Shop Talk

My dear friend and talented writer, Rebecca Brooks, asked me to participate in a blog hop, and I was glad to jump in. Below are the questions, a bio for Rebecca and two more of my impressive writer friends, Chelsia Rice and Carolyn Silveira (their bios can be found below), who I’m tagging to keep this going. Read below for my take on these questions about craft and my current work.

What am I working on writing?

Right now I’m working on a memoir. I’ve published a few pieces of it as essays in the last year or so, so I’m polishing a few more for the same purpose while also beginning to weave them together into a longer whole.

The book is a close look at the overlap of reality, celluloid fantasy, and addiction; what it means to recover; and the radical work of deciding what to believe. It begins in Los Angeles, where I grew up watching the same bleached asphalt, palm trees, and cirrus skies from the backseat of the car window as I saw in movies and on television.

Traveling as far from Hollywood as I could get, loneliness seeped from the mahogany wood and Baroque décor of my Northeastern dorm room where it didn’t take long before a film crew set up and began shooting the film Mona Lisa Smile; the protagonist’s name the same as my own. Upon graduating, I went to stake a claim in New York City (while paying my uncle rent for his apartment uptown), and instead dropped to skin and bone before being fired from my last of many jobs in the city, all the while imagining myself a movie star strutting down Fifth Avenue in clothing my mother bought inspired by A Devil Wears Prada. That is, until I ducked into West Side Market for a dinner of free cheese samples and grapes I plucked when no one was looking. The focus of this book lies where the dream of Hollywood perfection meets my own flesh and blood.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I don’t have any idea really. The nonfiction/memoir genre is so wildly interpretive now, it seems that it’s all alike and all very different in that writers are just doing what they want. That said, I think I’m one of those nonfiction writers that writes like a fictioneer. I tend to read mostly fiction and my big heroes are novelists and essayists, not memoirists. In fact, I find the memoirs my heroes have written to be a little dull. So I tend to write scenes like you might see in a novel, but with the reflection of a really great self-help book (a guilty pleasure).

Form-wise, I, like others, am playing with vignette and short, quick chapters, but the emphasis is on the visual more than anything else I’ve yet to read. I’m trying to write a book that works like a movie. I’m writing about movies, my love of them and how they’ve defined my reality since before I could, so taking the reader to a place that is as purely visual as possible without actually using pictures is the goal. I think a lot of memoir writing right now is very heady, very intellectual, meta, and I’ve just always enjoyed a good story more than anything else. I recently read an interesting piece about this argument of the aesthete versus the intellectual here.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I’m obsessed. I’m obsessed with the dig. They talk about how good essays and essayists turn and turn and turn an object/focus/idea, trying to see all its sides and insides, to see it in every light, from every angle. This is, of course, an endless endeavor, and it is what I’m doing with my past. It is driven by a desire to know myself and those I love, and to better understand the ever-changing world around me. I’m particularly interested in Los Angeles as a subject because it is a land of deception. It is perceived as light but it is so dark. It is perceived as a place where dreams come true, but so many have been eaten alive by its violence and bleakness. I love it for its secret passion and culture, for its illusions of vapidness.

How does my writing process work?

It is also obsessive. It is meditative and is often born of a few strong pages built into many through hours of sitting at my desk appearing mostly as if I’m doing nothing. At least that’s how it feels. I tend to do a whole lot slowly and with a lot of meditation. That’s what it takes to get out of my head and away into the ride of one sentence following another following another.

Chelsia A. Rice

Chelsia A. Rice is a cancer survivor and essayist living with her partner and two wiener dogs in Helena, Montana. As a daughter of a lesbian couple, she’s been a life-long vocal advocate for equal rights. After receiving her MFA from the University of Idaho in 2008, she published “Tough Enough to Float” in The Los Angeles Review. Though it was the first essay she published, it was selected as a Notable Best American Essay for 2014. More of her writing can be found at About.com, Peripheral Surveys, and at Chelsiarice.com.

Carolyn Silveira

Carolyn Silveira is a writer, editor, and lover of strategic brainstorming who helps social entrepreneurs and other scrappy, interesting people to articulate their ideas and communicate their brand through copywriting, creative communications, and content production. She has served on the editorial staff of the well-reviewed online literary journal anderbo.com (where you can also read her satirical short story about James Franco) and helped launch an innovative multimedia journal called Lux. Carolyn is a dilettante gardener and avid radio listener, and is working on a collection of short stories and a novel. Her erratic tweets can be found @CaroTheCMonster.

Rebecca Brooks

Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.