Author Talk: May 2003
For this special Bookreporter.com Author Talk feature, M.J. Rose, author of SHEET MUSIC and FLESH TONES, sat down and answered questions from her readers.
TPC: Has a loved one ever told you "stop acting like one of your characters?"
MJR: Yes. I have been told to stop being putting on a pickle puss like the teenage daughter in my second novel, IN FIDELITY.
Tana B: How do you start writing a book?
MJR: I don't write a word. For at least two or three months, I work on my main character's scrapbook. The very process of collecting her preferred poems, swatches of her favorite colors, and petals from the flowers she grows gives me time to find her.
Tana B: Are you disciplined, like Woody Allen (writing eight hours a day), or like Dick Cavett, who wanted to be disciplined like Woody Allen, but who said he'd drop a pencil, find an old New Yorker magazine and spend the rest of the day reading
MJR: I am disciplined but only because I really love writing so very much and am happiest when I'm lost in the dream that is unfolding on the page. About everything else I am very undisciplined. If only I could be as good about going to the gym as I am about sitting down at the computer. (Sigh.)
TPC: As an adolescent, were you more like Holden Caulfield or Jo March?
MJR: Jo March all the way.
Kat W: In SHEET MUSIC and others of your novels, Mother-Daughter relationships crop up in many of your books. Why is that?
MJR: I wanted to be a psychologist and who we are and how we got that way is endlessly fascinating to me. What my characters go through is not just a result of who they are today, but who their parents were and how that effected them. So much of our development as people has to do with our mothers and fathers. I think looking at all four of my novels there are two that have very strong mother-daughter themes --- SHEET MUSIC and IN FIDELITY. And two that have stronger father- daughter themes --- LIP SERVICE and FLESH TONES. I guess I'm due for a father & son book next.
Kat W: Your books discuss sex frankly and the erotic is never far from the surface in them. Would you talk about this aspect of your writing?
MJR: William Faulkner said the only things worth writing about are the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself. And more than one critic has said that is what I write about. I'm flattered. But I also agree.
And when the heart your subject matter, if you are true to your characters, you find your self dealing with people's psychology and therefore their sexuality. And so as sex is part of life it is part of my novels.
Sexuality and sensuality are also better suited to being explored in as opposed to other media. You can write about people touching each other and have the reader feel as if she o in a more intimate way without an actor's reality interfering.
(Plus, it's really fun to write about.)
Pumpernickel: Have any of your characters ever "disagreed" with you during the process of your writing?
MJR: Yes. And not only was it disconcerting, it was scary as hell. It was in a book that has never been published... and a character murdered a child. I was horrified. That came out of my mind? I didn't write for a week. In fact I went to a therapist to find out what was wrong with me that a fictitious person, I invented, turned on me and did something so despicable.
The therapist actually laughed and said: "Congratulations, you are a writer. Go home and write."
Lauren BL: Readers, including acquaintances of the author, occasionally confuse the actions and desires of the heroine to be those of the author herself. Have you ever run into any problems with this?
MJR: All the time. The most absurd was when my first novel was published, a friend of mine who went to college with me called me to tell me how angry she was at me because I never told her that I had a nervous breakdown in college. She said she couldn't believe she'd known me the whole time and never had noticed or known about.
"That's because I never had a nervous breakdown in college."
"But your main character had a nervous breakdown in college!"
Pumpernickel: Have you ever sort of taken it out on someone you do not like by transforming him or her more or less into a nasty character in any of your books?
MJR: I admit that I have done that. More than once. And its so satisfying, I'm sure I'll do it again. I also have done the opposite. In SHEET MUSIC, I transformed someone who I adore into one of the characters of the book. But I'll never say who's who.
TPC: If you rented a summer home on an island on which you were the only inhabitant, would it be worse to discover that there were only Henry James books on the shelves or Jerry Lewis movies by the TV?
MJR: Far worse to find there were only Jerry Lewis movies.