her characters. In the novel, Left Neglected, Sarah Nickerson is a type A business woman and harried mother to three young children: Charlie, Lucy, and Linus. She and her husband, Bob, are classic overachievers living a comfortable life in the suburbs of Boston and their second home in Vermont. Both parents work more than eighty hours per week and juggle their work and home life with aplomb. It is not usual for Sarah to check email while driving to work or occasionally miss one of her son’s soccer games.  As the novel begins, the parents are also struggling with their oldest son, Charlie, being diagnosed with ADHD. Ultimately, Sarah is involved in a horrific car accident while looking up a number on her cell phone in the morning rush hour. She is diagnosed with a condition called left neglect in which her brain is unaware of the left side of her body.  As the plot continues, Sarah must learn to live with her disability and reevaluates her priorities in life. She is assisted by her estranged mother, with whom she has had a painful past.  However, Sarah evolves and carries readers along on her mental and physical metamorphosis. We learn with her that “having it all” can sometimes have catastrophic consequences.
As a current working mother who stayed home with my children for many years, I can relate to both sides of the character, Sarah.  I believe the book is somewhat telling regarding the constant struggle many parents confront in trying to be present at all times, everywhere.  Left Neglected shows readers that it is imperative to focus on what is most important and multi-tasking is not always a positive word.
In closing, Lisa Genova is a brilliant writer. She brings her unique perspective in neurology into her fiction but her characters also feel very real.  Readers will leave her books with more knowledge into a fascinating field of science and with practical messages about being a woman in modern society. On Sept. 25, 2012, Dr. Genova will release her third novel, Love Anthony, about a mother and her love for a son with autism.  I will be first in line to read this book and in my humble opinion; Genova has stumbled upon a new and intriguing genre of fiction.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn (2012)

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn (2012)

 Gone Girl is the third critically acclaimed fiction novel by Gillian Flynn. Published in June 2012, the novel was voted an Best Book of June 2012 and won prized reviews on Amazon and other social media sites.  The book is an exceptional mystery that interprets the intricacies and complexities of modern day marriage with plot twists in the vein of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

In summary, Nick and Amy Dunne are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in Nick’s rural Missouri hometown. Beautiful, blond, Amy Elliot Dunne is a native New Yorker and the couple has moved back to Missouri to care for Nick’s ailing parents. The novel moves through the unique perspectives of both Nick and Amy. The story begins with Nick’s point of view on the day of their fifth anniversary when he discovers that Amy has disappeared. Nick is described as a ruggedly handsome writer who woman love (imagine Brad Pitt).  Details emerge and Nick becomes a suspect in Amy’s disappearance and comes under the scrutiny of police and his wife’s doting parents.  Amy’s parents, New Yorkers, Marybeth and Rand Elliot are the world famous authors of a series based on their beloved daughter which is called Amazing Amy.  The Elliot’s are deeply in love after decades of marriage and collaborators on the Amazing Amy series. The couple seems more involved with their book series and their perfect love than the real Amy.  As the plot takes many different directions, Amy’s family background plays a key role in understanding her complex character. Nick is also influenced by his own family  which includes a cool twin sister, Margo or “Go” as well as his doting cancer stricken mother, Mo, and his despised Alzheimer’s ridden father. The novel has many twists  and I will not spoil the fun in this review.

As a reader, I was so excited to discover this book from the reviews I had read online.  I loved the dichotomy between the perspectives of Nick and Amy. About halfway through the book, I came to hate both characters and almost quit the book but continued to read and enjoyed the metamorphoses in both Nick and Amy. Flynn is a gifted writer; she employs a rich attention to detail and keen understanding of both the male and female points of view of marriage. I  also enjoyed the descriptions of the places the characters inhabited and the effects the localities had on their psyches.  Gone Girl was a definite treat that I enjoyed in a two day read. This book is one readers will love!

Finally, I was excited to see Gillian Flynn on The View discussing her book.  Apparently, actress, Reese Witherspoon has bought the rights to the book and will perhaps be portraying the character, Amy Elliot Dunne. Unfortunately, Ms. Witherspoon does not fit my image of Amy.  I hope many readers will enjoy this amazing novel before viewing the film, as books are sometimes a better way to enjoy a story.  Gone Girl is an exciting and engrossing work of fiction.  I am glad I read the book first as characters created through one’s imagination have the most lasting effect.  In closing, Gone Girl was one of the best books I have read in years and I was a bit sad to say goodbye to the dysfunctional but fascinating Nick and Amy Dunne. As Whoopi Goldberg implied on The View, “Let’s hope for a sequel.”


*I hope readers will leave some other thrillers they have devoured in the comment box for all of us to read! Also, who do you think would be the best actors to play Amy and Nick Dunne?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dream New Dreams: Jai Pausch (2012)


Dream New Dreams:  Jai Pausch (2012)

Jai Pausch has written an exquisite new memoir on her life as a caregiver to her cancer stricken husband, Randy Pausch. Mr. Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the celebrated author of The Last Lecture.  In this book, Jai Pausch examines her happy marriage with Randy and the details regarding his famous battle with pancreatic cancer.  She writes eloquently about her struggles in caring for three children under the age of six while helping her husband deal with his last months of life.  For example, “This shuttling between Randy and our children had to be one of the most difficult and stressful times of my entire life (Pausch, 46).  In this story, Jai prevails and maintains a strong relationship with her husband, Randy, but is also brave enough to retain the help of a psychologist, Dr. Reiss.  During this painful time, she manages to provide a normal, healthy existence for her young children.  In the end, Randy Pausch lost his battle against pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of the disease.  In reading this memoir, readers will feel a connection with Jai in her grief while Randy battles his pancreatic cancer and after his death.

Dream New Dreams is a triumph and Jai Pausch is a hero. She tells a sobering and devastating tale but in the end, she prevails. Today, Jai is remarried to an caring man and her children are flourishing.  Please make sure to read this heartbreaking story of resilience and love.  Also, if you have not read The Last Lecture, it is a wonderful companion to this very essential read as we all have been affected by cancer sometime in our lives. Randy Pausch has taught readers to embrace life and Jai Pausch has informed us that it can continue after a devastating loss.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vertical: Rex Pickett

Vertical:  Rex Pickett

 I found this book through the new genre of social media and wanted to read it due to my fascination with the movie, Sideways. Usually, I read books before seeing the characters in a movie. It was interesting to follow Miles and Jack in their new written adventure called Vertical after getting to know them in the critically acclaimed film, Sideways.
In Vertical, Miles (aka Rex) and Jack embark on a road trip to the Oregon wine country with Miles’ elderly mother, Mrs. Raymond, and her pot smoking caretaker, Joy.  Jack and Miles have been showered with massive amounts of fine wine due to the success of the movie Shameless (aka Sideways).  The characters from Sideways get to live in the fast lane as superstars of the wine industry. Women and wine come at them in droves. Unfortunately, this hedonistic lifestyle is wearing on Miles and he must get his ailing mother and her beloved dog to live with her sister in Wisconsin.  As the novel progresses, Miles becomes sober which causes alienation in his relationship with Jack.  The blogger does not want to add spoilers but this book is just as poignant or even better than Sideways. Miles has matured and delved into a deeper relationship with his mother.  Jack seems even more shallow and it is evident that they do not have much in common without the the common denominator of wine.  Vertical is an important story of growing up and saying goodbye to parents and a latent adolescent life.  Miles is wiser and more sober than in Sideways but a more productive person in the aftermath.

I am confused as to why, Vertical, is not a bestselling novel and Academy Award winning film because Mr. Pickett is a brilliant writer. From the Internet and twitter posts I have read, this wonderful book and film sits in wait for the go ahead from the brilliant director, Alexander Payne.  Please, Mr. Payne give it a go.

FYI:  Sideways is now an award-winning play in Los Angeles starring John Colella, Jonathan Bray, Julia McIlvaine, and Cloe Kromwell.  Soon to be coming to a theater in your city!

Art Show: Windows by Colleen Gianatiempo

630 Court St.
Martinez, CA 94553
Open Mon-Fri 11am-3pm Sat 9am-1pm

Artist: Colleen Gianatiempo

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Walking Papers: Francesco Clark

Few memoirs have moved me as emotionally as the book, Walking Papers, which was written by Francesco Clark. In the late 1980's, Francesco was a twenty four year old man enjoying a dazzling post college life in New York City. He was about to begin a lucrative job at a public relations firm after a successful stint at Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. One night in May, Francesco escaped the city for his summer rental in the Hamptons and decided to take a late night swim. This evening would prove to be pivotal and life altering as he accidently dove into the shallow end of the pool, hitting his chin and shattering his spine. Francesco was told that he would never walk again or function independently. The book graphically chronicles Francesco’s recovery process as a C4 quadriplegic and his coming to terms with the ramifications of his injury. Buoyed by the undying love and support of his close knit Italian American family, Francisco struggles to regain movement and is fearless in his determination to explore experimental surgeries and therapies. As a reader, I was astounded at the apathy and negativity of his doctors and therapists who told Francesco to simply accept his new life. This story moved me to tears and ignited a desire to assist people such as Francesco in my own small way. Readers learn that in the era of technology and stem cell research that a spinal injury does not necessarily lead to a life in purgatory. Ultimately, Francesco Clark has flourished in the years since his injury and is carrying the torch as an Ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. He is also a successful entrepreneur of a skin care line which proceeds benefit the above foundation. I hope you will read this amazing memoir because you will be changed as a human being by reading this exceptional story of one person’s mission to survive. You will be grateful for your own blessings and Francesco’s memoir may inspire you to give to others. Finally, books such as this one are the reason I write on this blog; hoping to promote a love of reading and compassion for others through the written word.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Q & A: Rex Pickett (Sideways: The Play)

Interview:   Rex Pickett

How did the theatrical production of your novel, Sideways, come to fruition at the Ruskin Theater in LA?

I was doing a book signing for my new novel Vertical at Pinot Days, a huge wine event held in the football field-sized Barker Hangar, across the street from the Ruskin Group Theater.  I was approached by Jason Matthews, a person associated with the Ruskin Group Theater.  He asked me if I had ever thought about doing a stage production of Sideways.  I said no, but I’d be happy to take a meeting about it.  We met a few days later.  I liked what he said.  Then I met with the whole team at Ruskin:  Managing Director Mikey Myers, Founder John Ruskin, some others.  They were very passionate about a stage production, and I responded positively to that.  I also responded to the fact that I would have total creative control – over the final script, the hiring of the director, etc., so I said:  Okay, let’s do it.  I also agreed to do it because I knew there would be a final product.  Writing screenplays for hire is a drag because 99% of the time your work just ends up mired in development, and never sees the screen.  This would be something real, the reason I made indie films back in the ‘80s.

First I had to read the novel, which I hadn’t done in 7 years.  I was surprised how dialogue-driven it was, and how that would transfer to the stage.   With no restrictions I wrote a first draft.  We held a cold read.  There were notes.  Mostly they were about how to compress the play, get it down to a reasonable length.  Then came the director hiring process.  After some unfelicitious interviews with some award-winning older gentlemen who treated me condescendingly, I ultimately chose a second-time director in Amelia Mulkey.  The two of us went to work on the script.  We never fought.  She’s amazing.  The whole crew at the Ruskin Group Theater was amazing, very supportive, never imposing their vision, only helping me bring my vision to the stage.  It was a total collaborative process from start to finish, a year and a half after they approached me to opening night.  The single most rewarding creative experience in all the things I’ve done.

The film adaptation of Sideways was a huge critical and commercial success.  How closely were you involved in the creation of the movie?

Alexander Payne (the director and co-adapter) and his writing partner Jim Taylor gave me every draft of the script and were very interested in my input.  My only main contribution was Maya’s speech on wine delivered by Virginia Madsen.  I didn’t write it, but I urged them to write a complementary speech to Miles’s soliloquy on Pinot that precedes her now famous one after reading two drafts where her speech didn’t exist at all.  I also had a little something to do with the ending.  Other than having created the universe with my novel, I didn’t have a whole lot to do with the movie.   Payne runs a tight ship, and once they get past the script and into pre-production there isn’t a whole hell of a lot the novelist is required to do.

What was your reaction to your original idea becoming an Academy Award winning film?

It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, but only won for Best Adapted Screenplay, not Best Picture.  Which, of course, made me happiest of all.  Even more than Best Picture.  Exultation was my reaction.  Surprise, shock and exultation.  After what I went through in the ‘90s, chronicled in a very long 7-part blog on, I felt like the proverbial Phoenix risen from the proverbial ashes.

I read that you had submitted your manuscript of Sideways numerous times for publication and were rejected.  How did you persevere?

I blogged about this extensively on in a piece called My Life on Spec: the Writing of Sideways.  I highly recommend your readers read it.  Go to “Blogs” and then to “December.”  It’s 15,000 words long and, for an aspiring, not for the faint of heart.

Are the characters, Miles and Jack autobiographical?

Sideways is written in the first person from the standpoint of Miles, so it’s very personal, very autobiographical.  Jack is based on a close friend of mine, Roy Gittens.

In the novel, the Miles and Jack take a momentous trip to the Santa Ynez Valley in California. Can you describe the beauty of this area to readers? (FYI: The blogger is a huge Napa Valley fan).

The Santa Ynez Valley sort of reminds me a little of what I imagine Tuscany must be like, albeit having never been there, and with the added bonus of being nestled close to an ocean.  It’s a sleepy place, sort of a “hick” place really, but it’s not overrun like Napa/Sonoma, which is also incredibly beautiful.  There’s just something tranquil about wine country, whether it be the Santa Ynez Valley, Napa/Sonoma, or the Willamette Valley.

Why did you want to become a writer and who are some artists of any genre who continue to inspire you?

I didn’t want to become a writer necessarily; it wanted to inhabit me.  It came from inside.  And then it was all about film.  I’ve been inspired as much, if not more so, by film than by literature.

I know it sounds self-serving, but I’m inspired by the work of Alexander Payne in U.S. cinema, but very few others.  Fatih Akin in Germany.  Marco Bellochio out of Italy.  And I’m trying to read the great Chilean writer Roberto Bolano.  Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye still moves me.

Can you discuss your new novel, Vertical, and the mother/son theme that it conveys?

It’s a long story.  My mother had a massive stroke that left her full left-side paralyzed and wheelchair-dependent in ’90.  My younger brother wrested control of her care and, more or less, squandered her life savings in two years.  I had to assume control of her care and it wasn’t easy.  I wrote a script titled The Road Back, inspired by this.  It was sold, but never made.  Then when Sideways became successful, my publishing agent twisted my arm into novelizing The Road Back.  I did so reluctantly, and it was a horrible experience with Alfred A. Knopf.  The book wasn’t working, so I got out of the deal and morphed the mother/son story into what is now the Sideways sequel Vertical.

As a successful writer, what is your advice for individuals who are just beginning in this career?

Follow me on Twitter @RexPickett because I Tweet #Writing tips all the time.  First of all, it’s a life, not an avocation.  You might make it sooner than others, but more than likely it’s going to be later, and it’s going to be a tough road.  Be mindful of the marketplace, but try to find your own voice.  Read copiously.  Read great novels, read great screenplays, and see great movies.  Develop an aesthetic sensibility.  Writing and experiencing what great writers have written or great filmmakers have made feed and nourish one another.  Don’t complain.  Writing owes you nothing.

Do you have plans for a third novel and what are some current ideas that excite you as a creative person?

I didn’t have plans for a third novel until I was approached to do one.  And that’s all I can say on that front, except that it will be, if I elect to do it, Part III of the Sideways trilogy.

I’m excited about Sideways: the Play and where it will travel next.  It could easily consume the next couple years of my life.  And there’s a script that I just optioned that I would like to direct titled Repairman.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guest Post: Professor Emily Stinson: Signs of Life

Signs of Life Review – Emily Stinson

Death is a subject not many of us like to discuss. It makes us uncomfortable and fearful to talk or think of death because it is the one thing that we cannot control. None of us know when or where it will strike. We like to imagine we will all live a long life, but the truth of the matter is that none of us are guaranteed that. Accidents, disease, wrong place at the wrong time, any number of things can happen to us or our loved ones, altering (or ending) the course of our lives. And when we lose a loved one, we are forced to re-imagine and reinvent our "normal" lives, without that loved one. The pain and cycle of grief is a personal journey, different for everyone, and extremely difficult to endure, much less overcome.

Natalie Taylor, in her memoir, Signs of Life bravely details her journey through grief when she, at age twenty-four and five months pregnant, loses her husband, Josh to a tragic accident. The memoir begins on the night Natalie learns of her husband's death and continues on through the birth of her son, concluding a little over a year after Josh’s accident. Along the way, Natalie grieves and rebuilds her life as a single parent, helped along the way by friends and family.

This is a very difficult read, to be certain, mostly because Natalie’s personable writing style makes it hard to put any kind of emotional distance between author and reader. I felt almost as if Natalie became my friend while reading this. It is always important for memoir writing to connect to its audience, but it is quite different to ask readers to connect to an experience as personal and difficult as death, something that most do everything in their power to avoid thinking about. It is a testament to Natalie that she is able to forge a connection between herself and her reader because the cost to readers is to experience emotions so raw and powerful that it is almost painful to keep reading. I cried almost every time I picked this book up. I often found myself both wanting desperately for the impossible - for Natalie to get Josh back - and simultaneously, appreciating my own husband in ways I never had before. There were moments when I would lay awake reading and stop just to appreciate the snores I heard next to me, that I could reach over and touch a warm and healthy body. It is a shame that it so often takes death to get us to appreciate life.

Natalie's writing style and tone is very conversational and honest. She doesn't save face and hold back her thoughts and feelings about the grieving process itself and the way others treat her, which ranges from overly helpful to outright avoidance. However, Natalie never comes across as whiny or self-absorbed either. Though she has every right to feel wronged and cheated, she doesn't allow herself to go down those paths. Instead, she finds ways to appreciate life and make the best of her circumstances. The birth of her son seems to be something of a turning point for Natalie; where before she was a grieving widow, she now must be a mother. It is her decision that she does not want her son to grow up with a mother who is constantly sad and grieving that seems to draw the line in the sand between whom she was and who she would like to be.

Along with the trials of motherhood, Natalie must also deal with raising a child on her own. When selecting a new parents group to attend, she has to choose between selecting the couples group or the single parents group, not truly fitting into either camp: after all, she is a single mother, but she was married and would still be if it weren't for Josh's accident. Finding her own way seems to be a major theme in Natalie’s story; most do not become a widow in their mid-twenties, and so Natalie must create the rules for this atypical identity. She fields questions about whether her son has a relationship with his father in her grief group, and she has to explain to those who learn of Josh’s death why she doesn’t still wear her wedding ring. I imagine one of the hardest moments for her would have been receiving a letter from social security saying her marriage had been terminated due to Josh's death. How must it have felt for a government agency to tell you your marriage is over?

However, despite the unreal circumstances that Natalie finds herself in, she manages to keep her imagination alive, and it is often a tool she uses to combat grief: present in her story is a cast of imagined characters and scenarios that aid Natalie. After she connects to a particularly touching chapter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry must confront the choice between life and death, Natalie imagines herself calling up J.K. Rowling and having a conversation with the famous author about how she, Natalie, is really doing after Josh’s death. There is a scenario where Natalie stars in her own version of The Bachelorette where suitors are tested on their ability to do household chores or care for children rather than woo their bachelorette with flowers and fancy dinners. My personal favorite is Natalie's "fairy mom godmother,” a twist on the traditional fairy godmother who comes to Natalie's aid after her son is born when others say or do the wrong things to help. These imagined "daydreams," so to speak, provide moments of light hearted humor and bring something unique to the memoir.

Another important aspect of the memoir is how Natalie's job helps her through the grieving process. Natalie is a high school English teacher whose creative approach to teaching literature is a treat for all those who have a close connection to the discipline. I’ve spent most of my life with my face buried behind a book, and now I teach English and Composition at the Community College level, so I have a personal and professional investment to not only the study of literature but the teaching of it as well. Despite the fact that it has been a while since I read the texts Natalie teaches – A Separate Peace, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, among others – and I don’t teach them in my college classes, I appreciate the way Natalie encourages her students to make their understanding of literature personal. Natalie herself sees these texts in a completely different light after Josh’s death. The way these novels connect to her and teach her reminded me why I love this profession and how important it is for us to have a relationship with literature. Sometimes, books are the only guides we have when life gets tough.

Ultimately, this is a story of hope and of appreciating life despite extremely difficult circumstances. I recommend this memoir to all, especially if you've ever suffered a loss and/or if you have a passion for literature. Death is certainly not a fun subject to read and talk about, but it's important for us to have a dialogue about it because it is inevitable. I am thankful to have read this book, even though it led to a lot of tears, because while the center theme is about struggling to rebuild after a tragic death, it also teaches a great deal about the preciousness of life. And that is certainly something we should never ever forget.