Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A 1/2 Dozen for Randy Susan Meyers

A 1/2 Dozen
novelist Randy Susan Meyers

who offers a can't-miss
that should be MANDATORY
for anyone falling in love with a writer

lots of lessons to live by

and a glimpse of a childhood
that built her ability to lie


I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I was reading the NYT—one of those days where I read every bit—and was struck by a letter to the editor (which, stupidly, I didn’t save.) The writer was scolding the NYT for when reporting about a family homicide, damning the children left behind as having their life ruined. She shared her past as being a survivor of her brother’s murder of all family members except her and how she went on to be strong despite the tragedy—crediting someone who championed her.

I was in the midst of writing another book (still in the drawer) but her story boomed in me. I researched until I found whatever I could about her—precious little, but I found that she had worked in President Clinton’s administration on anti-violence.

I began a novel based on a brother killing the family—what it would be like to be the one left behind, but it wasn’t coalescing as I wanted. My sister said, “Why don’t you write about us?” My initial bafflement gave way to re-remembering (through the sisterly process of her re-banging the truth into my head) when my father tried to kill my mother. I was only four at the time and have buried it and re-buried it many times.

Intending only to write a short story, I fictionalized the event from my sister’s point of view and ended up with a huge ‘what if’ when at the end of the story, the father killed the mother. That, combined with the letter-to-the-editor, and the fact that I’d worked with batterers for almost ten years, came together as my inspiration.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Take this simple yes or no test before committing:

1. I think having a computer always connected to the end of my partner’s arms is sexy. Y/N

2. Supporting my partner as s/he spends ten or so years not making a dime appeals to me. Y/N

3. Finding fights we’ve had translated (through my partner’s lens) onto the page is ego gratifying. Y/N

4. Ditto to the worst sex we ever had. Y/N

If you can answer with an unadulterated yes to at least three of the above, you are ready to marry a writer.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

After stumbling through spectacularly unsupportive partners for so many years, it’s amazing to admit that I’ve hit the jackpot with my husband of ten years. Besides the fact that the rocks in his head fit the holes in mine, I am convinced it is his love and support that brought me to my late-life career change with these qualities for which I am grateful every day: He believed in my dream and encouraged it. He was and is willing to sacrifice lots of ‘fun stuff’ most couples dabble with—um, things like movies, vacations, weekends having togetherness. . . etc. When I knew a few years of full time writing could make all the difference, he stepped up and took on the main economic burden.He never dismissed my tears when rejected, but he never let me wallow. He took me seriously. He takes my wins as his.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

Never send out anything you’ve written because it’s ‘good enough.’

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

This was my path to the supposed miracle of selling my novel in a pre-empt, eight days after my agent put it out for submission.

1. Wrote multiple novels before getting it right. They are staying nice and dusty in the drawer where they belong. Lesson: The first isn’t always ‘the one.’ Know when to fold em.

2. Had an agent that didn’t work out—neither of our faults—she simply went in a different genre direction. I had to make the (heart-breaking and awful) decision to leave her and start the querying process all over again. Lesson: Know when it’s time to make a hard choice.

3. Every query rejection I got from agents, I sent out five new ones. Lesson: Don’t wallow in self-pity.

4. Revised my book multiple times. Lesson: Have your goal be great work, not being published. Be willing to put in the time for proper revision. Being published follows lots and lots of revision.

5. Listened to critique. Lesson: Don’t dismiss something just because it makes you unhappy. Rent the advice, even if you don’t buy it.

6. Read every book on writing structure, etc, that I found. Lesson: Learn the rules before breaking them. Add tools and skill to your natural talent.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was an unhappy kid masquerading as a happy kid. This shaped my ability to lie, thus, birthing fiction skills. Reading was (and still is) my constant drug—thus embedding in me a layer of literature know-how, despite being a lackluster student. My insecure childhood gave way to marriage at 19, motherhood at 21, divorce at 30, followed by a string of awful relationships. The moral of the story? I got lots of childhood material that now, when I am boring and happy in a good relationship, I can use as I follow the advice of Flaubert: Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

The dark drama of Randy Susan Meyers' debut novel is informed by her years of work with batterers, domestic violence victims, and at-risk youth impacted by family violence.

In Brooklyn, where Randy was born and raised, her local library was close enough to visit daily and she walked there from the time she figured out the route. She was raised by books, each adding to her sense of who she could be in this world. Some marked her for horror. Reading In Cold Blood at too tender an age assured that she’d never stay alone in a country house. Some taught her faith in the future.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith was the only bible Randy ever owned,

her personal talisman of hopefulness.

Each time she read it, she was struck anew by how this author knew so much and dared to write it.

Randy now lives in Boston with her husband and is the mother of two grown daughters.

She teaches writing seminars at the Grub Street Writers’ Center in Boston.