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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Online Interview with Ayelet Waldman

The Barren Bitches Book Brigade has suddenly become as tangled and thematic as a ride on It's a Small World. Our second online interview took place a few months ago with Peggy Orenstein when we read her book, Waiting for Daisy. Our third online interview features a writer who popped up in Waiting for Daisy during a Yom Kippur scene--the very same holiday coming up this weekend on the Jewish calendar. Allow me to introduce you to the divine and daring Ayelet Waldman.

If you're looking for more coincidences, Ayelet is a blogger herself--first of the now-defunct Bad Mother and later a columnist for Salon. She is an ardent feminist, interested in women's health issues. She is a former lawyer and a current writer of not only Love and Other Impossible Pursuits and Daughter's Keeper, but the popular Mommy-Track Mysteries. She is outspoken and confident--she speaks her mind and says what many of us think privately. She is, in my opinion, the human embodiment of that old strange description: "a breath of fresh air."

For the sixth tour of the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, we read her recent novel, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. Emilia's life is coming apart after the death of her infant daughter. Her grief consumes her work and marriage. Simultaneously, she is step-parenting the precious and precocious William, who always seems to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Throw in a furious ex-wife, a couple of well-intentioned friends, and a mother who is rekindling a relationship with her own ex-husband and Emilia's life seems like it is on the verge of imploding. An intense novel with achingly beautiful moments, Waldman hits it out of the park with Emilia's loss and rebirth.

Like Waldman herself, Emilia is smart and sassy--she speaks her mind and has definite opinions. You may not always agree with the character. She may make you frustrated beyond belief. But if you're open to the experience, she will also make you think. She will make you ask yourself hard questions--not to change your mind to match her own, but to strengthen your own internal arguments.

Participants in the book tours can ask the author their questions as they read. I sent along this list of questions to Ayelet and she got back to me in an extremely impressive hour-and-a-half. How much do I love this woman? A very public thank you to Ayelet for reading along with the book club, commenting on our posts, and answering our questions:

You have been the subject of controversy due to your openness about taboo subjects such as suicide and abortion on your blog, "Bad Mommy." How has this affected you and how you write? Do you ever feel you should censor yourself or do you feel honesty is the best policy?

Michael, my husband, describes writing as the process of making a golem out of clay. You create this creature, and then you write the word "life" on its forehead and it comes alive. Now, when the Jews made the golem, they did it to save themselves. And the golem did that to a certain extent. But when you bring a golem to life, he is alive. He does what he wants. Maybe he saves you, and maybe he turns on you. Writing is like that. If you're not in danger, then you aren't doing it well. If you're not in danger, then your golem is dead on the page.

Was writing this book therapeutic for you in some way? As I read the book, I wondered if you, the author, were grieving a significant loss, adjusting to being a stepparent, or working out some dynamics in your family of origin. It seemed as if you were to close with your characters, that I wondered if in some way, you also sensed that figurative closeness with them.

I don't have the step-parenting issues, although my mom was, like Emilia's, a step-mother. But I did lose a pregnancy in the second trimester. I've written about that on Salon, too. That experience was so profoundly miserable, I grieved for so long and so hard, that I had to write about it. I wrote about it again and again. I wrote a short story about a mother haunted by the ghost of her dead baby. I wrote Love. I wrote essays. It was only when I wrote it out enough that I felt like I could move on.

First of all, I really enjoyed the book. At the same time, I really had to fight the urge to dislike Emilia through a lot of it. What is your take on Emilia? If she were a real person, would she be in your inner circle of friends?

I love Emilia. I love her sass, I identify with her self-loathing and self-pity. I think the fact that she's funny makes up for a myriad of flaws. At the same time, I can understand why people sometimes don't like her. Hell, people don't like ME and I think I'm pretty great.

I'd love to know how you came up with the idea for this story. What was the first spark? Your depiction of grieving a child and avoiding mothers with babies rings so true, I'd be interested to know how you acquired such a delicate touch of a subject which is very difficult to portray well.

I knew I wanted to write about a dead baby. And the story arrived in my head like a gift from somewhere outside my brain. I wrote the first draft in two weeks at a writer's colony. I wrote so fast that I wore the fingerprints off my fingertips. It was the most incredible experience of my life. Flow, baby. It's all about flow.

Emilia deals with the concept of bashert in this novel. Your love for your husband is well known. Do you feel like you and Michael are bashert?

Yes, I do. We were meant to be together -- or at least we are so well-matched and in love that we might as well have been. But you know what? None of that matters. Life is HARD, marriage is harder and bashert only gets you through so much. You have to work at it. We work on our relationship and our family every day.

Since your husband is also a writer, do you find that it is easier (since he understands the ups and downs of a writing life) or more difficult to have the same career? How did you balance writing and children in those early days of babyhood?

I'd never have written if it weren't for him. I was a very contented lawyer. He gave me the idea. I think it's easy for us. I don't try to compete -- hell, he's one of the greatest living writers. How could I ever hope to compete? We support each other. We love one another's work. We're each other's best critique and best reader.

Look below if you're here for the Barren Bitches Book Brigade and want to find the master list for Group A. Stay tuned tomorrow for the master list to Group B.


Kristen said...

Great big thank you under Ayelet Waldman for not only writing such a moving novel but also for participating so wholeheartedly in our tour. It has made it that much more meaningful and special for me. The best one yet!

I, for one, love her no-holds-bar approach. Breath of fresh air, indeed!

Fertilize Me said...

I have to agree with Kristen. This is my first participation book tour and I do not think you can top an author joining in on the tour!! I have sais it before, but i will say it again, This book annunciated so many of my feelings/emotions that I did not have words for before. I read this book in 3 days. If it wasn't for this thing called a J. O. B. i could have read faster. The book ended and I wanted more of Emilia

Lori said...

For the record, Ayelet, I liked Emilia because she boldly sported her flaws. I spend a lot of energy trying to hide mine.

Thanks for participating! And thanks for the comment!

Carlynn said...

That was great to read an interview with the author, thank you so much Ayelet Waldman and well done to Mel for organising this all.

It was one of my favourite books of the year and I loved being able to read a bit of the behind the scenes info. The comment about basherts and life being hard was very good, I think it's so true. We think our true love will solve everything and then along comes infertility and life's other knocks and you realise that meeting your bashert only takes you so far.

And for the record, I also loved Emilia. I would love to be friends with her if she was real, she sounded like a great person, lots of personality and individuality and not too perfect.

Ms. Planner said...

Thank you, Ayelet, for writing such a wonderful book and for participating in this book tour.

Emilia's sorrow and the way she behaved really helped me take a good, hard look at my own behvior after 2 miscarriages. I am indebted to you for giving us a character with feelings and reactions that, I believe, were so very true to life.

Bea said...

Love the writing=golem thoughts. The rest - well, I might just have to read the book to figure out what people are talking about properly.