writing life

Of COURSE I Can Interview Anne Lamott i/f/o the Whole Times Newsroom

Sunday, March 18th, 2012 | Connecting the Dots | 3 Comments

I’m beyond thrilled about the Motherlode Book Club reading Anne and Sam Lamott’s Some Assembly Required, and ditto for the opportunity to interview them both, for a short video to be posted on the Motherlode blog. I’ve always loved Anne Lamott’s work. This follow-up to Operating Instructions is fascinating: her son had a son. At nineteen.

There are so many questions to ask them both about that that the mind boggles. (The mind also notes repeated use of that in previous sentence, but that’s what made sense. Sorry.) I’d be thrilled–over coffee.

Now, doing it on the Times’ news set, which is smack dab in the middle of the Times newsroom…that makes me nervous. (Who are we kidding–interviewing Anne Lamott makes me a little nervous, but that I can wrangle.)

I know Times staffers don’t pay any attention to what goes on on the set. They just walk right by. But I’m distractible. Lots of people walking right by could easily just throw the end of my question right onto their lunch tray and walk off with it. I’ll be revved to ask the tough questions, you know, giving Terry Gross a run for her money, and all the sudden I’ll be all, hey, did you see? She had a Starbucks mocha! I want a Starbucks mocha!

Even with really good editing, this should be interesting. So, tune in next week (probably Wednesday, as this happens Tuesday) and see if you can tell that I am sitting there pretending very hard that oh, I just interview famous authors that I admire in the middle of the Times newsroom with people drifting by all. the. time. Because that’s just how cool I am. Also, poised. Really, and in control and on topic at all times.

Actually, I feel a whole lot better about my interviewing skills (which have improved dramatically in the past two years) since listening to the unedited interview Krista Tippet did with Nicolas Kristoff in February. (SO worth a download.) Edited, she sounds completely together: fast, with great recall and depth of knowledge, and the right follow-up questions every time.

Unedited, she still sounds great (On Being is one of my favorite shows–she should have Anne Lamott on), but with more, yanno, digression. More oh, hey, you said this one thing I wanted to ask about–wait, I wrote it down–and more conversation, which is always my downfall. I want to interview you, but it’s easier for me to express what I’m interested in by talking than in a perfectly worded question, and I often replay my interviews thinking oh, hey, when am I going to let her talk?

For this, I’ll be (very well) edited, and I’m confident it’s going to be great. I’m reasonably confident that I’ll find the balance between admiration and consternation, too–because the elephant in the room is that hers was in some sense the iconic-non-advice-baby-advice book, and her baby –well, can’t we love the resulting grandkid without pretending that this wasn’t the path anyone would have chosen for a beloved child? On some level they must each be mourning what wasn’t, but the book is about embracing what is. I’ll be doing my best to go there, and get talking about both.

Oh, and the Times’ video wizards can probably cover up the moments when my gaze drifts off because someone walked by with a box of donuts. But you’ll know.

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Carolyn See and the Prisoner of the Book Revision

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 | The Open Vein | 4 Comments

Big shout out to Carolyn See, who I have never met (I’d like to!) but who I owe, big time.

See, ten days ago today, (that would be a week ago Wednesday) I cleared my decks for what I’d planned to be one big week of book revision. It wasn’t meant to get what I hope will be my next book into any kind of final form, but just to get it into a nice cohesive shape for my agent, so that she can read it and tell me which bits suck without being distracted by lines like THANKSGIVING SWIMSUIT SCENE HERE and FIX THIS. In other words, a revision of messy incomplete draft one into actual draft one.

Now, I have no idea how to revise a book. Does anyone? Yes, I’ve written a book, but it was a nice easy book, all lists and clearly defined paragraphs and what not. I did not have to consider such things as character consistency and whether or not there are themes that carry through the book, yet evolve.

I say to you right now, there are no evolving themes in Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos. Shoot me.

But this is a memoir, and a story, and rather a long one, and it is supposed to include all of those things, plus although you can include some lists and maybe a paragraph heading or two, there’s a limit to how much of that a reader will put up with. So this is a real revision, and here’s what Carolyn See (in her book Making a Literary Life) has to say (totally paraphrased) about book revision: Print the whole book out, she says. Get a nice glass of wine and a separate piece of paper and a pen and just read. No line editing. Just read it. All you’re allowed to do with respect to any given chapter is a little chart: What I Have/What I Need.

Well, I put my draft on the iPad (which is the only way I can keep myself from line editing) and I shortened that chart down to just What I Need, because I was drinking my glass of wine and I didn’t want to have to put it down too often, and I went through the whole thing, and I made lists of what I needed in each chapter. And I got to the end, and it didn’t seem too daunting (well, it did, but it seemed do-able, as long as I kept my expectations low and remembered another great piece of writing advice from Anne Lamott: shitty first drafts). So I sent my agent a nice little email, and I said, you’ll have it next Friday (that would be last Friday) because without an external deadline, I can get really caught up in that whole have-a-glass-of-wine-and-make-a-chart thing. Also, laundry.

And then the blog editor of the New York Times called and asked me to write the Motherlode blog for a week, and after a few careful seconds of studied deliberation (because I wouldn’t want to seem overeager) I said, hell yes. And then I sent my agent another email, about my new and improved use of my cleared week, and then I did that (that was last week) and all was good in the world and bells rang and it was great fun but needless to say, I didn’t touch my book draft at all.

And then yesterday I had a few things to deal with, and so it wasn’t until today, at noon, that I sat down with my draft and my list (no wine this time) and realized now I actually had to revise the thing. I could barely remember what it was about at this point, and things looked bleak. But there was my list.

And it is working. There is the list: I’m missing this, the mood is erratic here (more than it should be) why is Wyatt in my lap when in the last paragraph he was in Rob’s and what is this bit FOR? And two hours later I looked up from a revised chapter and prologue, and I feel ready to actually go on, and reasonably confident that I actually CAN go on.

Thank you (bless you) Carolyn See.

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