Monday, January 17, 2011

Book #37: Breakfast with My Publisher

"In studying old photographs I am struck sometimes by a sense of my being contemporary with my parents - as if I'd known them when they were, let's say, only teenagers.  Is this odd?  I wonder.  I rather suspect others share in their family's experiences and memories without knowing quite how."                                                                  -Joyce Carol Oates, The Paris Review Interviews

This morning I had breakfast with my publisher, Sandra, to discuss the first ten chapters of my book.  Since this chunk of writing contains some deviations from the chapter outline I'd included in my book proposal, I was a tad nervous, and it didn't help that I was jittery from too much coffee.  But as I perched on a bar stool at Canteen, unable to resist another Americano, Sandra told me she was delighted with the new emotional territory I'd broached, and in fact, if I hadn't included the new material, she'd been planning to push me to delve deeper.  As if through some beautiful telepathy, I'd intuited that she wanted more vulnerability and self-disclosure, which was wonderful to hear, because at this point I really am having so much fun reliving and revelling in the most miserable periods of my life - my promiscuous youth, my failed career as an English professor, family secrets, my deformed spine, what have you.  Writing about all that old misery somehow helps redeem it (at least in my mind).

So now I am down to the last three chapters, which I have the next month and a half to write.  No sooner had Sandra and I toasted to saving the best for last than a wave of cold sweat and nerve prickles swept over me.

After we'd wrapped up our meeting, I decided I needed a short break from working on the manuscript to clear my head.  So I ended up reading a book that a friend lent me, The Paris Review Interviews, volume three.  What a marvellous discovery.  I had no idea that these interviews are so revealing and interesting - it's as if these revered writers are sitting down with you and disclosing the most intimate details about their minds and writing habits, over a glass of wine.  I love in particular Joyce Carol Oates' reflections on how old photographs serve as inspiration and transport her, almost magically, into the minds of her ancestors.  What she's saying resonates with how I feel when I look at the old photos of my grandmother, particularly the pre-Internment photos from her adolescence, and I think to myself, Oates said it perfectly: her memories are my memories.

And so I must finish my current book quickly so I can move on to writing something else.  My deepest desire has always been to write an historical novel.

Photo from: here


Naomi said...

I am reminded of a photo of a party of misfit children for my second birthday when my mother invited unknown children visiting our neighbour to my little party. I visualize the scene unhappily and remember it but my memories are likely my mother's memories......What is your next book about?

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

Thank you for sharing such a sad, touching memory.... It's funny how the saddest memories are often the most evocative and strangely pleasurable to look back on, particularly in writing.... Hmmm.... I'm not entirely sure what my next book will be about. When I finish my current book, I'd like to just spend some time writing in the first person from my grandmother's perspective, ventriloquizing her voice at the time in her life when she was a rising beauty queen in the Japanese-American community, but her beauty was nipped in the bud when the family was interned during the Second World War.... (In reality, she was interned at Minidoka, but I'm thinking of changing her place of internment to Manzanar, since the infamous Manzanar Riots have captured my imagination....) The structure of this next project is very much in an embryonic stage, but the voice of my heroine is emerging in my head....


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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.