Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Author Talk: Meg Wolitzer

Author Talk
Meg Wolitzer
April 1, 2014
@ RJ Julia Booksellers (Madison, CT)

I don't have AmberBug's ninja-photo skills -- not to mention her normally amazing photo skills! -- so this cute author pic is one I borrowed from npr.org.

Dear Reader,

On April Fool's Day (no joke!*), my sister Bethany drove down all the way from Sudbury, MA so we could attend Meg Wolitzer's author talk hosted by RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT.  This was a big commitment, yes, but we were both fans of the book and really wanted to hear what she had to say about it.  I first got to introduce Bethany to the charming RJ Julia store, which we entered through the cafe in back.  So of course that necessitated buying coffees and a ginormous cupcake to split - vanilla with strawberry frosting (yum!).  Then we found our seats for the reading and talk.

I took copious notes on Wolitzer's discussion points, so I'll try to get them down in a coherent sort of way.

First, she read an abridged version of Chapter One from The Interestings (see my initial Shelf Notes review here!).  She was a great reader (Bethany & I later commented on how she ought to have narrated her own audiobook!), engaging and funny and endearing.  And she clearly cared about her characters as she read them.

Next, she took audience questions - including one from Yours Truly!  Here's a summation of what was asked & answered, as well as a few great Wolitzer quotes thrown in:
  • MW went to summer camp in the Berkshires when SHE was the same age as the book characters - for acting (although she claims she had tried to adopt a horrid Katherine Hepburn voice!).
  • She recalls a very talented girl (in the same acting program) who became a doctor, which initially surprised her - but then she realized that acting well requires a lot of empathy, and perhaps that was why she ultimately pursued that very different field.
  • MW will be coming out with a YA book in the fall - titled Belzhar, which is a play on Plaths' The Bell Jar.
  • She likes to write about adolescents.
  • She made a best friend at camp with whom she lost touch for over 12 years, but then reconnected with.
  • She finds she often has dreams of being at her old campsite, or of a return to camp.
  • She believes The Interestings explores "that moment that life is at its most vivid" - it's when you find "your tribe, your people" - as she pointed out, that is usually where adults are NOT, when you are a teen!   That is really what the book is about - NOT summer camp, but those connections.
  • Also, the tribe you WISH you were a part of - that you join by faking or weaseling your way in (akin to Jules' experience).
  • I asked about the obvious similarities between Figland and The Simpsons,  and whether MW had based Ethan's character strongly or loosely on Matt Groening - she said VERY loosely, she hadn't done any research on him at all - she just chose that situation because the book was based in this 80s era when adult TV could offer cartoons on prime time, and that was a big change.
  • The relationship between Jules and Ash went on such different trajectories, and it was difficult for them to stay friends through everything - the book "is about what happens to talent, but also about friendship & jealousy" - MW brought up the Russian word which translates to "white envy", which means that sort of positive envy you feel for loved ones.  She wanted to explore how the characters kept their friendships alive.
  • MW's mother is an autodidact & writer; her father is a psychologist.  Her mother started writing late; they lived in Long Island at the time, and MW lived there until she was a college grad, then moved to NYC.
  • The dinner party focuses very much on the then very current issue of AIDS - MW felt that she really needed to show what it was like to live during that time, when you lived in fear of losing friends and loved ones regularly.  Also, she wanted to convey what it felt like to live during the Reagan years, and made sure to insert references to now-defunct things such as PanAm and a NYC pub, and the WTC.
  • "As a writer, you have to let your characters be annoying & also to stagnate - as people DO - life gets in the way of moving, etc." (re: Jules' stagnation in the awful apartment)
  • The Goodman family was very entitled - MW: "it's interesting to track corruption & loyalty in a family, as opposed to a corporation"
  • MW: "You don't have to love your characters, but you have to find them human & understand what they do."
  • She doesn't like  to write autobiography because people tend to get upset. :)
  • "Writers need a moral integrity" -- MW
  • "Every books needs an imperative" -- MW
  • She quoted Zadie Smith's "When I write, I am trying to express the way I live in the world."
  • MW thinks readers are drawn into books where the writer is really trying to wrestle with something.  "You go into a store and pick up a book -- what makes you put it back down?" -- "The reader wants to know, Why are you telling me this? and if the author can't answer that, the reader doesn't want to engage."
  • Novels must vie for your time in very crowded lives.
  • MW loves Ethan - "I practically have a blow-up doll of him at my house" - she feels she has a sense of humor very like his.
  • MW: "We want our writers to have great gravitas on the page but be very funny in talks."
  • She told a funny joke about a grandmother and white-water rafting.  (Let me know if you want me to try & type it all out!  I'll try to do it justice...)
  • MW: "A writer needs to keep piling it on like a layer cake."

I also got AmberBug a little surprise...shhhh, don't tell! ;)
(The author was kind enough to draw doodles in the books my sister & I bought.)

All in all, my sister and I were thoroughly charmed by Meg Wolitzer.  I look forward to reading more of her work. 


* Sorry, couldn't resist the bad pun!

1 comment:

  1. Arianna! Thank you so much!!!! I can't wait to read this, you spoil me!!! I love the notes you took, this will enrich my experience while reading the book. You're the BEST!


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