The Nervous Breakdown is a site to be explored at leisure—poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by published and emerging writers plus reviews of music and arts & culture. One feature they offer is self-interviews by emerging writers, and I was honored to be invited to submit one. What a fun assignment! Here is my take on all the questions no one else has asked me yet. . . .
Your book is a synthesis of memoir and cultural critique. Why did you choose this form?
Because the material demanded it—isn’t this what writers usually say? Except in my case it was because the stand-alone memoir was going nowhere. The agents I sent it to all said the same thing: “I like it, but …” Then they couldn’t tell me what else was needed. So I hired an editor, sent her my chapters, and chewed my nails until we got on the phone. And the first words out of her mouth were, “The most interesting part of this book hasn’t been written yet.” Not what I wanted to hear when I was almost done with a full draft!
What was the “most interesting part” she was looking for?
It turned out to be connecting the dots between my personal experience and the larger culture. Some synthesizing of all those years I spent in grad school studying history and religion and anthropology.
How did you start writing these new sections?
I just dived in. Started writing what came to mind. The real creative writing in this book, to me, is found in those more reflective sections because once I leaped away from the memoir, no longer tethered to describing my life, I had to listen for what wanted to be written next. I spent a number of years listening and writing, listening and writing. The trick, in terms of art, was to weave together personal and social in a way that was always engaging. In every sentence I was thinking about the reader’s experience.
Speaking of experience, you claim to have a few experiences that people might find, um, extraordinary.
You mean woo-woo?
Your word, not mine! You say it’s possible to communicate with other species—animals, even trees. Most people would say this can take place only in the imagination. Why do you think you’re not just making this up in your own head?
I’m so glad someone finally asked me this! One theme of the book is that nature is far more creative and intelligent than Western culture has given it credit for. Keep reading . . .