Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Laura Ruby, I'm Not Julia Roberts

I had a really nice, detailed description of Laura Ruby's novel, I'm Not Julia Roberts in which I talked about how good her writing was and how I enjoyed this book and so on. Then my beloved computer crashed and I lost everything. Every interview I was working on, every novel I wrote (there were 3.5) and sadly, all my ipod tunes. I hold on to the glimmer of hope that my hard drive can be salvaged or else you will find me catatonic with a bottle of vodka in the closet.

I'm Not Julia Roberts is a collection of stories that make one big story, if that makes sense (read the book and it will). Characters are either somehow related or know each other. It's divorce and siblings and exes and friends. Thankfully Laura thoughtfully provided a list of who's who in the front of the book to keep everyone straight. The book is well written and fun and I had more eloquent things to say but I lost it along with Vanilla Ice's brilliant song, Ice, Ice Baby.

By the way, I just love this quote that Laura has on her website, "There are few things, apparently, more helpful to a writer than having once been a weird little kid"- Katherine Patterson. How brilliant and true is that!?

A couple of years ago, I met Gigi Levangie Grazer who wrote Stepmom which you reference in I’m Not Julia Roberts. Have you ever met anyone famous?

I met Julie Andrews once at a publishing party in LA a few years ago. I was chatting with some booksellers when a very hyper, very tan woman came over to us and asked the booksellers if they wanted to meet Julie. They said sure, and invited me to follow, so I did. They were introduced, and then I was, even though many of Julie's "handlers" seemed very peeved that I, a nobody, an unknown, had somehow horned in. There was a lot of sniffing and glaring and tapping of expensive pointy shoes. But Julie herself was lovely. She bumped my shoulder and said, "We writers have to stick together."

Are you a Julia Roberts fan?

I like her best when she plays bitchy girls. My favorite role of hers is Daisy in "Mystic Pizza."
Catchy title!

Thanks! This wasn't the original title. As a matter of fact, I was calling the book "Loopy" for the longest time until a friend pointed out that a story in the middle of the book called "I'm Not Julia Roberts" was the crux of the whole collection. I wasn't sure I could even use the title, or if I should. Would people think I wrote a biography? Would Julia be mad? After much hemming and hawing, I decided to go for it.

Which celebrity do you most resemble and why?

When I was a freshman in college, the guy who lived next door took one look at me and said I looked like Molly Ringwald. He wouldn’t call me anything but Molly, so there were many people who actually thought that was my real name. I was “Molly” for years.

Recently though, a friend asked me if I realized that had "a Debra Messing thing" going on. Both Debra and I have a pile of messy red hair, but I don’t think he meant how she looked as much as how she moves and speaks, how she seems to be a little (okay, a lot) neurotic and self-deprecating. How she's willing to play the straight man to funny people. That sounds like me.

What do you think of Britney Spears downward spiral? How would you help someone like her?

Funny you should mention Britney. I'M NOT JULIA ROBERTS just got a mention in recent edition of US Weekly, in the same issue that featured a half-shorn Britney Spears on the cover. Not something I’ll be framing.

I have NO clue how I would help that girl. Therapy? Drugs? Exorcism? Underwear?

How on earth did you keep all the characters straight in your head as you wrote this book? I had to keep flipping to the cast of characters in the front to understand who was who.

Well, I grew up in a blended family and married a man with two kids from a previous marriage, so I'm very used to keeping a lot of seemingly unconnected people straight. I have to use a lot of apostrophes to talk about the relationships of the people in my life: "My husband's children's mom's sister's husband was over yesterday, and he said..."

I wanted to capture those weird connections between people in I'M NOT JULIA ROBERTS. I wanted to take the broadest view of divorce and remarriage that I could, which meant numerous viewpoints to get across how complex, how difficult -- and how unexpectedly illuminating -- blended family life can be.

My plan was to write a story about a stepmother, move to her husband's ex-wife, then move to that woman's husband's ex, and so on, with most of the characters popping up in each other's stories. One of my characters describes her family as a bunch of balled up receipts at the bottom of a purse. I see the structure of this book much like the structure of blended families themselves: crazy, sprawling, hard to pin down.

You have experience in a few different genres- kids, teen and adult. Which age group do you identify with the most- playful and innocent children, sullen and misunderstood teens or wise adult who has been through it all?

I'm going to give the cop-out answer here: I identify with them all, which I why I write for so many different age groups.

But I have to admit my favorite characters are often the sullen, misunderstood teenagers. They might not be all that thrilling to live with, but they’re huge fun to write!

The dialogue is fabulous, in particular the scene at the mall around Christmas when everyone is tired and cranky. I thought that rang so true. Did that scene come from your observations or real life?

There are lines here and there that I pick up from real life – which, as soon as I hear them, announce loudly that I will be stealing them — but most of it is made up. Dialogue isn’t real speech, it’s only an approximation of real speech. If I transcribed real conversations, what you’d read would be something like:

“Hey. What are you doing?”
“Nothing. What are you doing?”
“Uh huh.”
“I’m kinda hungry. Are you hungry?”
“Want kabobs?”

In other words, booooring.

But dialogue is something else I have a great time writing. I will often write pages and pages of it, and have to cut way back on revision. I love to hear people talking, even imaginary people.

You and I are both from New Jersey! I knew I liked you. What part of Jersey are you from and do you ever miss the Garden State?

All the time. I grew up about 45 minutes out of NYC. My mom had had voice lessons when she was young so we all talked like newscasters – no accent. I always say that I never knew I was actually from anywhere until I left. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is beautiful, but I miss the ocean. And believe it or not, I miss the diners everywhere. I adore diners. French fries with gravy. Yum.

Do you have any music on your ipod that might be considered embarrassing? My friend Catherine laughed at me when she found out I downloaded Vanilla Ice.

YOU DOWNLOADED VANILLA ICE??? Hahahahahahahaha--

Eh hem. Let’s see…embarrassing…I have Abba. I have KC and the Sunshine Band. The Buggles. George Michael. Okay, I guess I can’t laugh at you anymore.

What is the last book you read? What kinds of books do you like to read?

I read absolutely everything. I just finished The Thirteenth Tale, which I really enjoyed. Also Jacques Pepin’s memoir – he’s the French guy who cooked with Julia Child on PBS – and I’m now in the middle of a kid’s fantasy novel. But my reading staple is mysteries. I eat mysteries like cookies. Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Jeffrey Deaver, Elizabeth George, and Ruth Rendell are some favorites.

Growing up, how did you think your life would play out and what did you expect to be doing at the age you are now?

When I was about twenty-five, some college friends traveled to see another girl who had moved up to the Syracuse area for grad school. We were all sitting around talking, and one friend asked us to describe what a perfect day in our future would be like. Here’s my “perfect” day: I wake up, put on a pot of coffee, feed my cats, say hello to my husband and kids, and then wander into my office to write.

This same friend reminded me recently of what I’d said that day. She said, “You’re living your perfect day every day!” And I guess I am.

Is there one book that you've read that has impacted your life?

I think you get attached to different books at different times of your life. When I was a kid, I adored Judy Blume, so I would say that her books helped me feel less alone in the world. (As a matter of fact, I have an essay in a new book called Everything I learned about being a girl I learned from Judy Blume.) When I got older, I read horror novels, Stephen King’s especially. I think that I viewed his vampires and ghosts as analogous to the horrors of adolescence, so those books were important in a different way.

When I was a senior in high school, we read Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I adored both of these plays, which tied into my own feelings that life was often absurd and meaningless, but at least it could be funny, too. I fell in love with the poetry of e.e. cummings and discovered that one could feel and express passionate love without being sappy or false.

As an adult, other books have become important to me: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well as Persuasion. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The stories of John Cheever and Lorrie Moore, which helped me believe I could be a writer.

So, I guess there’s no one book, but many that have been important to me. Hopefully, they’ll be more in my future.

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Blogger Manic Mom said...
OK, I've been searching for songs to add to my itunes list, and will be adding Vanilla Ice for sure now.

And to Laura, I also have Abba, KC, LL Cool J, High School Musical tunes, George Michaels... AND WHAM --"Bad Boys Stick Together..."

The book sounds fun! @ 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Ack! So sorry to hear about your computer meltdown! I'd fling myself out the window. I really hope you get your data back.

And Manic Mom, I thought I was the only one who'd admit to KC and George Micheal on the iPod...

Laura Ruby @ 7:19 PM  
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