Monday, April 16, 2012

1/2 Dozen for Claire Bidwell Smith

A memoir currently in my to-be-read stack, THE RULES OF INHERITANCE has received great praise. In a starred review, Booklist called Claire Bidwell Smith's debut a "powerful, moving memoir of overcoming grief and loss."

Lauded for her stunning prose, Bidwell Smith is a therapist -- and a therapist's memoir seems just too tantalizing a proposition to pass.

Am I the only one who wants the therapist to talk in therapy -- about her family, her love, her loss? Well, this memoir provides...

And here is a 1/2 Dozen for Claire Bidwell Smith...

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?)

I'm not sure I have any useful advice here, but I will tell you that I'm married to a writer. This at once simplifies and complicates my life endlessly. It's simple because we have a very deep and inherent understanding of each other. It's complicated in that we're perpetually broke. We fell in love through words and letters, and even if those things fail to cover our daughter's preschool tuition, they sustain us nonetheless, and for that, I'm grateful.

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

Stop beating yourself up for writing crap. You have to write bad versions of things. You must have terrible writing days in which you write in circles, saying nothing and disappointing yourself. It's the only way to get to the good stuff. The more bad stuff you write, the closer you get to brilliance. If you don't believe me then you can read the two other versions of my book that are in the trash. I'm grateful for them every day for they allowed me to write the version that sits on my bookshelf.

Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.

I spent four months looking for an agent. 16 of the 20 that I queried with my manuscript responded with interest and then ultimately rejected me. I was feeling utterly defeated and dismayed. Before giving up completely though, I realized there was one last agent whom I hadn't followed up with. I sent her a quick email and she read my proposal overnight, called me the next morning to offer representation, and then sold my book three weeks later to Penguin.

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

I was a weird kid. An only child. My parents were much older and did very grown-up things that I had no choice but to take part in (re: endless dinner parties, news watching sessions and travel). Books became my ultimate salvation from this lonely world. I never went anywhere without one, and thankfully my parents were kind enough to let me even read at the dinner table. Words and stories were my best friends growing up, and when I discovered that I could write them myself, everything changed.

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

In addition to having been a writer for many years, I have a masters degree in clinical psychology and work as a psychotherapist. I actually feel quite strongly that the two -- writing and therapy -- go hand in hand. As a therapist I help people to understand, and often reconstruct, the narrative of their lives. Perhaps this is more akin to being an editor, but either way it has to do with the art of storytelling, not just the stories we put on paper, but the ones we tell ourselves about our own lives.

Faith. Do you consider yourself religious? If so, how does that manifest in your work and/or your process?

I'm working on my second book right now which is (and I detest this term, but have yet to come up with a better one) a spiritual memoir. In the book I attempt to figure out what I believe happens when we die. In the last year I've done some really intense stuff -- everything from seeing psychic mediums and taking Kabbalah classes to past life regression and meeting with rabbis. My first book was about coming of age in the midst of losing my parents, so this feels like a natural extension of that work. I'm a mom now and my daughter keeps asking me where my parents are. I want to have an answer for her that I actually believe in.

Claire Bidwell Smith is the author of the memoir The Rules of Inheritance (Penguin/Hudson Street). She is a therapist specializing in grief and lives in Los Angeles with her family.

To read more 1/2 Dozens by novelists, essayists, poets,