Do you, like most things in my life—the laundry, the dishes, my husband—feel neglected these days? Like I am not giving you the attention you so obviously deserve? Yes? Well, in the last couple of months I learned that all clichés exist for a reason. Actually, I saw Martin Amis give a talk last week and he said he considers it a “moral lapse” to use a cliché. And while I love Amis, and in most contexts I’d agree, in this one, I’m going to just go ahead and embrace the full-on cliché that has become my life. In fact, I’m tempted to get CLICHÉ printed in big letters on a t-shirt. Because I feel like that quintessential, harried, and yes, clichéd working mom—you know the one who complains that she has a million jobs to do and she never feels likes she is doing any of them well? Yeah? So that’s totally me.
Hi, my name is Julie Buxbaum, and I’m a cliché.
Phew, I feel better already. (Actually, I should say this cliché does not only apply to women, since a male friend was just saying the other day that he feels exactly the same way.) So yes, like Gumby, I currently feel pulled in a million different directions, and yet, I can’t seem to focus well enough to get anything done. (No, that Gumby reference probably doesn’t rise to the level of cliché. I think we can just all agree that’s simply bad writing.)
This is all a long way of saying, I’ll admit it: I’ve been phoning it in. But I going to make it up to you right now in two magnificent ways. 1) I’m going to hand this over to the amazing Joanne Rendell for the 5 Questions. And 2) We are doing a giveaway of a signed copy of Joanne’s latest novel, which is hot off the press. (Okay, yes, admittedly, another terrible cliché. Damn you, Amis!)
So, Joanne’s latest book OUT OF THE SHADOWS tells the story of a woman who thinks she’s related to Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. On her journey to learn the truth, the woman uncovers startling secrets about the past, her present, and our genetic future. Booklist described Out of the Shadows as “a clever novel that smartly intertwines literary fiction with modern science.” Joanne rocks (as do her first two novels) and if you are lucky enough to live in NYC, I highly, highly recommend you go to her reading TOMORROW (Tuesday Sept. 28) at the NYU Bookstore at 7pm. Be there, or be square. (Crap. Cliché three.)
Without further ado (number four), take it away Joanne:
1. Where were you the first time you saw your book in a bookstore and who did you call first?
When I spotted my latest book, Out of the Shadows, on the tables last week I have to say I was pretty dignified (although I did grin my away around the bookstore for the next 20 minutes). Upon spotting The Professors’ Wives’ Club, my first book, it wasn’t such a stately scene. I was with my son and mother-in-law and it was the day before my official launch so I wasn’t expecting to see my book. In fact, I was in the middle of giving my mother-in-law a big lecture about the politics of who and what books appear on the front tables when…boom…voila…there was a stack of my books. All three of us whooped and shrieked and jumped around like frolicking chimps. Then we cornered a poor unsuspecting stranger and gabbled on to her about how it was my first book and how we were all very excited, as if it wasn’t obvious. She looked bemused – and backed away from us slowly, very slowly.
2. I’m convinced all writers are a little bit crazy. Do you agree, and if so, what kind of crazy are you?
Oh I’m crazy in innumerable ways. Let’s see: I gave birth at home watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies; I got in for unschooling my son during his kindergarten year (in fact I got in so much trouble The New York Times ran a feature on me and my family; I live in a student dorm in downtown Manhattan; I like to wear men’s shorts in the summer; I adore Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons (a British chocolate candy) with a passion that is almost pathological; and I jumped around like a chimp when I spotted my first book, scaring away innocent bookbuyers!
3. If you were going to have another author write your biography, who would you choose to write it and why? Any title ideas?
Mary Shelley. I know, I know, there is a slight problem here. The biggest being that she’s long gone. Also, she wasn’t really known as a biographer and even if she was, I imagine there would have been other people she might like to write about before me (her friend Lord Bryon, her husband Percy Shelley, her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, to name but of the “all star cast” that made up her family and friends). But in fantasy space, I’d love the chance to hang out with her for a while. Out of the Shadows is all about a woman who thinks she’s related to Mary Shelley and for the book I had to do a lot of research. The more I read, the more biographies I devoured, the more I fell in love! Shelley was so fiery and smart, outspoken and thoughtful, a non-conformist and a caring mother. In her very first novel Frankenstein she dared to ask “what if?” She looked around at the emerging technologies of her time and she considered their darker sides and how they could turn monstrous (and even make monsters!). I still find it amazing that she wrote such a daring and thoughtful, poignant and provocative novel when she was just nineteen. Not only that, she was living in early nineteenth century Europe when young girls weren’t supposed to think about monsters and science, let alone write about them.
Oh and a title for my biography? “Out of the Box” (refer to question 2)
4. When did you start to take yourself seriously as a writer?
I completed a PhD in Literature before I started writing fiction so I was used to taking writing seriously; but it was other people’s writing I was taking seriously. It was only when I started getting thoughtful and fascinating letters from readers that I finally had the revelation, “Oh yes, I’m now a writer. People out there are reading my work and engaging with my writing. How amazing.”
5. If your house was burning down, and you had time to rescue only three books from your library, what would you choose and why?
I’d take the wonderful kid’s picture book The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Written in 1936, this is a poignant, insightful, and inspiring story – and it’s all told in just a few words and even fewer pen and ink drawings. A bull who doesn’t want to fight in the bullring and who wants to smell flowers instead, what could be better for kids? For everyone? I also would make a grab for Jerry Spinelli’s young adult novel, Star Girl. I read this book very recently and it catapulted itself to the top of my favorite fiction list. Star Girl is a story about the beauty, trials, delicacy, and profound potential of non-conformity. It’s a modern fable that celebrates difference and being out of the box (and being a little crazy too!). And finally, I would grab Thich Nhat Hanh’s Touching Peace. I imagine that after watching my house burn down I’ll need to read this Buddhist monk’s quiet yet powerful words about finding deep joy in the present moment and not hanging desperately onto the past.
THE GIVEAWAY: Here are the rules. Comment on this post between now and next Monday, October 4, and you are automatically entered to win. What should you comment about? Feel free to just say hello, but if you are so inclined, I say go ahead and share your favorite cliché. Come on, everyone’s doing it.