Interview with Lorna Graham

After reading The ghost of Greenwich Village, we interviewed the author Lorna Graham to get some information about the book and herself

di Silvia Menini

Pubblicato martedi, 1 maggio 2012

Rating: 4.8 Voti: 5
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How and why did you decide to write THE GHOST OF GREENWICH VILLAGE? What did inspire you?
I started thinking of writing this book when two different things happened to me around the same time: I got a job at a morning television show, and I moved into an apartment in Greenwich Village that had, decades before, been home to Donald Barthelme, a postmodernist writer of some fame. His goal had been to “reinvent narrative,” to shake up fiction. I got a book or two of his to read. I didn’t understand a word!
But Bathelme himself, or the idea of him, stuck in my head. And when I’d come home from another day of writing about “the best pillow for your hair type,” or “how to put on makeup without a mirror,” I couldn’t help but imagine what Barthelme would say to me. How could I write this kind of stuff? he  would say. He was dead, but I was alive and wasting my time, being a sell-out. I imagined he would say that I was singlehandedly destroying the legacy of Village writers.
And I would try to explain to him that no onecan afford to live in Greenwich Village today by writing experimental short fiction like he did. The neighborhood has changed; it’s not the province of starving artists anymore. Sarah Jessica Parker lives here!
And of course, he’d say… “who are you talking about?”
Anyway, I used to have these funny conversations in my head with him, and the book grew out of that dynamic.
 
How does Eve evolve?
I think Eve’s problem in the beginning is that she’s trying to force things. She rightly realizes that having friends is what will make you feel as though you belong in a certain place. But at first she’s not patient enough to let relationships develop organically. She tries to make her colleagues her friends, then she falls for a guy partly because he comes with a big circle of friends, and neither of these approaches works.
But over time, she starts worrying about other things: keeping her job; surviving an encounter with a violent mugger; helping the ghost who lives in her apartment finish his life’s work. And once she stops trying to force friendships into place, they develop naturally. By the end of the book, to her happy surprise, she has a table full of friends from different walks of New York life.
In many ways, THE GHOST OF GREENWICH VILLAGE is a “coming of age” story. Eve matures from someone who needsa lot to someone who is capable of givinga lot; from someone who doesn’t understand where she comes from, to someone who truly comprehends the context of her life; from someone who wants desperately to fit in, to someone who knows she can survive on her own.
 
What does Donald represent in the novel and for Eve?
Donald represents many things. He is the quiet (sometimes not so quiet!) reminder of the past that surrounds all of us. Every moment of our lives comes with spirits from the past, attached. When you sit down to dinner with your husband, your parents are there, and his parents are there… they have left “thumbprints” on you and so their presence is always with you.
Donald also represents the past of Greenwich Village, a time when the neighborhood was full of poor artists and counterculture activists. Most of them are gone, but it’s important to remember the roots of our communities. I’m sure there are many neighborhoods in Italy that have changed over the centuries, and that there are people dedicated to preserving those memories for new generations.
I chose to make Donald a writer from the Beat Generation for a specific reason. I wanted a time that would offer a lot of contrast to the modern day I was depicting, specifically the TV news world of a corporate-owned network with its commercial constraints, where the writers toiled behind the scenes and had no real voice. The writers of the Beat era stood against consumerism and it was part of their DNA to question authority. And they certainly didn’t toil away in obscurity or self-censure! Any image we have of nerdy, socially-awkward writers was blown away by these wild children who regularly made the front pages, got into knife fights, and slept with anything that moved.
 
How much of you is there in Eve?
Like Eve, I came to New York City from out of state and settled in Greenwich Village, about which I had many romantic ideas. Like Eve, I worked as a writer at a television morning show, which I found fascinating, frustrating and exhilarating. Also like Eve, my mother died when I was young and I wish I had known her better.
Unlike Eve, I have no ghost in my apartment. I wish I did! How delicious it would be to come home to a spirit from some bygone time, relating funny stories of the neighborhood’s world-famous artists and writers, giving me restaurant recommendations, and generally pontificating in an amusing way. Like Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” but in the comfort of my own home.

 
Talking about Lorna:
 
What does it mean for you being a writer?
Writing is definitely a big part of my identity, but since I do so many different kinds of writing (television, documentary film, speeches and now fiction), you might think I’m schizophrenic! But I think this is what keeps life interesting. Each kind of work presents different challenges and benefits.
When you write for television news, there are a lot of constraints. Facts, for one. The story already exists; I only get to figure out how to tell it. Then there are all the folks who have to approve anything i write before it can get on-air: the executive producer of our show (Dateline NBC), someone from our legal department, someone from our standards department, and of course, our anchor (news reader). And then, there’s the little matter of time. If there’s only :25 (twenty-five seconds) allotted for what you’re writing, that’s all you get to write. You get to the point where you must get rid of exactly three words – but which three?
Coming from this, writing fiction was thrilling. I felt like I was stretching my legs, finally: I could write as much as I needed to tell my particular story, and I could create whatever world and whatever characters I wanted. But that was also scary. If it didn’t turn out well, I couldn’t blame the “bad” story or the legal department. I could only blame myself.
 
What's the best thing about being a writer? What's the worst thing?
Writing is about as ancient a career as exists. It’s rooted deep in the human experience; it’s a tool for information and connection, which are eternal human desires. It’s also portable – you can do it anywhere.
The downside is that so many of the careers associated with writing – journalism, novels – are apparently “in decline.” I wish I’d known that earlier.
 
Any advice for whom would like to follow your example?
I agree with other writers who advise that anyone who wants to write should read a lot. This is the way to learn. And then, of course, you must write a lot: every day, if you can. At least something. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth.
As for my particular example, I would attempt different kinds of writing, so that you’ll be more in demand. If you can write an article, or a webcast, or a short story, you have a greater chance of making a living at writing.
If you want to write a book, whether a novel or non-ficiton, join a critique group. This will give you deadlines and feedback. For eight years or so, I’ve been with the same group: other writers who have become dear friends, who have read every word of my work and helped make it better.
 
Which were the challenges you faced in publishing this book?
Writing the book took about three years, but what surprises people is that publishing it took almost another three. The hardest part, at least in America, is finding an agent – someone who loves your work as much as you do and will fight to get it in bookstores. But most agents get dozens of submissions a day, so after writing a 350 page book, you must somehow come up with the energy to summarize your book in one perfect page, that an agent cannot pass up. Hopefully an agent likes that page and requests your manuscript. Then you wait patiently – sometimes for months – while she reads it.
I was lucky, after several submissions, I was offered representation by Susan Golomb, who represents many great authors, including Jonathan Franzen. When I realized I was in his “company,” I almost didn’t care about getting published anymore – that was a big enough compliment.
 
Describe yourself in 3 adjectives and 3 faults
Adjectives: curious, silly, hopeful
Faults: lazy, lazy, lazy
 
One project for the future
I’m currently working on a second book, this one about a woman who travels back to college to attend the 20th reunion of her supernatural sorority. Once again, the heroine lives in Greenwich Village, and there is also an element of the paranormal. But in every other way, it’s totally different from THE GHOST OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, honest.
Tag:  La ragazza del Greenwich Village, The Ghost of Greenwich Village, Lorna Graham, fantasma, scrittura, New York, interview

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