The Golden Bowl Cracks: Laura McBride and Eleanor Brown

There are books to be read, and there are books to be experienced — think Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rivka Brunt or And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini or The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.

Add Laura McBride’s spectacular debut novel We Are Called to Rise to the book-to-be-experienced category.  This is a story of mothers and sons, of teachers and immigrants, soldiers and civilians, set in a Las Vegas we rarely hear about.  It’s a truly American story, one of love and longing, both heartbreaking and hopeful, told in a chorus of unforgettable voices by a first-time author, an English teacher and Las Vegas native who began writing after her children were grown.  We Are Called to Rise is, as McBride explains below, “a novel for a reader like me: someone with busy days, who loves falling into a story and foolishly reading when she should be doing something else…who wants to feel the full measure of life in that book’s pages.”

We knew The Weird Sisters was special from minute one (We came home because we were failures.), with its first-person plural narrator, warm humor (there is no problem a library card can’t solve), and deep compassion for all her all-too human — fallible, flawed and in denial — characters.  Emotionally true from end to end, even for those of us without sisters ourselves or Shakespeare scholars roaming the halls at home.

We’re delighted to present Eleanor Brown in conversation with Laura McBride, and hope you enjoy reading their far-ranging conversation — from what makes a story memorable to writing with (and without) a plan to finding her characters’ voices and the line between a writer’s work and the writer’s life, and everything in between — as much as we did. — Miwa Messer

 

Eleanor Brown: We Are Called to Rise is an intimate, emotional story, but through that lens, you tackle enormous issues: the trauma of war, immigrant life, the child welfare system, prejudice, domestic violence. Did you set out to write a book that encompassed global topics? Do you like to read stories about big issues? What makes a story speak to you as a reader and as a writer?

Laura McBride: Well, I did have specific goals in mind when I was choosing the story to write, but no, I wasn’t thinking in terms of tackling large issues.  I wanted to write a novel for a reader like me: someone with busy days, who loves falling into a story and foolishly reading when she should be doing something else, who needs a book that can keep her awake at night if she is actually going to finish it, and who wants to feel the full measure of life in that book’s pages. I remember, too, that I wanted to be proud of the work. I wanted it to be worth doing. I was 50 when I wrote We Are Called to Rise, and rueing the evanescence of life; I hoped to tell a valuable story.

Henry James wrote The Golden Bowl a hundred years ago, and reading it was a transformative experience in my life as a reader.  I was in my late twenties, working full-time and going to graduate school at night while caring for a small child, and some loathsome professor assigned this bear of a book to read in a week.  For the first 200 pages or so, I was spitting with rage and frustration at having to read it, and then somewhere in the middle, this brutally slow, careful novel started to speak to me; I couldn’t set it down.  And at the end of it, after what was for me a week without sleep, the bowl cracked.  That’s the action.  That’s the whole thing.  The damn bowl cracks. And I wept.

So, somewhere in the back of my mind is this thought about the novels I like.  That the plot can be very small, the action can be slow, but if the characters feel real, I will care.  I wasn’t interested in writing The Golden Bowl — for one thing, I was hoping someone would read my story! — but I was hoping to get that belly-deep connection with a reader.

I didn’t have this next idea in mind when I was writing, but I think that as modern readers, we are sometimes hooked on plot.  We love these sprawling epics of novels, and we love them enough that we read them even if the development of character and motivation is weak. There’s nothing wrong with being hooked on plot, but The Golden Bowl taught me that plot is not always trump, that at least for me, the chance to move into someone else’s mind and heart is more delicious.

Eleanor Brown: I agree – I hope there’s always space for those page-turning epics and for the stories as intricate and detailed as Faberge eggs, opening to reveal wonders that aren’t apparent at first glance. And yet your novel manages to have both a page-turning plot and that deep emotional resonance, which is such a tremendous feat!

I love an exciting, purely plot-driven story, but it’s rarer for me as a reader for those sorts of books to occupy my mind in a meaningful way after I’ve turned the last page. It’s more often complex and deeply human characters that make a story memorable to me.

And your characters are so resonant! I especially love Bashkim, the little boy at the heart of We Are Called to Rise. He’s terribly serious, and he bears the burden of a lot of children of immigrants, I think, being a translator not only of language but also of culture, of feeling loyal to two nations and never fully part of either.

How did you develop such a strong voice for Bashkim? And the other characters – the book has, what, four different first-person narrators? How do you write convincingly in so many different voices?

Laura McBride: Thank you.  I love Bashkim too, and he’s very real to me.  Bashkim touches me because is a little boy who sees himself as a full human actor in the world, despite his powerlessness.  Bashkim can’t control how his father acts, or how people see his family, or what will happen to his little sister. But in the face of all this, he keeps trying to do the right thing: to follow the rules at school, to speak politely to a strange adult in his living room.  I think that there are a lot of children like Bashkim: children who take us adults at face value, children who see themselves as every bit as responsible for the world as anyone else.  Are they born this way?  Is it instilled?

I hope the voices are convincing!  I stumbled on a technique that worked for me, and I don’t know if it is commonly used or not.  I wrote the book in order, which meant that I kept switching between voices, and for each new chapter, I had identified one or two plot points.  So when I started a new chapter, I would just set the character down in the middle of something — a school assembly, a physical therapy session, a bedroom — and let her talk.  I didn’t know what she was going to say or do, but very often, an unexpected gesture would be a wonderful bridge to the next place I was headed.  The story worked itself out beneath the conscious level. For me, the process was quite aural too; I listened to the person speaking in my mind and typed what I heard. I very often spoke the words aloud as soon as they were typed.

Now and then, a reader would point out a character’s verbal tic: “Bashkim doesn’t use contractions, but Luis does.” And that would surprise me.  Because I didn’t have any conscious awareness of how those voices worked.  I would occasionally remember one of those comments when I was editing, and start to worry about it. Did I use a contraction?  Is this the voice that uses contractions?  But if I tried working like that, from a rule about the voice, then the character would not only sound wrong, he wouldn’t do anything.  He’d just sit there on the page waiting for me to direct the action.  The whole process worked the other way about, from the voice in my head to the story.

Eleanor, this question is even more interesting in terms of The Weird Sisters, because you used the plural first person.  Did “we” become a character in itself?  Was she a mélange of Rose and Bean and Cordy?  Could you picture her?

Eleanor Brown: Like you, I feel like the characters’ voices come out best when I just let them speak. So the first-person plural narrator in The Weird Sisters developed itself as I went along.

I envision that narrative “we” as a chorus. When you’re listening to a group of people sing, one voice might rise above the others for a moment, and then recede. And then another might be more prominent, and then it blends back in with the others. That’s how the three sisters’ narration sounded to me as I was writing – sometimes it was a perfect blend of Rose, Bean, and Cordy, and sometimes one voice took over for a moment.

In contrast to your characters feeling constrained by rules, though, I needed an enormous amount of structure to get me through that voice. When only two of the sisters were in a room together, could I still use “we”? When the chorus was talking about one of the sisters, was the sister in question part of that voice?

Honestly, if I had fully understood what I was getting myself into at the outset, I don’t know that I would have chosen that narrative voice! But then again, as a youngest child, I’ve never been much of a planner.

What about you? It’s amazing how the seemingly disparate threads of your story pull together so tightly. Did you know it all ahead of time? Are you an organized outliner? (Tell the truth – are you an only or an oldest child?) Or did things just come together as you wrote?

Laura McBride: Oh, that’s very interesting that you worked out the “we” voice so carefully.  I’m grateful that you stuck with it: I had fun imagining that we.  But I didn’t imagine “we” as a chorus, though it makes so much sense when you say it.  Instead, I imagined that “we” with her own voice, a sort of wise woman.  She made me think of the narrator in novels like Middlemarch or Tess of the D’Urbervilles; I think she’s a contemporary sort of omniscient.

Tell the truth!  I am the fourth of six, and the youngest of three daughters, so I call myself a middle child with a healthy dose of baby-girlness.  It was a lovely position.  I was sandwiched between the boys, safe from the more intense sibling rivalries, and blissfully unremarked-on for most of my childhood.  We share three-girl stories, Eleanor.  I am one of three girls, my mother was one of three girls, and her younger sister also had three girls, my cousins.

I saw Crash, but I guess I didn’t make any connection between it and my story. I think of We Are Called to Rise as three voices, a braid, even though Roberta gradually grew into a fourth voice.  If I extended this rather stale metaphor to include Roberta, she would be a long strand of grass or a bit of purple yarn threaded into the braid, not a complete voice.  A perceptive reader asked me about my process recently, and when I described it to him, he compared it to writing a sonnet; he said that I set up rigidities so that I could be more creative within them.  I loved that idea, probably because I am a sucker for a sonnet.

I had Freytag’s Pyramid (for five-act tragedies) in mind when I started.  I wanted the climactic scene, with Arjeta, to be at the center of the novel.  I wanted the action to climb to that point, and then fall back down. That was a significant choice, because it led me to the voices of Bashkim and Avis.  I chose Bashkim because he would be present for both the rising and falling action, and I chose Avis because I wasn’t sure if I could write in the voice of the man in that climactic scene.  “Who would love him?” I thought. “His mother.”

So I had a definite structure for the story in mind, and I also broke the novel into small bits of writing.  I arbitrarily decided that a 300-page novel would need about 25 chapters, so I created 25 word files, gave each one the name of a character and a plot point, and just worked my way through them one by one.  Which sounds crazy to me now, but turned out to be both practical and focused; it got me from the beginning to the end in a concentrated rush.  Which is a technique I teach my composition students.  I give them three rules for rough draft writing: follow a road map, don’t sweat the small stuff, and write the whole thing in one sitting.  Looking back, that’s pretty much what I did with We Are Called to Rise.

 

Eleanor, if you were very structured about voice, were you also structured about plot and theme?  Since you’re not a planner, how did you get started on The Weird Sisters?  How much did you know about the story before you began?  How did it change?  What surprised you?

Eleanor Brown: I think I just kind of started! I was very sure that I wanted to write a story about three sisters, and I knew that those sisters would be wrestling with very different problems, but I didn’t know much more. When I step back and look at the finished product now, it’s easy for me to see that what I really wanted to write about was the way our identities are forged and birth order simply gave me a door into that, but the idea at the beginning was much simpler.

Because my plan was so vague (read: nonexistent) – I was writing solely for myself, without a thought of publication or even sharing – everything that happened in the book surprised me. That sounds terribly romantic, but in fact, it’s a terrible way to write. The process was slow and laborious and I threw out as much as I wrote, and it took a lot of heavy lifting to get it to any place where anyone who wasn’t related to me could bear to read it.

But I was where I was at the time, and I learned an incredible amount about writing through all those twists and turns and dead ends. While I am continually aspiring to be a more organized writer, I also believe that at some point, we all work the way we work, and we have to respect that. There’s always going to be an element of chaos to my writing process, because for me a great deal of beautiful discovery happens by way of happy accident.

Laura McBride: I love your idea that we all work the way we work.  I think there are a lot of good ways to do most things: write a book, raise a child, get in shape.  And I think the sense that we are supposed to do any of these things in a particular way makes life harder than it needs to be.   Eleanor, do you also teach?  How do you think your teaching influences your writing?  (I know, I know, the first thing one thinks is all the way teaching STOPS one’s writing!)

Eleanor Brown: Oh, I never felt that way! Teaching has always inspired me to write. I teach writing workshops and craft classes, and I feel so energized by those conversations. When I wrote The Weird Sisters, I was teaching full time, and it had a tremendous and terrific effect on my work. My students were in seventh grade, and they were so bright and curious, and their questions about literature so startlingly perspicacious.

I spent my days talking about great writing with fabulous people and when we talked about what would take their writing to the next level, I took those lessons back to my own work, too.

But! I also didn’t write during the school year – I never would have had the time. I wrote the first draft of The Weird Sisters exclusively during vacations. Spring break would roll around and I’d spend it writing at a frenetic pace – ten days, twelve hours a day. And then classes would be back in session and I’d take a break from the book until the next vacation.

One of the reasons I think I was able to write without a plan then was that I had those long periods of time where I was hardly thinking about the novel. And then that creative miracle would happen, the one that only occurs when you’re not thinking about whatever you’re working on but suddenly you wake up with the answer to whatever problem is plaguing you, and by the time I could go back to the book, I was ready.

It’s a luxurious way to write, and can only be done if you don’t have deadlines or an obsessive drive to get things finished, but it was a joy – it let me discover things on my own time, and that was a pleasure.

I had difficulty thinking of stories similar to We Are Called to Rise. The closest I could come was something like Bonfire of the Vanities or the film Crash – the way these seemingly unrelated lives collide and influence each other. But while it matches those stories in intensity, in other ways it feels very different. Do you think your work is similar to other writers? Whom do you read for inspiration?

Laura McBride: I saw Crash, but I guess I didn’t make any connection between it and my story.

 

I don’t know how to answer the question about influences.  I am passionate about writing I like – I know exactly and instantly what I like to read, and can be rather miserable about perfectly good writing that doesn’t appeal to me – but I don’t trust that I can analyze my own writing.  (What if my writing is the sort I wouldn’t like, were I the reader?)  Anyway, I am very fond of beautifully constructed sentences: I love Marilynne Robinson and Philip Roth and Virginia Woolf.  I’m also a pushover for adult stories about young people: Catcher in the Rye, The Yearling, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Book Thief. I didn’t have any of these stories or writers in mind when I was working out WACTR, but I am a little bit surprised that I ended up with a child narrator who is so central.  I would have told you – before I began – that this was absolutely not the sort of novel I would write.  So perhaps that proves my suspicion: I’m not very insightful about my own work.

This seems a weak answer to a sophisticated question.  I may have post-traumatic stress from studying literature in the 80’s, when everything was an endless string of influences and shifting signs and the author’s inability to do anything intentionally.

It’s positively scary to write down the name of a writer I admire, or who might have influenced me.  Just think of the hundreds I left out!   And suppose that my ideas of a writer aren’t very informed?  And isn’t it the nature of influences that they are hidden from the influenced?  I’m tossing this potato to you Eleanor.  What writers do you admire?  Which ones influence your writing? Are there particular authors or works that informed The Weird Sisters?

Eleanor Brown: I don’t think it’s a weak answer at all! Writing a novel is such a complicated (and lengthy!) process, even when you manage it in such an organized fashion as you did, it’s very difficult to look back and say, well, it came about precisely this way. It’s always much more complex than that.

It’s funny that you say that the influences are hidden from us – I remember going back to re-read Martha Beck’s memoir Leaving the Saints after I had written The Weird Sisters, and being stunned by how much that book had clearly impacted me. But if you had asked me, I never would have been able to identify it as an inspiration, as brilliant a book as I think it is. And on the surface, the books are nothing alike – hers is a memoir about sexual abuse and the Mormon church, and mine is…well, not.

But sometimes I think writing is just that subconscious. Our work is an accretion of everything we have experienced and everything we have read, and it’s not always within our control what emerges.

In my conscious mind, I try to write with as much poetry and elegance as Pat Conroy, and with the touches of magic of Alice Hoffman, and the warm voice of Maeve Binchy, but then again, one of the books that has had the greatest influence on me was Stephen King’s The Stand, which is a post-apocalyptic tale of the battle between good and evil. I’ve read it so many times I have to purposely pull its tendrils from my writing when I’m editing.
Let’s go back to a more basic question: the setting! I went to Las Vegas for the first time last year and I found the Strip terrifying. (I’m going to found a company called Vegas for Introverts, where you travel in some kind of protective bubble to protect you from all the noise and chaos but still get to see Cirque du Soleil shows!) But what I loved most about the trip was the cab ride from the airport through the normal neighborhoods where people live. Las Vegas has been so well branded as a destination it’s easy to forget that people live completely ordinary lives there, that the Strip and Fremont Street are not the beginning and end of the city.

It struck me, reading We Are Called to Rise, how little we really know about Las Vegas.  Can you talk a little about why you decided to set the book in Las Vegas? Did you know it would have such a huge impact on the story? And is setting always such a central part of fiction – as a reader and/or a writer – for you?

Laura McBride: Wow.  I can’t believe how I’ve struggled to answer this simple question.  I’ve spoken about Vegas and We Are Called to Rise many times.  I know what I think about this.  And yet, my relationship to Las Vegas – the real place, the mythical place, the imagined place – is complex.  I find myself twisting and turning as I try to write out a response; every assertion leads to another qualification.

But Vegas for Introverts! I’m afraid those protective bubbles might land you in a Cirque de Soleil show.  I’m picturing bubbles of introverts bouncing across the showroom, propelled, perhaps, by the muscular feet of partially naked men wearing feathers.  (Sorry – sometimes the Vegas aesthetic just surfaces . . .)

You put the problem perfectly: Las Vegas has been so well-branded.  The Vegas image is a multi-billion dollar business, and that makes it hard to be sure of one’s own perceptions about the place.  It’s easy to fall into a trope about it: whether you love it or hate it, whether you find it stimulating or horrifying.

Like every longtime Las Vegan I know, I can be sensitive about the way people react to my home.  Perhaps because Vegas is a brand, is something people buy, there can be an odd rudeness in what people will say to the real people who live here.  Where else would a houseguest who has been feted and treated and conveyed blatantly add “Of course, I could never live here” to his or her goodbye?  But that is something we all laugh about, one of the thousand ways that Las Vegans bond with each other.  Our hometown attracts 40 million visitors a year – many of whom are hell-bent on vice and hypocrisy – so a sense of humor helps.

Las Vegas is a carnival, a wasteland, a sham, an excess, but it is also a place that succeeds at social mobility, that succeeds at fusing people of different races and classes and faiths, that burbles with a tremendous human energy.  And it is a town of contradictions.  Naked women on billboards and women power brokers in the casinos.  An economy rooted in sex and run by the religious. A state at the bottom of every education measure but filled with whip-smart gamblers.  I tried to capture some of that energy, that fluidity, and that contrariness in We Are Called to Rise.  To my mind, the story at the center of the book – the interaction of the strife-damaged immigrant with the war-damaged police officer – represented something of Las Vegas’ boomtown nature.

Because that is the essential quality of Las Vegas for me: that it is a boomtown.  It has all the graces and all the woes of any boomtown anywhere.  Longtime Las Vegans are loyal to each other, we are often kind to each other, we are knit together by a unique experience.  We know what it means to live in a place that was not ready for us, that did not have the infrastructure for us; we know that craziness abounds, that opposites attract, that diversity sizzles,  that unacceptable things happen.  Also, it is adventure that brought us here , and so we are just-do-it sort of people.  We act quickly, sometimes wrongly, and we act generously, sometimes rightly.  That was the energy I hoped to catch in We Are Called to Rise.

But you asked about setting and story, and I have gone on and on about Vegas. Yes, I am drawn to setting in the work I read.  I am generally sensitive to the place where I am: the quality of the light, the smell of the air, the sounds around.  And I like imagining different places, I like it when an author transports me somewhere new.  But setting is just one aspect of the deal; it is setting that is somehow married to character, that is part and parcel with plot, that moves one, that resonates with one, that I find compelling.

One of the differences between The Weird Sisters and We Are Called to Rise is that you set your novel in a fictional town, and populated it not only with fictional people but a fictional college, a fictional street, a fictional history.  I wanted to set my novel in the actual Las Vegas – and it would have been a hard place to invent – so I contented myself with fictional people.  What was it like to work with a place you had invented?  Is Barnwell a fictional version of a specific college town?  Did the choice to invent a place create certain challenges in your writing?  Did it open doors?  Is there any significance to choosing Ohio?

Eleanor Brown: I’m so sad Barnwell doesn’t exist. I wish I could go visit it.

For me, it was entirely liberating not having to worry about whether I was accurately reflecting a real place (though of course that sort of accuracy is a questionable thing – in your novel, Avis’ Las Vegas is quite different from Bashkim’s Las Vegas). I just mashed up Gambier, Ohio (home of Kenyon College) and Oberlin, Ohio (Oberlin College) and made my own town.

If I can invoke The Stand again, I’ve always felt it’s largely a love letter from Stephen King to America, and I wanted The Weird Sisters to do something similar, so I needed an archetypically American setting – small towns, rolling green farmland, some place that could still evoke a Norman Rockwell America. So I knew I’d need someplace Midwestern, and when I remembered my trips to Gambier and Oberlin, I thought – that’s it.

Discover author Alex George (A Good American) asked me a fascinating question: If I could give The Weird Sisters to any one person, who would it be? I think I (selfishly) said I would give it to myself, ten years ago, because I really wrote the book to soothe some fears I had and answer my own looming questions about life.

So. If you could give We Are Called to Rise to one person, who would it be?

Laura McBride: Well, I’ve spent two days trying to think of a better answer than the one that immediately popped into my head – because it doesn’t seem like an answer that would mean much to anyone else – but the bottom line is that I would give it to my dad – whose heart was so tender, to my mom – who thought the best of people, and to my aunt – who fought mightily to live long enough to celebrate it.   They each kept hoping I’d get around to writing a novel, and I wish I’d done it in time for them to read it.

Eleanor, how did your sisters react to you writing about three sisters?  Are the relationships between Rose, Bean, and Cordy similar to your relationships with each other?

Eleanor Brown: That’s a great question with a boring answer, because the sisters are nothing like my sisters. The characters are really pieces of me, and their fraught relationship is an attempt to reconcile the often conflicting pieces of myself – the part of me that wants to be independent versus the part that wants to be taken care of, my desire for adventure versus my need for safety and comfort. Don’t we all have those little wars inside ourselves?

But this does bring up a larger question I find myself thinking about frequently, which is the line between a writer’s life and a writer’s work. I’m often asked about the real-life stories behind The Weird Sisters, and on the one hand, that’s deeply flattering, as it means I’ve made the characters human enough that it seems impossible for them not to be real. But on the other hand, and I worry about this particularly with women writers, does that question mean the reader thinks the writing can’t write believably about something she hasn’t experienced?

And yet I believe there is always an element of reality lurking behind fiction. The Weird Sisters isn’t memoir, but it is emotionally true; as I said, it came from my attempt to write towards the answers to the impossible questions I was grappling with. Jodi Picoult talks about how her writing stems from her greatest fears, usually about the crises that befall families and children. Jonathan Franzen and Pat Conroy are clearly writing out their family demons, even if they’re not doing it as non-fiction.

What do you think about that line between fiction and a writer’s truth?

Laura McBride: Oh this is the $64,000 question!

Let’s see, someone I have casually known for 20 years read the book and asked me how long ago I had divorced my husband.  (I hadn’t.)  Someone else mentioned that she didn’t know I had grown up in Vegas.  (I didn’t.)  A third said she pictured my “ass” when she read the first chapter.  So.

I’m waiting for people to wander through my bedroom looking for a naughty underwear drawer.  (It’s there, of course.)

Every word is me.  Every thought, every sensation, every description.  I imagined them all. But I avoided making any character a shadow of a person in my life.  (This is not always true for characters who pop in and out quickly.  Sometimes,  I did just imagine the guy at the post office as the guy at the post office.) I wanted to use the physical place around me – Vegas, but also my neighborhood, my park, my streets – because I wanted the story to feel concrete.  Still, I wasn’t interested in exploring my own relationships or my own experiences, at least not directly.  And I have an aversion to defining who someone else is.  As a writer, I’m aware that I can make a convincing case for how I see someone.  But I don’t want to do it.  I’m happy to invent some folks, but settle my sense of a real person down around her neck . . . no way.

I’m also surprised when a reader assumes that I am either Avis or Roberta.  I don’t think I am particularly like either one, but I suppose that’s something a reader couldn’t know.

Eleanor, were there some reactions to The Weird Sisters that you did not expect?  Were you surprised at the way readers understood your characters?

Eleanor Brown: By the time the book was published, I had spent so long with it that it seemed impossible for the characters to belong to anyone but me. I remember very clearly being at the Penguin offices before publication and meeting someone from the foreign rights department who said, “I loved your book!” and my immediate thought was, “Wait, you read it?”

As I said, I wrote the book to resolve my own crises. I was wrestling with feelings of failure and confusion over the fact that I was a grown-up but still hadn’t figured out what I was going to be when I grew up. And, as with all great long, dark teatimes of the soul, I was absolutely sure that I was the only one who didn’t have all this stuff figured out. Everyone else looked so confident and successful, so clearly it was only me who was splashing around in the shallows trying to find my way.

So when I say I didn’t expect the book to be successful, that’s not false modesty. I genuinely thought that I was the only one carrying the deep, dark secret of feeling like an imposter, unworthy of my adulthood card.

And of course that’s not the case. Of course we’re all struggling with those insecurities, we’re all (at least everyone worth knowing) plagued by self-doubt, and to me the great gift of The Weird Sisters has been not only learning that I’m not alone but helping other people see that they’re not alone either. You talked about that “belly-deep” connection with the reader, and while it was totally unexpected, it’s been an enormous blessing.

Laura McBride: I think readers of The Weird Sisters sensed that you were speaking from a deep place, Eleanor, and I also think it was generous of you to share that space with them.  To me, telling the truth – as one experiences it – is how we respect our readers.  We writers are word-nimble; we can make language do all sorts of things, but making it tell the truth is hard.

I took a drawing class in college.  It was in this wonderful studio  – on the top floor of a building with skylights and oddly angled walls – and one of our first assignments was a self-portrait.  One student captured her face and neck in a few simple lines, and then used heavy black charcoal for the swath of her long hair.  The professor said she had made an irrevocable choice with the solid black hair, and from the moment she made it, she could only go forward and not back.  For some reason, this sticks with me.  There are choices from which one can only go forward.  Telling the truth is definitely one of those.

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