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It’s a thrill for me when I get to know writers whose work I’ve read and admired. I first came across Hope Edelman about ten years ago when she had an essay in the collection The Bitch in the House. You might know her best for her book Motherless Daughters. It’s my pleasure to have Hope here today, talking about her process as a writer.
When Hope couldn’t find the answers she desperately needed to help her daughter Maya, she took a chance on an alternative approach and traveled to Belize to visit a shaman. The story of this journey and more is chronicled in her memoir The Possibility of Everything.
Hope: When I made the decision to tell the story in the present tense, I realized I had to go back and recapture the consciousness of who I was nearly ten years ago and write from that point of view. By far that was the most challenging part of writing this book. I’ve evolved a great deal since then as a woman, a mother, and a wife, and it was enormously difficult first to re-experience events as my younger self had experienced them, and then to discipline myself to stick to the thoughts and impressions I’d had back then without updating or sugarcoating them for readers. I learned that I didn’t particularly like who I’d been back then, and it took some time for me to stop judging that younger self so harshly and to develop compassion and forgiveness toward her. This was a critical part of the process, and it was painful. As I tell my students when we talk about “truth” in memoir, accuracy (defined as the historical accounting of events) is easy, but honesty (meaning, writing from a place that’s authentic and true) is what’s hard.
Theo: What does your writing time look like? Do you have a routine?
Hope: I wish I did! I deeply envy writers who wake at the same time every morning, and write for the same set number of hours each day. I always wonder, Do they have children? I have two school-age daughters, so my writing time each day pretty much has to fit into the hours they’re in school. This poses certain challenges because 1) I’m a night writer who does my best work between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m., an impossible routine to sustain when you have to get up at 6:20 every morning to pack lunchboxes; and 2) Los Angeles schools, in a unique form of torture for working mothers, have started slipping in half-day classes, random conference days, and now furlough days with unprecedented frequency. I learned to manage this by becoming a binge writer. When I’m on a book deadline, my husband will watch the kids every third weekend or so and I’ll head up the coast to a little hotel in Ventura, California for three days, stay up till 1 a.m. both nights, and write like a maniac the whole time. Sometimes I don’t even leave the room to eat. I can get as much done in those three intense days as I can in two weeks of regular daytime writing.
Theo: What parts of the writing process do you love? Loathe?
Hope: I love it when a story or a chapter slowly reveals its deeper meaning during the revision process. There’s the excitement of peeling back layer after layer until the center of a story suddenly comes into focus so clearly that you wonder how you could have missed seeing it all along. I loathe it when that doesn’t happen with a piece, when I feel like I’m writing around the central idea, and around it, and around it, until I have to set it aside for a while and hope that when I come back to it later I’ll have developed the wisdom or the insight or whatever it is that’s needed to see its core. I have some essays I’ve been working on off and on for fifteen years, and I still haven’t found their centers yet.
Theo: When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
Hope: First grade, Colton Elementary School, Mrs. Masarky’s class. I wrote a short story about a group of elves who ran a snowflake factory, and she gave me three gold stars. It was the first time I realized there might be quantifiable value to the stories bumping around inside my head. As a related aside, Mrs. Masarky came to a book event in my hometown when my first book, Motherless Daughters, came out, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience member look prouder, before or since. At one point she stood up and told the whole bookstore, “I knew she was going to be a writer! I just knew it!”
Theo: Who are some of the authors who’ve inspired you?
Hope: Joan Didion as a stylist; George Orwell for his political metaphors; Annie Dillard for her nontraditional use of structure; David Sedaris as a humorist; Audrey Neffenegger for her quirky imagination. I also greatly admire Margaret Mead for her powers of inductive reasoning, especially in Coming of Age in Samoa. I relied extensively on interviews when writing Motherless Daughters and found Mead’s work fascinating and invaluable at the time. As an undergraduate I majored in journalism with a minor in anthropology, and over the years the texts and training I was exposed to in anthro classes became surprisingly useful as a nonfiction author—especially with regard to interviewing and connecting the dots to form opinions about the way people think and organize their behaviors.
Theo: What’s your favorite writing tip?
Enter late and leave early. It’s more of a screenwriter’s credo, but I find it enormously useful as a prose writer when I’m writing dialogue and shaping scenes. The second line of dialogue is usually a more interesting place to enter the conversation, and we almost never need to hear characters say goodbye. Likewise, I once had a journalism professor who said, “If you’re walking from one room to another, you don’t have to describe the hallway. Just begin the next paragraph with, ‘In the kitchen…’” I’ve found this to be an enormously useful tip for cutting out unnecessary details.
Theo: Where can readers find you online?
My author web site is www.hopedelman.com and my Facebook authors page is http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Hope-Edelman/88415723217.
Also, I blog at www.455girls.blogspot.com; and I Twitter as hopeedelman.
To enter the giveaway for a chance to win a complete, signed set of all the books featured in the Author Interview Series, visit the post Welcome to the Author Interview Series Giveaway: Enter Here! and leave a comment.