Thank you for Visiting

This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

Matrimony - Author Q&A


Our discussion of ‘Matrimony’ begins on March 4th. I hope everyone is enjoying the book, I have heard from a few MMBC members mentioning you have finished the book or have started it and can’t wait for our discussion to begin.

I will be sending the author a few book specific questions from MM’s next weekend, please send me an email with your author questions by Feb 20th.

Books on the Brain has a wonderful essay written by Josh Henkin about book clubs and gives us a glimpse into his life.

Thank you Josh for answering my questions! Your answers are insightful and will help our discussion tremendously.

Tell us a little about yourself (biography):

Thanks for these questions, Mari. I’m 44 and live in Brooklyn with my wife and our two daughters, ages 5 and 3, and our golden retriever, Dulcie. I’m the author of two novels, SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON, which came out in 1997, and, most recently, MATRIMONY, which was published in 2007 and was named a New York Times Notable Book. MATRIMONY recently came out in paperback, and I’ve had the good fortune to participate in person, on the phone, and online in close to 100 book group discussions of MATRIMONY, an experience I’ve written about on a lot of blogs, including an essay that I wrote on Lisa Munley’s Books on the Brain. In addition to being a novelist, I teach creative writing to undergraduates and MFA students at Sarah Lawrence College and to MFA students at Brooklyn College.

Do you write daily?

I certainly try to. I tell my students that even if they have next to no time, it’s better to write constantly. Better, that is, to write 10 minutes a day 6 days a week than to write for an hour on a Saturday. If you’re writing every day, even if only for a few minutes, you live with your characters and end up thinking about them when you’re not writing. If you take long breaks, every time you sit down you’re essentially starting over. So I try to heed my own advice. That said, I have to balance a lot of things. Teaching, publicity for MATRIMONY (and I’ve done a lot of that), and the rest of my life—I have two small daughters, and caring for them is itself a full-time job. But I do make sure to write as frequently as possible. On days when I teach I may get only half an hour in, but on non-teaching days I try to write for at least a couple of hours, and then on vacations and during the summer I have more time. I can go much longer with revision than with first draft. I love rewriting and revising but find the first draft absolutely excruciating; the only thing that keeps me going with the first draft is knowing that eventually I get to revise. When I have no time constraints, I can work on the first draft for 3, at most 4, hours a day, but with revision I can sit there all day, just about.

Are you working on a new book or have an idea for one?

I’m about 200 pages into my new novel, which is already overdue at the publisher. But I’m fairly confident it won’t take me ten years (that’s how long MATRIMONY took me, and I threw out more than three thousand pages along the way!). It’s tentatively called THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU, and it takes place over a single July 4th weekend. Three adult sisters (mid to late thirties) and their spouses/significant others return with their parents to the family’s country home in the Berkshires, the occasion for which is the fourth anniversary of the brother’s death; he was a journalist killed in Iraq. When he died, he left a pregnant wife, who subsequently gave birth to a son, who is now three. The wife has moved out to Berkeley, where she’s a graduate student in anthropology, and she’s fallen in love with and has moved in with another man. She may end up marrying this man, and even if she doesn’t, she’ll likely end up marrying someone else, and that person might adopt the son. The dead brother’s widow comes to the reunion, too, with her son, though without her boyfriend. The three-year-old, then, is the object of narrative struggle. For the grandparents and the aunts, he’s their grandson and nephew, respectively; most important, he’s the embodiment of the dead brother. For his mother, though he’s that too, he’s principally her son and she’s moving on. In a sense, then, the novel is about grief and the ways that in some instances, at least, a spouse gets over the death of a spouse while a parent never gets over the death of a child.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)?

I don’t own a Kindle myself, though I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s certainly the kind of thing that can be helpful on a long trip—that way you can carry a lot of books without weighing down your luggage. In general, though, I prefer the feel of an actual book, and I know from my own writing experience that things look different on the page from how they look on the screen. I’m always printing my work as I go along (I’m a terrible environmentalist when it comes to writing) and finding things that look and feel off on the page that I didn’t notice on the screen. The screen is a whole lot more forgiving than the page. But in terms of how people read my book, I’m not picky. I want people to read (and buy!) my book; in what manner they consume it doesn’t matter much to me.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers?

Treat writing as a job. Get up every day and tie yourself to your chair. It’s about effort and sweat as much as anything else. People who wait for inspiration don’t write. In any case, I don’t really believe in inspiration. Sure, there’s inspired work and uninspired work, but it doesn’t usually correlate to how you’re feeling at the time you write. Often when I’m feeling most inspired I produce the worst work (I end up falling in love with the sound of my own voice), whereas when I’m feeling less inspired the work, to my surprise, ends up being better. I think writing should be demystified. Yes, writing is mysterious, but the process of getting work done isn’t mysterious. It’s like everything else; it gets done by carrying your lunch pail into the office every day.

What are you reading now?

The last two books I read and really loved were Roxana Robinson’s most recent novel, COST, and Colm Toibin’s story collection MOTHERS AND SONS. They’re terrific books. By my bedside right now are Anna Winger’s novel THIS MUST BE THE PLACE and Helen Garner’s novel THE SPARE ROOM.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics:


That’s such a tough question; I find it next to impossible to choose. So let me switch the question slightly and tell you about a couple of books I loved that not enough people know about. For all I know, they may both be out of print, but they’re worth finding at the library or buying used. One is Robert Boswell’s amazing novel MYSTERY RIDE. Its about a marriage that ends and it’s about how time doesn’t heal all, and it’s got an amazing teenage daughter character, Dulcie, after whom my wife and I named our golden retriever. The second book is a novel by Max Phillips called SNAKEBITE SONNET. Not the greatest title, perhaps, but a terrific book—a coming-of-age story, but much more than that.

3 comments:

  1. I love that Henkin compares author's visiting with book clubs to musician's performing in concert. Just like a musician has to get out to the public to promote his/her product, author's now must do the same.

    Lisa

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  2. The book Henkin is working on sounds like it will be another book club favorite! I really like his advice to aspiring writers. Now I just have to decide whether to spend my time writing or reading!

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  3. Hi Mari,

    Here are some of the thoughts/ discussion points/questions I had while reading the book (which I loved).

    The sister relationship between Mia and Olivia seemed so strained, even after the baby I expected a mention of Olivia coming around, being an aunt, godmother, something. Found it interesting that it never really seemed repaired, yet the cause of the strain seemed exaggerated a bit on Olivia's part. Jealousy, selfishness, not important?

    Julian's reaction to Carter and Mia sleeping together--how much of his reaction was compounded by the feeling of underlying resentment that he went to Michigan for her and the betrayal from Mia and Carter was just the icing on the cake to release him from that suffocation?

    A curiosity question for the author: Is there a connection to the west coast? Berkeley in his book coming out and Marin county/SF/east bay/south bay references in Matrimony.

    Thanks Mari!
    Sharon

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