Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Sheila Curran

I'm happy to report that I wrote an entire chapter yesterday. Unfortunately, as seems to have become my habit with this book, as soon as I finished writing the chapter, I realized that the last scene in the chapter was all wrong. Fortunately, this time it didn't mean deleting that scene but rather putting a different scene in before it, so I actually have a head start on the next chapter. Since either due to Book Brain or bear-like winter hibernation I've been sleeping ridiculously late whether I go to bed at ten or at midnight, I've started just staying up late and writing so I'm getting more work done.

Now, since I have work to do, I'll leave the heavy lifting for the day to today's Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest, Sheila Curran, author of Diana Lively is Falling Down. Diana Lively is a talented British architect who builds dollhouses so she can tend to her three children and overbearing husband. Stranded in an unhappy marriage by what she perceives as her children’s best interests, Diana must find a way to reclaim her power while holding fast to duty, honor and housewifely sanity. When an Arizona tycoon enters Oxford’s gated halls with the offer of a year in America, Diana’s world is turned upside down and inside out, with surprising effects.

And now for the questions:

What inspired you to write this book?
I was living in Oxford, England, where the novel begins. One night, at a fancy dinner in one of the colleges, I was told by an older faculty wife that it was a good thing my husband’s last name was different than my own. “Why is that?” I asked, since older women don’t often applaud such things. “Fellows aren’t encouraged to bring their wives to High Table,” she said. “They may bring their mistress, or their homosexual lover, but not their wives.”
“How does that make you feel?” I asked.
“Well, I thought about it and I realized that the purpose of High Table is the exchange of ideas. Women who are home with children all day, what could they possibly add to the conversation?”

This comment was made by a bright, articulate woman in her seventies. That evening, after observing a few of the world’s most pompous academics, and reflecting on the way in which women appeared either invisible or unwanted, I went home and started thinking about a character who is a mother of three, whose husband is one of these pedants, and whose own career has been sidelined by her husband’s “more important” work.

As icing on the cake, having felt my American accent had raised a few eyebrows, I asked myself , “What would these people think of someone from Arizona named Wally? Someone who had lots of money, a big heart, very little education and perhaps an unseemly profession?” And so entered Wally Gold, Arizona’s Ammo King, who brings the couple and their children to live in Arizona for a year.

Describe your creative process.
I try to plot and end up writing by the seat of my pants. Many days were spent with a piece of paper and a drawing of an arc and not much else, and then it all came together at the end, though I was never able to pin it down to an outline. I tend to revise along the way, going back to the parts I like and trying to move forward from there.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I am a morning person, through and through. I sit in a wing chair with an ottoman, laptop on my lap (who knew?) and drink coffee. I can’t listen to music while I work, or do much of anything else. I am easily distracted by company in the house or the phone (which I try not to answer in the morning) or by mood swings, but I tell myself I’ve done well if I just sat there and tried.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Lots in common: professor’s wife, trailing spouse, lived in Oxford, felt the tug between my own professional dreams and the need to be there for my kids. Detest insects, have actually wanted to wear a raincoat in the shower when I had to delouse my daughter’s hair (oh the hidden pleasures of Merry Olde England). I do not have lovely dark hair, a vile husband or aristocratic connections. Nor have I ever taught fencing or feared swimming pools, though I do remember almost drowning as a child.

Chocolate: dark or milk?

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel set in a small southern town near the beach. What interests me about the characters is how enmeshed they are with each other’s lives, and how they reckon with questions of their own individuality versus their cohesion as a group. I’m also plotting a sequel to Diana Lively is Falling Down.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I tried to write this book while living in England. In five months, I had a first draft. I returned to the States, and left it alone while I wrote grant proposals. Once I returned to it, I hated everything but the first chapter, which I loved. So I threw everything out but the first chapter away, and started over. Whenever I got stuck, I’d return back to the beginning and try and intuit whether what I was writing fit with the tone and voice of the beginning. It took me five years to finish, though I wasn’t able to write full-time, having bills to pay, children to raise and a move from Arizona to Florida to fret over. If I had a dollar for every day I sat there in tears thinking I would never make it as a writer, I’d be able to fly back to England first class. So I guess I’m saying to your readers, as corny as it sounds, don’t give up.

For more info on Sheila or her book, visit her her web site.

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