I first picked up The Atlas of Love in a time in my life when I was just…sad. My relationship was sinking rather quickly, and I didn’t have a life vest to hold on to, until I randomly picked up The Atlas of Love from my local bookstore. I fell in LOVE with the story, so much so that I actually mailed my copy off to a dear friend in Bainbridge Island, Washington! It was a story that moved me, that helped me, a story that I wrote about and reviewed, and actually impressed the editor at Minted Magazine so much so that I am now an active contributor for the magazine. I’m honored that Laurie Frankel has been so gracious to participate in The Write Teacher’s Summer Author Interview Series. Laurie, you are one of our inspirations, a mentor, and now, well, we’d like to call you a friend.
Check out our interview:
TWT: Seattle seems to be a magical place when it comes to writing. So many wonderful writers and stories have come from the rainy city – do you think there is a particular reason for this? Or just coincidence?
LF: Well, it’s tempting to suggest that the rain and grey and gloom offer an atmosphere that, let’s face it, works really well for things like mystery, foreshadowing, mood, and the like, which you need for storytelling. And it’s tempting to suggest that Seattle writers are more productive because the weather means they’re inside a lot anyway and none of us would get anything done if we lived in Southern California and could go to the beach instead. But I’m not sure that’s it (Southern California produces a lot of good writing). I will say this for sure though: I have found the Seattle writing community to be incredibly supportive, warm, welcoming, and nourishing of one another. I hear tell that other places have communities of authors who are competitive, backstabby, and mean, and that’s not good for anyone (well, football players maybe, brain surgeons perhaps, but definitely not writers). So maybe that’s why — Seattle writers spread the love and in so doing spread the word? I hope so.
TWT: Can you tell our readers a little bit more about the inspiration behind The Atlas of Love?
I always tell my students that all writing has to have a point, something it wants to say. When I decided to write a novel, that was my first question to myself: what do I want to say? And the answer was this: family might look any way at all. There are lots of different ways to make a family besides man+woman+sex–>pregnancy–>baby=family. I feel very strongly about that. And all that said, family, as everyone knows, is not this perfect, conflict-free love-fest. Families are hard, even when they’re not related by blood. And families are families, even when they’re not related by blood. That was the inspiration for Atlas.
TWT: What can we expect from Goodbye for Now? (We wait with baited breathe)
LF: Yay!! I’m so glad you’re excited for it! Well, Goodbye For Now is a love story about a software engineer who invents a way for people to email — and later video chat — with their dead loved ones. It’s not supernatural or a ghost story or anything like that; it’s computer science. The main character, Sam, develops an algorithm that looks at someone’s online archive — emails and old chats and Facebook and Twitter and blog posts and texts, etc. — and then compiles a virtual projection of that person based on that archive. It can guess what they’d say and how they’d say it based on what they used to say and how they used to say it. So much of our lives is lived online these days — on all these social media sites — that in a lot of ways, those lives could continue on without us. I find this thought both comforting and horrifying. Sam develops the programming for his girlfriend Meredith after her grandmother dies, but then the two of them decide that it’s too good to keep just to themselves so they open the service up to everyone. What happens next is both miraculous and disastrous, as you would expect. Meantime, the users of the program make their own very loving, very non-traditional family, like in Atlas, so I get to revisit that theme as well. It’s one I imagine I’ll always come back to.
TWT: The film rights have already been bought for Goodbye for Now. Can you describe what this experience was like for you, and what you hope audience members will gain from viewing the film?
LF: Surreal. Surreal and awesome. There is nothing as humbling and gratifying and wonderful as early enthusiasm, and this book got it from publishers around the world and people whose names I actually recognized in Hollywood. I was giddy and starstruck and honored and amazed for months on end there. All of the folks involved in the film so far — and it’s very, very early days yet — have been just amazing: warm, enthusiastic, welcoming, eager to answer my stupid questions, and very, very kind to me and my book. It’s an interesting process to watch because so many people are involved in making a movie. And the best part is I do get to watch — mostly this happens without my involvement at all. It’s not my responsibility. I get to be a fan and cheer these moviemakers on like everyone else. I love it! Sometimes authors and readers get really upset when the movie changes the book, but I feel like it’s such a different medium and a different way of storytelling and thus a different story. It can’t and shouldn’t be the same. So I’m excited to see what they do with it.
TWT: Any advice for frustrated teachers in todays economy?
LF: Remember that the job you’re doing is the most important one — teachers in general and writing teachers in particular. In a booming economy, what people need most is education. In a down economy, what people need most is education. It is the most direct, most effective, most loving way to make the world a better place. It often doesn’t feel that way, so remind yourself often that it is. That’s my advice. That and grade slightly less thoroughly. Teaching writing is a wonderful, wonderful job, but the grading sucks. In all economies.
TWT: You’re a mother, wife, and accomplished author. How do you manage to do it all?
LF: Well for starters, I married the best human on earth. That helps. That’s my other advice to teachers and everyone: marry well. We share equally child care and home care and life care and one-another-care responsibilities, and he supports me and my writing in all ways. At the end of the second draft of Goodbye For Now, he declared it the Novel of Our Times. He might be biased, but it’s nice to have that kind of live-in help, love, and enthusiasm. As for mothering and writing, to put it simply, I don’t try to do both at the same time. When they hear I’m a writer, a lot of people offer some variation of, “Oh, what a good thing to do from home” or, “How nice that you get to work while you stay home with your son.” These are mostly people without children. Or people who aren’t writers. Writing is work — hard work that requires time and energy and deep attention. And parenting is also work — hard work that requires time and energy and a totally different kind of deep attention. Building cars out of legos may not involve a great deal of creative or intellectual thought, but it can’t be done while also writing books. That said, I do get a lot of thinking and planning and problem-working-out done while building lego cars, and I do spend a lot of time working through writing ideas aloud with my husband on the edges of playgrounds. As an added bonus, paying for child care is extraordinarily motivating for keeping one’s butt in the chair and one’s fingers on the keyboard.
TWT: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
LF: Are you kidding? I was a writing teacher for years — I have tons. But my two favorite pieces of writing advice are these:
A) Write about what you read. So first you must read a lot, of course. This is a deal breaker. Then you write about it. You write down what you learned about writing from what you just read — what worked, what didn’t, why, and how those lessons apply to your own writing. I do this for every book I read, always. And I make my creative writing students do this, always. It’s a great practice.
B) Invest the time and energy into figuring out what works for you. If you don’t want to write every day even though lots of writers advise writing every day, it may be because you don’t really want to be a writer or have what it takes. Or it may be that writing every day isn’t what works for you. Figuring out what does is not instantaneous or pain-free and will involve trial, error, and possibly some crying, but you can’t proceed without doing it.
TWT: Who was your greatest teacher?
LF: I had a teacher in college, Ralph Cohen, who gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received: Shakespeare. I love teaching writing, but I may love teaching Shakespeare even more. He was a very, very different kind of teacher than I am. He always lectured, sometimes for three hours at a time (during which I never looked at my watch once). I never lecture. I don’t even believe in lecturing. But he was incredible at it. Somehow — and I really have no idea how — he took these incredibly complex texts and this simply overwhelming canon and cracked it open and handed it out to me. He took these two things I had always loved — reading and theater — and gave me the academic approach to them, which the best kind of formal education I think. I came out of every single class period excited, energized, eager, amazed, and a better person besides. That, my friends, is good teaching.