About a week after my first book, THE ANTI-ROMANTIC CHILD, was published, I traveled to Long Island to give a reading at a Women’s Group’s Annual Luncheon. Looking around at the 300+ plus women milling about in the grand ballroom of a swanky hotel, my gaze finally alighted on the kind, understanding face of the other author invited to speak at the lunch. Randy Susan Meyers could not have been more warm, supportive, and gracious. She took this neophyte author under her wing and advised me on everything from social media to carrying bookmarks “advertising” my book to blocking out the din of a book’s reception in the world in order to focus on what really matters: sharing our stories and messages with others in order to help, console, or uplift them. Randy’s two novels, THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS and THE COMFORT OF LIES, are gritty, honest, suspenseful, and moving. And in the writing world, Randy is known not only for her propulsive plots and endearing characters but also for her generosity and support of other writers. I’m delighted to share with you an extensive Q &A I did with Randy- her long road to authorial success is an exemplary story of patience, determination, and good winning out in the end, and her thoughts on parenting, grand-parenting, and arranging one’s life are reassuring and inspiring. Please comment on our interview and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a free copy of Randy’s wonderful new novel, THE COMFORT OF LIES (I’ll pick the name of a commenter at random on Saturday, March 2nd).
Here’s Randy’s bio in her own words:
I was born in Brooklyn, New York, where I quickly moved from playing with dolls to incessantly reading, spending most of my time at the Kensington Branch Library. Early on I developed a penchant for books rooted in social issues, my early favorites being “Karen” and “The Family Nobody Wanted.” Shortly I moved onto Jubilee and The Diary of Anne Frank.
My dreams of justice simmered at the fantastically broadminded Camp Mikan, where I went from camper to counselor, culminating in a high point when (with the help of my strongly Brooklyn-accented singing voice), I landed the role of Adelaide in the staff production of “Guys and Dolls.”
Soon I was ready to change the world, starting with my protests at Tilden High and City College of New York, until I left to pursue the dream in Berkeley, California, where I supported myself by selling candy, nuts, and ice cream in Bartons of San Francisco. Then, world-weary at too-tender an age, I returned to New York, married, and traded demonstrations for diapers.
While raising two daughters, I tended bar, co-authored a nonfiction book on parenting, ran a summer camp, and (in my all-time favorite job, other than writing) helped resurrect and run a community center.
Once my girls left for college, I threw myself deeper into social service and education by working with batterers and victims of domestic violence. I’m certain my novels are imbued with all the above, as well as my journey from obsessing over bad boys to loving a good man.
Many things can save your life–children who warm your heart, the love of a good man, a circle of wonderful friends, and a great sister. After a tumultuous start in life, I’m lucky enough to now have all these things. I live in Boston with my husband, and I’m now a grandmother!
The dark drama of my debut novel, THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS, is informed by my years of work with batterers, domestic violence victims, and at-risk youth impacted by family violence.
My new novel, THE COMFORT OF LIES has just been published by Atria/Simon & Shuster. It’s a novel about an affair and the three very different women whose lives become intertwined in its aftermath: Tia, the woman who fell in love with a married man, got pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption; Juliet whose husband had the relationship with Tia; and Caroline, the woman who adopted the child that Tia couldn’t bear to raise alone. These are three women who should never have met–and when they do, their lives collide in ways that none of them could have predicted.
THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS was chosen as a Target Book Club Pick, Massachusetts “Must Read” Fiction, and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award,
1) Was writing a second novel more or less challenging than writing the first one? What was different about the experience?
I was lucky, because I began my second novel (in a very early draft form) before my first book sold. That was the fortunate part. Plus, with each subsequent book (because this really wasn’t my second book—my practice books were deep in the drawer) I learned from the mistakes I’d previously made. Structuring (making many iterations of outlines, in-depth organizational plans, etc.) my book and building foundations that would make huge differences when revising my novel were paramount. One thinks about so many ideas along the road to a final book, flashes come at one constantly. You think you’ll remember them when you finish your draft, but unless you write them down in a ‘findable’ fashion, you simply won’t.
So, the writing was easier. However, the time and emotions involved while revising my second book were more taxing by far than the first time around. I was now promoting The Murderer’s Daughters, so much of the energy formerly spent on writing and imagination was now spent writing essays and posts, obsessing over reviews, hourly Googling, Facebooking, Tweeting—the chattering of the online world does not mix with writing. If I hadn’t discovered a program called “Freedom” I’d have been lost.
2) You are a relatively “late bloomer” as a successful novelist. What can your career tell us about the path to becoming an artist?
It was a long path, and it’s a long answer, Priscilla. If anyone out there feels the misery of trying to get it done before you turn 100, I can provide company:
It began with my published-too-young book: In my twenties, I co-wrote a nonfiction book (under my former—married—name, Randy Meyers Wolfson) Couples With Children. Co-author Virginia DeLuca (Ginny) and I, in our work with pregnant and post-partum women, saw that suddenly-shaky marriages were of more concern than diapers. And we wanted to write. We bought How to Get Happily Published by Judith Applebaum, wrote a proposal and a sample chapter, sent it off and shortly thereafter had a contract. I won’t go into the many mistakes we made after that (the only thing we did right was writing and selling the book) but this ‘easy’ sell offered (extraordinarily) undeserved confidence.
Soon after, I got divorced. Now I was a single mother and talking about marriage and children seemed, um… embarrassing to say the least. And fiction was really my love. The nonfiction Couples With Children was left to languish.
In between raising kids, badly-chosen men, working in human services by day, and bartending by night, I co-wrote Novels 1 & 2 with Ginny: Two mysteries. Got an agent. We thought we had a series. Didn’t get a publisher.
Moving on, still submerged in bad men and fantasy, still not applying myself to learning the deeper tenets of writing fiction, and skating on sheer want, I wrote Novel 3, which should have been titled: The Book That Helped Me Pretend I Wasn’t Screwing Up My Life, By Mythologizing It.
No agent. No sale. No memory if I wrote a query. Probably not, as a friend insisted on sending it to his wife’s cousin-the-writer, who called it… execrable? Deplorable? Tripe? He didn’t soften the slam by deeming it poetic or lyrical.
Because it wasn’t.
Had a drink or ten.
Thank goodness I had yet another totally inappropriate guy to lean on!
Fast forward: Sent kids through college. Lost bad guy/s. Found a good one. Got serious about writing. Embarked on my homemade MFA and wrote my trilogy:
Novel 4: Dove in. Joined a writer’s group. Finished. Got an agent. As soon as she put it out for submission, I began writing:
Novel 5: Showed it to said agent. She liked it so much that she replaced the now limping and ten-times rejected # 4 (are you still with me) with newly minted # 5. And I began writing the next one.
Novel 6. Showed a bit to agent. She loved it. Said keep going! Meanwhile, she kept trotting out #5 to a few editors.
Then my agent turned more attention to representing a different genre and it seemed right for us to part ways. Leaving this agent was wrenching. The ‘bird in the hand’ theory pulled, but I felt a sweet spot with # novel 6, and felt that I needed the right person to represent it (aware many would find it dark.)
No hard feelings, a virtual handshake, and agent and I said goodbye.
Back out on the agent-hunting circuit, feeling like a confused divorcee. (Do I talk about the ex? Pretend it never happened?)
Six months later I signed with new (wonderful and current) agent. She read. She edited. I revised. She sold #6 (The Murderer’s Daughters) in 8 days.
How long did it take to sell my debut novel from when I began writing fiction?
What I learned:
a) To take heart from positive words embedded in rejections and believe the good things they said about my writing. Believe when they said ‘the work just wasn’t for them.’ To take criticisms seriously and pay attention to ideas generously passed on. (Well, not the one that said, “she was so over domestic violence.)
b) To believe that writing, like any craft, requires honing, and not to beat myself up over unsold books. They weren’t wasted time—they were my education. I doubt Georgia O’Keefe sold her first paintings. Or Grandma Moses, who I feared I might pass in ‘firsts.’
c) To surround myself with supportive writer friends and take heart from their success (even when I felt green and evil.)
d) To learn when to fold them.
e) To know when to hold on.
3) Tell us about your parenting and grand-parenting experiences. How do they compare?
Here I can be succinct. Parenting is intense gut-wrenching love that careens from glitter and roses to pain greater than you ever thought possible. From scrapes to serious problems, one is only as happy as one’s unhappiest child much of the time. Grandparenting is a deep pure love, which rather than scorching everything in its path (as parenting can) fills one with light. Of course you worry—I took care of my granddaughter once a week, from early morning through suppertime, until last year—so you don’t get to miss out on the terror. But the fear is leavened with experience and the awareness that each moment passes. You don’t feel stuck, just grateful for the wonder of this child.
4) What wisdom can you share with other women struggling to balance career aspirations and the exigencies of motherhood?
This too shall pass. Honestly, that is the very best thing I can say. Something, someone, was always being shortchanged. I guess I slept, but I don’t really remember.
When my children were young (and I was usually working two jobs as well as being a mom—and trying to cram in writing) life was a constant round of undone and nothing-ever-enough. Whichever part of my life was for-the-moment well tended (children, work, romance, friends, helping out family) the other was less so. Certain parts of my life just slid away–making good regular meals, keeping up with the laundry, the house, decent haircuts, my eyebrows—you name it.
Our society is hard on parents. Having it all is a crock. Loving your children ferociously, while still going easy on yourself and getting sleep, is far more important than baking cookies, getting them to every museum, and building piñatas. Cuddle up and eat pizza with them. Watch television, rather than being so tense as you cook a homemade supper that you want to strangle them.
5) Who inspires you? These can be public figures, historical personages, and people from your personal life, even fictional characters!
Those who give of themselves, who broke barriers, people who fought what must have been fear and sometimes loathing and did the right thing, inspire me. Raoul Wallenberg. Gloria Steinem. Betty Friedan. Margaret Sanger. Oskar Schindler. Marie Curie. Rosa Parks. I could go on forever.
6) What are your favorite ways to unwind, relax, and replenish yourself?
Read. Read. Read. Preferably in a clean house (makes all the difference.) Bonus points for being by the water.
7) What are some of your favorite novels? Did any particular novels or novelists inspire you in your own fiction-writing?
I have been deeply inspired by Rosellen Brown’s novels. All of them.
8) What is the one piece of advice you would give every aspiring writer?
Read a vast array of writing books, because before you break the rules you really should know them. Plus, there is no reason to reinvent wheels that others have made smooth and wonderfully round.
Be patient. Make your work the best it can be (don’t rush to get approbation by looking for an agent or publisher too soon!)
9) What is the one piece of advice you would give every new parent? Every new grandparent?
For parents, the truest most useful advice is probably the oldest advice: sleep whenever you can. Ask for help. Go easy on yourself. Loving, feeding, (and cleaning) your baby is the only thing you must do. Grandparents? Enjoy, love, and keep your mouth shut unless your children seek your advice. Always tell your children what wonderful parents they are.
10) Do you have a go-to quotation that never fails to inspire, calm, or motivate you?
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”— Gustave Flaubert.