Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AN INTERVIEW WITH SUZANNE FINNAMORE

As many of you already know, I have a love that borders on scary/obsessive with the book Split. What many of you may NOT know, is why. I have loved Suzanne Finnamore's writing since I first read Otherwise Engaged and later The Zygote Chronicles. She is a dead-on writer, and FUNNY, mercifully FUNNY.

And therein lies the major reason I love Split, she takes a subject so NOT funny - being unceremoniously dumped - and makes you pee your pants while you're wiping your eyes with the deep truths and profound insights she has. Deep and funny. What's better than that? Nothing. Not if you ask me.

When I first read SPLIT, I posted this 5 star Amazon review:

Brilliant look at divorce and the grieving process, October 13, 2008
By Carrie Link (Portland, OR) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Split: A Memoir of Divorce (Hardcover)
In her Anger section (Stage II) she says, "The snag about marriage is, it isn't worth the divorce. My new doctrine is, never marry. I won't ever again. It is absolute swill. It's not just my marriage. It's all marriages except a handful. Marriage is a conspiracy from Tiffany's, florists, the diamond industry, and Christian fundamentalists. The only thing good about it is the diamond ring, the wedding gifts, and the honeymoon. A, (the name she gives her son in the book) I could have gotten anywhere. I could have gotten A from a turkey baster and a lovely gay man with a college education and a pleasant disposition. IF ONLY I'D HAD THAT MUCH SENSE AT THE TIME. I'm sending turkey basters to all my single girlfriends, with holly tassels, for Christmas."

In Bargaining (Stage III) she says, "Sorry is the two-dollar bill of words. It's worth something, but in the end it's ridiculous, a souvenir at best."

Section IV: Grief, she says, "Grief, I understand with icy clarity, is simply information I allow myself to know."

And she says this, when wondering what she might say to her son one day when he asks about divorce: "I will say: 'You enter into - well. You enter into a kind of madness. You will make discoveries, not all of them happy. And the surprises are not staggered or regularly spaced, they are coming at you at light-speed, all at once, and you have to continue. You don't get to stop and say, I'll pick this all up in a year or so, when it isn't so difficult or painful or scary. When I'm ready. No no no. You have to go back in daily, until. Until it passes, or something happens to lessen its dark brilliance. you never know when this will be. You just have to keep meeting it. And gradually it disperses, leaving a small tear in your heart. A little hole, an aperture in you, as in a camera lens which, in the right light, can be perceived and accepted as a perspective-enhancing hole.'"

You don't have to be divorced, almost divorced, thinking about divorce, or even know someone getting divorced, to appreciate this book - it's about grief. And aren't we all grieving something, or someone? Or both?

The NEW YORK TIMES ran a whole chapter excerpt of SPLIT! And so did THE LONDON TIMES!

So, I was able to convince Suzanne to do a blog interview with me in honor of the fact that SPLIT is now available to pre-order (paperback) on Amazon! For those that can't wait, it's available RIGHT THIS MINUTE in hardcover, at the ridiculously low price of $7.49.

Get a cuppa, sit back and enjoy a funny and deep interview with SUZANNE FINNAMORE! The first part is a previous interview she did, then my questions immediately follow:

Q: ARE YOU WORKING ON A BOOK?

A: always and never. i cling to freelance advertising copywriting because
it's so much easier than writing. i write between the spaces of the
freelance commercial writing.

Q: DO YOU WRITE AT THE SAME TIME EACH DAY?

A: yes. morning. in front of the computer. coffee with cream, no food.
digesting food requires energy and makes one sleepy.

Q: DO YOU HAVE WRITING ROUTINES, OR DO YOU AVOID THEM?

A: no. routines are necessary. writing is a habit. a vice.

Q: DO YOU EDIT AS YOU GO?

A: never, ever. just spew it all onto the page. the more flawed and
outrageous, the better. there's always time later to organize and
edit. in fact, rewriting is the real work of writing. i may rewrite a
single page 60 times. but that comes later. after i've got, say, 400
pages of messy, senseless bile.

the only thing necessary is to spell check at morning's end, after
you've spewed. otherwise, you'll forget what you meant to say when you
wrote "sfghdllty ghyry tkissk!"

Q: DO YOU WORK FROM NOTES?

A: yes. i write down everything as it occurs to me. i slap it into files
on my desktop. i generally have 3 or 4 books cooking at once. the
strongest one will emerge in time. DIALOGUE is the most important
thing, i believe, it’s the engine of a book. inner dialogue or
caught-from-the-air dialogue. eudora welty knew this, updike knew
this. dialogue, if you overhear it or say it , must be captured word perfect
immediately. dialogue is never rewritten ---! dialogue is only cut or filled
in to capture meaning or further the plot. if i’m in a meeting and the
dialogue is fantastically perverse, i'll write down everything everyone
is saying. it's priceless, and in the end i have enough to write the
campaign and a book as well. much of my time in ad meetings is spent
capturing dialogue. the best opportunities are always agency- wide
meetings or "brainstorm" meetings. hell, all meetings are breeding
grounds for perverse and often hilarious dialogue. i also use dialogue
from my own emails and emails from writer friends or funny brilliant
friends. all writers need funny brilliant friends to steal from; write
to a close friend and in the process you discover what you know or
feel about an issue or event. Much of my books have come from emails
or phone conversations or meetings, and then i wrote the book AROUND
the dialogue. include body language and gestures in this as well. i use my
dates, my lovers, my family, my son, my dead relatives, i use everyone.
writers: we're vampires and grave robbers, is what we are. "journalists of
the human condition" is a nicer way to put it.

Q: WHAT ABOUT OUTLINES?

A: never, ever, ever. that presumes i know what will happen or what is
best at the beginning of the process, which i don’t. what i know is
nothing, except the subject matter of the book. it's best to retain
that innocence as long as possible. it's easier for me to deliver a
manuscript than an outline. even the word Outline smacks of fascism.

Q: WHAT ABOUT INDEX CARDS, ALA ANNIE LAMOTT?

A: sure. keep some around. always carry a pen and some paper of some
kind. ALWAYS. in the car is especially important. while driving, the
body is occupied and creative thoughts are free to roam exactly where
they should. keep a pen at hand, write things down at the red lights, or pull
over. never attempt to talk into a small hand held tape recorder: again, fascism and
pretense lives there, in those little machines: you will never transcribe them and if
you do, you've lost the gist. it’s blather and a lot of pipe dreams spoken aloud. it's
gaseous babble of the pissant.

Q: WHERE DO YOUR IDEAS FROM WRITING COME FROM?

A: i only write about what i know, what happens to me, and
what is making me live or die in the era i am currently in. i'd like
to be another kind of writer, but I’m not. you have to know what kind of
writer you are. are you a storyteller, or are you a chronicler? decide.



And my questions:



1) For whom did you write this book?

When my husband left me and I was caring for our baby, I felt totally alone and depressed and there was NOTHING TO READ about divorce that would lift me or make me laugh. (There were only clinical, dry self-help books and impossibly silly novels about divorce, where the heroine is swept away by her Portuguese gardener, etc. It wouldn’t do). I decided within 2 weeks I would write Split: A Memoir of Divorce for all the abandoned wives and mothers, because it was a necessary tool for them to survive. And I’ve gotten a lot of mail from women who say I accomplished this, that it saved them. It’s a tremendous honor.

2) The raw honesty and pain in the book, is so noteworthy because so many books lack that. Was writing the book cathartic, re-traumatizing, or a mix of both?

It was mildly cathartic but it was much more work than anything else. I wrote the entire book as a novel and then was asked to rewrite it as a memoir. It was a long process and yes – many days writing the memoir felt like going back into a dark cave and excavating the past and then coming out feeling traumatized and spent.

3) Sorry, but I got to have you weigh in on the "memoir debate." What's your philosophy of what to tell, what to leave out, and "subjective truth?"

My philosophy is that you own your experience, as a writer. I left a great deal out of my memoir so as not rock the boat more than I had to in order to tell my story with emotional honesty. As far as I’m concerned, all truth is subjective where writing and even remembering are concerned. The moment you try to pin an experience down on paper, it becomes fiction, because you’re only telling your side of things and some of that will necessarily be subjective. Also, once a memoir is accepted for publication, the publisher’s lawyer will usually legally vet the entire manuscript, to avoid issues of slander and liable.

4) And in that same vein, do you wish you could go back and re-classify your first two books, Otherwise Engaged and The Zygote Chronicles "memoir," and/or Split as fiction? Having written both ways, which do you recommend?

Oh I much prefer fiction. One has so much more leeway with fiction, and there is no second-guessing involved. Otherwise Engaged contains a lot of fiction, it is primarily fiction, and based on my emotional truth of that year I was engaged. But apparently in terms of the prose and the dialogue, I wrote it so well/close to the bone, that everyone assumes it’s completely autobiographical. It is not. Nor is The Zygote Chronicles a memoir. It’s a novel about a woman who happens to be having a baby close to forty, as was I. There are some autobiographical elements, certainly. But the only “true” part is the delivery scene at the end of the novel – that was pretty much exactly how it happened for the birth of my son.

5) How did you decide to structure the book around the Five Stages of Grief, and do you find yourself still moving back, in and around all five, or are you pretty much staunchly placed in Acceptance?


My close friend and mentor, Fay Weldon, told me that divorce is certainly like a death. That’s when I decided to section off the book into 5 chapters corresponding to the Kubler Ross Five stages of loss and death. It also gave the book some structure. And the arc of the 5 chapters/stages happily suggests the fact that divorce is a multi-stage process that passes… that its attendant grief and trauma is finite and can be quantified.

I’ve been blessed with Acceptance for many years, now. I talk to my ex almost daily; we’re good friends. And as far as romance, I’ve moved on. Boy have I.


5) In your Anger section you say you'll never marry again - still feel that way?

Of course not. That why it’s in the Anger section. People think and decide all sorts of radical things when they’re angry. It passes.

6) What's the one piece of advice you give to women in the grieving process - regardless of what they're grieving?

Find a grief counselor. I found a great one; she’s in Split and so is her advice to me. So if you read Split, you’ll get all the advice I paid $100/hour for!

7) I know you said earlier that you are always and never working on other books, like four. I get that. Can you just give us a hint what you think your next (published) book will likely be about?

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF SEXUAL SIGNALS: The Neanderthal's Guide to Women Who Want You

It’s a guide for men who have no clue as to the signals women send out, Also, women can read it and see what their signals are telling men, A hand-sized book.
After that? A novel about finding love after 40—via the Internet and so on. The heroine will be a cross between a cougar and Pollyanna.

TO ORDER YOUR COPY OF Split, GO HERE. Or hardcover right now!

17 comments:

jess said...

this was great! i loved otherwise engaged and the zygote chronicles, glad to see there's a new one coming. thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

I've got my book and am starting it today. Thanks, Carrie.

kario said...

Damn! This interview was terrific and I'm so sad that I've already read all the books she's published. Hope the next one comes out soon.

Thanks for this,Carrie.

She said...

You rock, Carrie! Great interview. Makes me want to read it again since I'm grieving right now.

The anger stage is the worst.

Doing and saying things that you wish you hadn't is hard.

Needed someone to remind me that the things I said (and wrote even) in anger (stage!)are based on feelings/beliefs that will pass! That is very HELPFUL FOR ME TODAY!

FINNABLOG said...

to SHE

when i wrote Split, i discovered my raw manuscript had approximately 90 pages each of Denial, Bargaining, Grief, and ACceptance....and 300 pages of ANGER.

In books as in life, i had to cut a lot of the Anger out in order to see my creation realized.


;)
suzanne finnamore

Deb Shucka said...

Brilliant, Carrie. I enjoyed every word of this - both hers and yours. I'm really looking forward to reading the book.

Wanda said...

Love it.

And Suzanne...in the publishing world, we might have to edit out a couple hundred pages of anger, but as women in the world it's those 200 pages that we must share with someone who will be our witness--whether it be friend or therapist, we need to be heard in all of our powerful, wonderful, life-affirming anger.

Thanks for the interview.

FINNABLOG said...

OH i completely agree.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I shall blame you, Carrie Linkage, when I go bankrupt from purchasing Must-Have books. :)

That was kinda scary...felt like I shared many of the same thoughts on the writing process and life in general with the author. Thanks for the interview - both of you! Will be handing out some linky love tomorrow so I can help spread the word about these fab reads.

Now, excuse me. Gotta go buy some books. Y'all have also inspired me to get back to my ms revisions asap. :)

Suzy said...

I think you have found one of your many,many talents.

The interview is great. Alas, anyone who knows you, knows how you can get just about anyone to talk honestly, and openly about themselves.

This my friend is a gift....
Love the fact that the interview contains questions that so many of us go through and not just if you're married, but with the writing process.
More interviews please.
Love you

Suzy

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Fantastic interview! As a divorced mom, I cannot wait to read Split!

She said...

Suzanne,

Thanks for your response!

I wish I only had pages of anger.

I have hours and hours and hours of it! My anger almost always turns to sadness, though, and I think that makes it worse. My therapist once told to me to STICK WITH THE ANGER and get it out of me. I like what Wanda said about needing someone to bear witness to it. I think that's true. Mostly because my anger never seems justified. I have the propensity to make it all my fault -- that I somehow made an otherwise loving and faithful person hurt, harm, reject, or abandon me. Kind of lets them off the hook and keeps me owning shit that isn't mine to own. Whew!

Great interactive discussion you got going here, Carrie! You are a rock star! Love to you!

But the time spent angry....Must do some cutting!

Jenny said...

Thanks for the interview Carrie and Suzanne. I read Split when it first came out and loved the writing style - can't wait to read the other two.

Michelle O'Neil said...

"even the word Outline smacks of fascism,"

love this!

Great interview Carrie.

Love Suzanne's comment to SHE also. So profound!

Lola said...

oh i love this interview-it makes me feel 'sane' as a writer---for a moment anyways:) TQ as always for the gifts that you offer up CARRIE xoxo

Kathryn Magendie said...

what a wonderful interview! It's always interesting to see how other writers "write" ...how they process information, etc...interesting stuff!

Mama Zen said...

Great interview! How did I miss this book?