Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Interview with Ellen Meeropol, Author of Kinship of Clover

Ellen Meeropol is fascinated by characters on the fault lines of political upheaval. Previous work includes a dramatic script telling the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children which has been produced in four U.S cities, most recently in Boston. Elli is the wife of Robert Meeropol, youngest son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Elli is a former nurse and independent bookstore event coordinator and the author of two previous novels, House Arrest and On Hurricane Island. She is a founding member of Straw Dog Writers Guild. Short fiction and essays have appeared in Bridges, DoveTales, Pedestal, Rumpus, Portland Magazine, and the Writer’s Chronicle.  Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

Where did you grow up?

In the Washington, D.C. area. I was born in the city, then lived in various towns in Virginia and Maryland. It was a particularly wonderful place to be a teenager. Every Saturday my friend Susan and I took the bus into Georgetown for the bookstores and coffeehouses, and then on downtown to visit museums and art galleries. And one of the back stories for this new novel actually comes from my teen years living in a community near Glen Echo Amusement Park, which was segregated and the site of a major civil rights integration movement in 1960.

When did you begin writing?

I always wrote as a child – bad poetry and melodramatic plays, an essay about my parents’ square dance obsession that was published when I was 12, a column in my high school newspaper. But I didn’t start writing fiction, and writing seriously, until I was in my 50’s. I consider myself a literary late bloomer.

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

My writing habits have changed with my life circumstances. When I started writing fiction, I worked as a hospital-based nurse practitioner, so my day started early and ended when the last clinic patient was seen. I wrote after dinner until my eyes closed. When I left my job to write full-time, I continued that pattern until writing my second novel, On Hurricane Island. It’s a political thriller, and working on it before sleep gave me nightmares, so my writing schedule had to change. Now I write mostly in the morning and early afternoon, when I’m the most fresh and alert. And – sorry to say – frequently I also write in the wee hours, when insomnia strikes.

What is this book about?

Kinship of Clover is about how we try to make right the things we care about in the world that are wrong. The main characters are a botany college student who is desperate to save endangered plant species, and a lifelong radical activist who is losing herself to Alzheimer’s. These characters are linked by a 16-year-old girl who uses a wheelchair and has her own battles to fight regarding inclusion and change. The book has elements of magical realism that totally surprised me!

What inspired you to write it?

Jeremy, the college botany student, insisted I write it. He was a nine-year-old in my first novel, House Arrest, and he wasn’t done with me. I imagined him whispering in my ear, “Don’t you want to know what happened to me?” And, I did want to know. The other thing that inspired me were the notebooks I kept, recording conversations and bits of memory about my mother, who died in 2008 from complications of Alzheimer’s. Flo, the character in the book with Alzheimer’s is quite different from my mother, but they do share some personality traits, like being totally bossy and outrageous!

Who is your favorite character from the book?

I am very attached to the four main characters in the novel, Jeremy, Flo, Flo’s son Sam, and Flo’s granddaughter Zoe, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair for mobility. The fact that I love them all was one of the reasons I chose to write this book using an omniscient point of view. This allowed me to freely move from one character’s perspective into another, and sometimes pull way back and look at the story from a distance. Writing this way also provided a lot of anxiety – I had never tried it before, and it wasn’t easy to figure out how to make it work. If I use an omniscient POV again, maybe it’ll be smoother the second time around.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

With this book, the road to publication was smooth. It’s my third novel with Red Hen Press and I love working with them. I sent the manuscript to my editor and she liked it and that was that (well, not exactly of course. There’s always the contract to negotiate, and the title and jacket art, and revisions and editing, but those are easy issues compared to finding a publisher.) Having a press that’s a good match for my work, a literary home, is an enormous gift.

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

Anything different in writing this book? Not really. Sometimes I wish I were a more cerebral writer, that I knew where I was going when I started, but I don’t. I start with an image, or a “what if,” or a character’s demands whispered in my ear, and I follow my nose. One of my favorite quotes about writing is something I heard E.L. Doctorow say, that writing a novel is like driving a car on a dark forest road at night with just your parking lights. You can only see right in front of you, but that’s all you need. In general, that’s all I need, and I love exploring the road and seeing what the light illuminates, a little at a time.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

I work part-time in an independent bookstore, so my preference is always that readers go to their favorite local bookstore and, if they don’t have my book, ask them to order it. You can find a bookstore near you via Indiebound or purchase Kinship of Clover online.

What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?

The best investment I’ve made is hiring an independent publicist, one who with decades of experience, particularly promoting small press books. I call Mary Bisbee-Beek my fairy godmother, because …. well, because that’s what she is!

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?

Two pieces of advice: First read a lot, widely and deeply and read as a writer. When something strikes you, savor it and figure out why it works. I’ve learned so much from reading the books of writers I admire. Secondly, don’t give up. Writing is hard and it takes years for most of us to get good at it.

What is up next for you?

I’m finishing up my next novel, tentatively titled Her Sister’s Tattoo. It’s the story of two sisters, who are very close but become estranged after a political demonstration that goes wrong, and their lives change drastically. I say “finishing” with quotes and a small laugh because I’ve been working on this story for 17 years, and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right. Soon, in a few months if I’m lucky, I’ll send it off to my editor and see what she says.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you for the opportunity to “meet” your readers - it’s one of the biggest rewards of having a book out in the world.

1 comment:

Savvy Verse & Wit said...

This interview was fascinating. Thanks so much for being on the blog tour for this one.