Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Author Interview: Diane Meier

Photobucket Last week I reviewed a wonderful book, The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier. This was her debut novel (SHOCK!!) and she was kind of enough to humor my questions.

GJR: You run a successful Marketing firm, Meier, in NYC, how did you find time to write a novel?

DM: I don’t think I could have done this in the ‘old days’ before computers. The fact that I could pull down the Teddy Hennessy (the name of this book right up until the last minute) file, and read what I’d written the night before -- in a moment or two between clients, or write a hundred words while waiting for a job to go on press – all of this was made possible by the ease of the computer.

And while I wouldn’t belittle the process or the talent to suggest that it was in any way “a breeze”, it was almost a way to re-charge between the storms that make up a life of marketing.

Two other important factors:
1. My work has required me to develop the discipline of being able to move between tasks, skill-sets or clients – seamlessly and with no loss of creativity or focus. It was great training for writing a novel, while still deeply involved with other work.
2. Frank is always working. Always writing. He produces a major book a year (see Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, his latest or Frankdelaney.com), screenplays, stage-plays and journalism. I didn’t want a life where I went off to dinner or the theater without him and came home to say what an evening he missed. I chose to join the enterprise of creative output, even if it meant long nights at the keyboard, instead!

GJR: In the novel, we see the house that Joy purchased transform into a home at the same time that Joy transforms into a new person as well. Is this something that you planned on from the start of the novel or did it emerge while you were writing?

DM: Very much planned. It seemed to me that a person who has no idea about their own personal or authentic style, no idea of how they really want or need to live – would have no idea of how they needed a home to function. And those of us who have renovated or built houses know that the first thing you need to ascertain, is how you want to live; how you need this house to partner with you in a life that is personally expressive and fulfilling. I also felt that being asked to consider these “domestic” questions (about personal style and taste and the functioning of one’s life) would begin to develop that part of Joy that had been closed down for so long. And conversely, when she started to see her own life reflected in the choices she (and Teddy) have made, I believed that Joy would begin to respond to the world around her with more confidence and less need to insulate her emotional core. Of course, I also believe that this authentic and unique idea of where you stand in the world (your taste, your values, your history, your creativity), is vitally important to a well-developed, fully expressive life. And that’s what creating Joy meant to me.

GJR: Since this is your first novel, did you have any preconceived notions about writing a book? What is easier or harder than you thought?

DM: Since I had a serious professional writer of both fiction and non-fiction right under my own roof, I had no illusions about writing a book, selling a book and promoting a book. For good and bad. There have been two wonderful surprises for me, however – the relationships with my agent, Mitchell Waters (if only all agents were like Mitchell). He’s a combination of avenging angel, patient teacher, sandbox pal and guard dog. And I know that we will be friends forever. My editor, Marjorie Braman, told Mitchell, when she read the manuscript, that she knew we would be friends – and she was right. I love her like the sister I never had. And together, the three of us (okay, so it’s not biology) “birthed” this book. The collaboration was a treat, rather than a problem. And I’ve loved their delight in its success. They have every right to be personally delighted! And I really enjoyed the sharing.

GJR: I loved the fact that Joy was in her late 40s because a lot of female characters that are on a self-discovery journey are in their 20s or 30s, what made you decide to have a Joy a bit older than the typical female heroine? I love the fact that we got to see her blossom into a new person, how it wasn’t an overnight change.

DM: Well, thank you –I agree. Joy says, early in the game, “Change rarely happens in doses large enough to choke you.” Except in regard to major, usually tragic, events imposed upon us, we rarely change in massive ways overnight. I also wanted to show a truth that allows us to grow and change and find deeper meaning in life – anytime. As long as we’re still breathing we’re capable of change and improvement. I think we deal with a number of sexist issues in this book, but there are also some ageist issues skirting the sidelines. – And certainly one of these is that we live in a culture that seems to believe that people over 40 are kind of washed up in terms of power or attraction or vitality. This is anything but true. And I think we’re about to see a kind of revolution around this subject. Watch this space, as they used to say on old billboards….

GJR: How did the term “coyotes” come to be? I think it’s perfect and hilarious.

DM: Well – there are ‘wolves’ – a term that used to be used for ‘men on the make’. Coyotes seemed to be a kind of ‘low-rent’ wolf, I suppose. And, Frank and I live up in a very rural part of the country, along a river valley – and we hear the plaintiff cries of coyotes in the night. It’s a little spooky and disconcerting – I liked that suggestion about these guys. And -- the real-life coyotes are so social that their cries are meant to alert the rest of their pack when they’ve made a ‘kill’. That seemed appropriate for these fellows too. As though they ticked off the “new meat”, as much for the sake of their status within the pack as for their own needs – if you know what I mean…

GJR: One of my favorite secondary characters was Bernadette Lowell. I found her to be so wise and such a visionary. Her character is undertaking a huge curriculum change at Amherst. Who was your inspiration for this type of project? Does something like this currently exist in academia?

DM: Bernadette is a combination of a number of women – Camille Paglia, Betty Friedan, Matina Horner and – oddly enough, Julia Child. Of course, she’s nothing like any of them, really – but all rolled together, we get a kind of Mother-of-us-all - Bernadette. I love her too.

I don’t think that the idea of schools “branding” themselves by creating proprietary “ways” of learning /programs of teaching has happened at the college level. We see a bit of it in the nursery school stage today, and in the 1970’s there was some good experimental work going on in establishing different ways of reaching elementary school children who were either very bright or dysfunctional.

But – with the exception of Saint Johns (http://www.stjohnscollege.edu), and a few particular art/craft schools, I can’t think of a college or university that hangs its hat on its very different structure or approach to learning. But if a college or university were my client, it would be the very thing I’d suggest they consider.

GJR: Are you working on a new novel? If so, can you tell us the premise?

DM: It’s called The Lowell Girl. And it is, indeed, about Bernadette, whom I create as a Boston Lowell. The book draws on the actual history of the “Lowell Girls” – true heroines of the American Labor Movement – from the very earliest days of 19C (Industrial Revolution – Millwork) Factory Labor. And it tells the (fictional, of course) story of Bernadette’s development into the impressive woman we meet in SSC.

I am SO delighted to hear that she made such an impression on you.

GJR: Besides your husband, Frank Delaney, who are your favorite authors to read? Why?

DM: What’s this “besides”? I do love Frank’s work. I can hear you all say – “Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she”. But I don’t think so. Here’s my challenge to your readers – if you don’t see yourself picking up Ireland or Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show(or Shannon: A Novel or Tipperary: A Novel) – try the audio books and let Frank read them to you. I promise -- you’ll be hooked. They’re heart-stopping.

But okay – besides…. I love Henry James and Edith Wharton. I love John O’Hara – especially his short stories. I love Gore Vidal’s essays. I love all Truman Capote – including his dashed off essays for “Interview”. I think that Amanda Vaill’s biographies (Everybody Was So Young and Somewhere about the Murpheys and Jerome Robbins, respectively, were first rate. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about Paris in that period between the First and Second World Wars. Especially the handful of women there who sort of mid-wifed the Modernist Movement – from Margaret Anderson and Sylvia Beach to Gertrude Stein and Janet Flanner. I’m not sure how I’m going to use it, but it’s really calling out to me.

I love Crackpots: A Novel by Sara Pritchard. It’s the kind of talent you didn’t think they’d discover anymore – a completely unique voice. I love Katherine Lanpher’s Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move – about her move to New York –from the Midwest when she was forty (talk about Second Chances!).

GJR: What are you currently reading?

DM: Cathleen Schine’s The Three Weissmanns of Westport. It’s a witty, sardonic and touching book – that is NOTHING like it’s terrible Chick-Lit cover. You look at the cheesy cover and wonder what this book could possibly have to say to you – but pick it up! She’s a marvelous writer. And it’s made me want to go back and find all of her previous books. They’re on order now from Amazon. Bet you will love her.

I read a lot and, apparently, I read very some very unusual things. I just picked up a book on taxidermy. Go figure.

Two of my favorite books are not likely “top choices” for your audience, and they may say more about me than about the books :
Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life by Allen Shawn.
Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me by Craig Seligman.

What holds them together is a deeply personal and almost obsessive degree of attention to a very narrow subject. As I happen to feel strongly (and positively) about both Sontag and Kael, my interest in the Seligman book was piqued from the get-go. I fell in love with his writing (and his values) in the process. But I have very little experience with phobias, so I’m not sure how I stumbled across Shawn’s book, but it’s become a favorite. It’s an unwavering attempt at clear-eyed honesty within a subject that wants nothing more than to hide. A very brave and captivating book. (And – selfishly ---- a great lesson for a novelist who writes in the first person.)

I want to thank Ms. Meier for taking time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer my questions. I know that I will be anxiously awaiting her book, The Lowell Girl. I also know that I have several new books to add to my wish list on Amazon.

If you are curious about her marketing firm, click here.

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