A Lively GCC Interview!
As any of you who are writers know, humor is quite difficult to catch in fiction. Sheila does it so well... check out this excerpt!
I am a Food Evangelist, pressing recipes on my friends until they cry for mercy (click here for my salsa, salad dressing and pasta sauces).
The longest I’ve managed to stay on a diet can be counted in hours and on one hand.
I am terrified of making phone calls to people I don’t know, even if it’s to get my washer repaired or my teeth cleaned.
I once successfully gave up drinking for three days until my children and husband begged me to just have one beer.
I have been kept alive, literally and figuratively, by the affection and support of my family and friends, whose sum total is my proudest boast and matters much more to me than my bank balance or intelligence quotient.
To make money I've written grants, waited tables, tended bar and worked in the admissions office at an alcoholic treatment center. I have two children, a Master's degree in Comparative Literature, a standard poodle who gets suicidal when I leave the house, and an annoying habit of either talking-too-much-while-speaking-too-loud or having absolutely nothing to say, sometimes within the same five minutes. If 1950s children had been tested for their sense of direction, I’d have been institutionalized at a tender age, which would have made for a great memoir, but nixed the happy childhood, the serial wardrobe of plaid, pleated Catholic school outfits, and many other aspects of growing up in a loud, loving family that moved too often.
I am the sixth of ten children. My father's job, first as a fighter pilot and then a professor, meant we moved a lot. Eight times in eighteen years -- to be exact -- which may account for the extraordinarily closeness of the extended Curran clan, as well as our openness to new ideas. If moving does nothing else, it certainly shakes you loose of pre-conceived notions. I remember moving from Athens, Georgia to Youngstown, Ohio in ninth grade, and quickly discovering my Southern rules for social life weren't going to work too well in an urban, ethnic Midwestern city.
Solidifying my fate as a rolling stone who desperately yearned for moss, I met my husband, an aspiring academic, in college. Despite my fantasy of staying put, I followed him to graduate school in Chicago and then to various teaching jobs in New York, Virginia, Boston, Arizona, England, and Florida.
As an Air Force Brat, and then Trailing Spouse, I've observed the many ways one's identity can shift depending on random circumstance and networks of support from friends and family.
Once upon a time, in a modest suburb of Oxford England, lived a fair and noble woman who had slowly lost her powers. Married to Ted Lively, noted Arthurian scholar and internationally-recognized knave, Diana has forsaken her promise as an architect. She busies herself with her children, with her cottage practice as dollhouse maker, but mostly, with the illusion that her marriage is not nearly the prison her eldest son and best friend are constantly urging her to flee.
Deliverance arrives in the unlikely form of Wally Gold, Arizona’s “Ammo King,” who has journeyed to the College to dedicate a small library of Arthurian texts to his late wife’s memory. Shortly after meeting the Livelys, Wally has a vision. He will sell his ammunitions company and build the King Arthur Theme Park and Museum, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, next to the London Bridge.
As he knows nothing about King Arthur, or theme parks, for that matter, Wally decides he must have Ted Lively as on-site technical expert. Using the promise of an endowment as incentive, Wally brings Ted and his family to Phoenix. After lodging the family in an empty mansion built shortly before his wife’s death, Wally discovers Diana’s training in architecture. He encourages her to submit a bid for his park, his confidence in her buoyed by a series of affirmative Signs from his dead wife. The professor, meanwhile, sabotages Wally’s efforts, seeking only to return to England. Diana struggles between listening to her husband’s many objections, some explicitly protective, others subconsciously competitive, and embracing her own exhilaration in getting a second chance at something she’d long ago given up. Diana’s quest is supported by her son, Humphrey, an eighteen-year-old domestic diva, who takes on his mother’s reclamation with a fervor usually reserved for the latest peppermint sea-kelp pomade or the newest collection of Laura Ashley linens. Humphrey’s machinations are aided in turn by Audrey, Wally’s seventeen year old daughter, an environmental activist whose blond hair and blue eyes have not dissuaded her from believing she’s Native American, and whose developing crush on Humphrey appears to be similarly delusional. This cast of characters is rounded out by William, 10, a genius with numbers, Eleanor, 4, kleptomaniac-at-large, and Mary Kate, the ghost of Wally’s late wife, whose personality emerges to counter the idealized version her affectionate husband continues to sculpt, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
Beautifully detailed and rich in exceptional characterization, Curran's novel gently reminds readers that fantasy has a place in everyone's life. Uniquely uplifting and never didactic, this is a gem.
~“BOOKLIST,” Starred Review
DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN is a terrific pick-me-up. You couldn't find two more disparate landscapes than Oxford, England and Arizona, and that's exactly what one British woman discovers when she crosses the Pond to find herself a fish-out-of-water -- only to realize that for the first time in her life, this means she can stand on her own two feet. Filled with characters who make you laugh out loud even as they break your heart, this is a funny, warm, inventive, original book.
~Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of VANISHING ACTS, and MY SISTER’S KEEPER
Brilliant, touching, and funny as hell, Diana Lively packs a powerful punch. A poignant and biting satire... this spirited romp through an Englishwoman's Arizona deserves a unique place of honor on any bookshelf... Wry, engaging, and wise beyond words, Diana is bound to delight and amaze. ~Carlos Eire, 2003 National Book Award winner for WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA
Captivating, fast-paced, no-holds-barred storytelling, Diana Lively is Falling Down defies pigeon-holing. Wrestling the complexities of motherhood, loss and betrayal, politics, the environment, and theme parks, it is at once intimate, domestic, and worldly. A debut to celebrate!
~Julianna Baggott GIRLTALK, THE MISS AMERICA FAMILY, THE MADAM
Diana Lively's First Annual Vile Husband Contest~
Send us your account of the absolutely worst husband you have encountered or heard about. The story must be true. Sort of.
Vile husbands come in all shapes and sizes. The species we’re hunting here is that subtle miscreant whose behaviors haven’t landed him in jail or divorce court. Nevertheless, he’s the sort of chap who inspires observers to fantasize longingly about an unfortunate bus accident, a humiliating demotion, or even the heart-break of psoriasis. He is the kind of guy you love to hate.
No real names, please.
Submissions must be between 1 and 3 pages (750 words maximum).
Stories (or essays) must be true, or must make us believe they’re true.
A winner will be announced in each of the following categories: Comedy, Psychodrama, Theatre of the Absurd.
Winning essays will be published on this website December 1st, 2005, and circulated via blogs and e-mail subscriptions to throngs of readers eager to discover just how much worse they could have it when it comes to romantic entanglements.
Winners will receive a signed first-edition of DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN, publication credit, a static-cling rear window decal, and the eternal admiration of throngs of gentle readers.
MO'C: Sheila, thanks for agreeing to this interview
SC: You're welcome.
MO'C: First things first. Where did you get the idea for this novel?
SC: I was living in Oxford, England with my husband, who was visiting at one of the colleges. One night, towards the end of the term, he invited me to High Table, a lovely butler-served meal in an elevated setting. Next to me was an older woman, married to another esteemed professor, both of whom were guests at the college. She saw my name tag and commented that it was a good thing I had a different last name than my husband. "Why?" I asked. She replied that wives weren't encouraged to attend high table. "How does that make you feel?" I asked. She paused and then responded that she had thought about it, and realized that the purpose of High Table was the exchange of ideas. "And," she added. "Women who are home with their children all day, what could they add to the conversation?" You can find the longer version at either my website http://www.sheilacurran.com under Real Life Roots of Fiction or M.J. Rose's backstory.
MO'C: Describe your writing day/process.
SC: Wake up, put puppy out to pee, water to boil for coffee, construct lunch for daughter, wake daughter, remember puppy has probably been stolen, go outside to find her tangled in bushes, remember that I didn't put white load in dryer, thus no socks. Make lunches, make coffee, drive to school with puppy on front seat. Drop daughter at school, drive home, inveigh puppy to poop and pee and make half-hearted attempts to play. Drink gallon of French Press coffee and sit in lovely armchair with ottoman and puppy tethered to me. Read emails, try not to surf, read the writing from the day or two before and take it from there. Get up many many times to take dog to pee, self to pee, self to eat, self to clean, self to tweez unsightly and impertinent hairs from inappropriate facial areas. Remember that load of whites now must be run through with vinegar to prevent it from smelling like nearby wildlife refuge. Call friend to ask how much vinegar. Stay on phone for too long discussing the causes and cures of inappropriate facial hairs, spots and wrinkles. and so forth.
MO'C: Are any of the characters like you? Why or why not?
SC: Most of them are, to a certain extent. I'm similarly high strung near insects, like Diana, I have a very microscopic genius at remembering certain numbers like William, I love linens like Humphrey, I'm impulsive, like Wally and acquisitive, like Eleanor. And Ted, like, I love martinis.
MO'C: You received a good many excellent blurbs and reviews for the novel. How did you manage this?
SC: Wow, I didn't know I did. I never knew Jodi Picoult and sweated bullets while it sat with her, I asked Carlos Eire to read it, and Julianna Baggott offered to look at my first chapter, then my book, then offered to blurb it. The booklist was a lovely surprise. I didn't get covered by PW or Kirkus or the NY Times or the Post, so I felt rather shabby.
MO'C: Can you comment a bit on the use of humor in novels? How do you use it, and do you have any techniques or tips for would-be writers?
SC: Hmnn...I don't know know how I do humor. I guess I'd say there's a lot of humor in simple everyday life, things we all do and are either annoyed at or just tickled by. But I'm not sure how it works, except to relax and think about what is funny to you. Very sorry...terrifically bad at this question.
MO'C: What's your best piece of advice for aspiring novelists?
SC: Don't take rejection personally and just write everyday and pat yourself on the back for that alone. Don't worry about what sells and what doesn't.
MO'C: Which team is your NCAA basketball pick for the 2006 tourney? (My pick's the Zags...)
SC: Yikes. Okay, I used the "Ask a friend," and asked my husband. His pick is Duke. I'm hopeless at any sport except my own...and that would be tennis and I'm a choker, hack and loser but I do love it.
MO'C: What's next for Sheila Curran?
SC: Immediately, a trip to Florence with two of my sisters. I'm working on a novel about women friends in a small southern town, with the philosophical question being, where do one's obligations to the group begin and to the self end?
MO'C: It's been most interesting, Sheila. Thanks so much for visiting the blog!
SC: Thank you for inviting me.
Check out Sheila's site, and order her book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the bestest choice, your local indie bookseller.