IFOA Event #4 (and the last for me)

Revolutions - a round table

Host Shinan Govani

Authors:
Janet Fitch - Paint it Black
Ami McKay - The Birth House
Claire Messud - The Emperor's Children
Meg Wolitzer - The Position
So I had never attended a round table before . I kind of wondered about the topic for this one. "Writers speak on the fictionalization of political, sexual, and pop culture revolutions." Now, I could see how these books loosely sort of touch on these things but it didn't seem to me that any of the women set out to write about a revolution. My notes get sketchy after awhile because I got a bit too interested in in listening. Comments in [ ] are mine.
The author on the chair in this, and all, events is Win Tin (you need Acrobot reader for the page to load).

Research
J.F. - Can be led astray by research, or what she called "research rapture", because you come across such beautiful storied but ultimately they can lead you away from your story. So she imagines and writes first and then researches specific events.
A.M. - As her research dealt prodominately with the WWI years she had to find "the voice of the era" for her narrator. She knew that her narrators voice could not be her voice. She read a lot of journals and letters.
M.W. - She admires people who can do search because she's bad at it. So she limits herself to times that she remembers. Her book stems from finding her parent's copy of The Joy of Sex. In her book the parents write a Joy of Sex-type book and she had to come with a name for a position so she tried to come up with a horrifying 70s name. The result? "The Electric Forgiveness."

The host ask Ami why midwives?
A.M. - She told him the story of their house, etc. and said that she wanted to explore multiple facets of women's lives - not just childbirth but also their sexual lives. She talked about "hysteria" and all the things that could lead to a diagnosis [did you know that reading too many novels was a "symptom" of hysteria? All us book bloggers would be screwed]. She makes parallels between the hysteria diagnosis and the "are you feeling ____? Call your doctor. He can help" ads. Women can feel emotions without being told that there's something "wrong" with them.

M.W. - When she starts to read a novel after the first few pages she asks why the author is telling her this. Her books deals with a book about sex [a book in a book - I like those] . In the US right now (and many other places) we have access to 24hr sex, porn, etc. She traces it back to the Joy of Sex but sees JoS having a sweetness and innocence to it in comparison to the coarness of the discussion of sex today. [She also made a comment (I think it was her) about how today we have both this 24hr sex available to us and yet an atmosphere of piety...]

Parent-child relationship
M.W. - Her book is about the expectations that children have or their parents. [I'm sure most of us expect our parents not to write a Joy of Sex-type book - I could see how that would be troubling to teens.]
C.M. - She looks at the parent-child relationship in a different way. What happens when I child wants to enter the same field as a parent when the parent is quite successful at it.It's a burden of a different kind because you are always a child to your parents [M.W. commented on this as well] and sometimes it can be easier to define yourself by going against your parents than by standing in their light.
M.W. - Her mother was also a novelist. She hated it because no one else had a novelist mother. She wished she would be "normal" be a travel agent or something.
J.F. - In talking about what makes us different she talks about our flaws. They are what make us who we are. [She also talked about the competitiveness of classical pianists...]

Then the host turned to A.M. and asked for her Oprah story.
A.M. - She had been a closet writer. Her husband knew about her writing and was gently pushing her to put it out there. A.M. had been musically trained and had done the competition circuit both for piano and voice and knew about rejection and wasn't quite ready to go there with her writing yet. Her husband dared her to put her writing out there as a New Year's Eve Resolution. She decided to start writing thank you notes to people - "random acts of gratitude." Her husband saw this is a bit of a way of sneaking around writing so he told it be better be someone "big". So she wrote to Oprah. And then she was on the Oprah show. Afterwards she knew that if she could go on Oprah and tell the personal story that she did [she was in a bad car accident] she knew she could put her writing out there.

Movie/show options
M.W. - Her book, Positions, was optioned by HBO for a series but that feel through [it was affectionally called "6 inches under"]. But it looks like it may be getting made into a feature. She doesn't get really involved but kind of sees it as extra money - a bonus - a way to support her kids for another year.

On the relative invisibility of authors
J.F. - Lives in L.A. so sees the invisibility as a sort of bonus.

This is where my notes drop off. I have a few random notes. The host referred to C.M.'s characters as "over-educated" which resulted in a "Huh!' from C.M. She then asked if having a college degree made one "over-educated". It was decided her characters were "educated". Her reaction was just funny. She admits that her characters are very ambitious though. She also talks about how it is abotu a particular crowd of people that sort of live in the media world - a sort of subculture.

Somehow this led to a discussion of today's youth and how they seem to lack ambition to be anything. They don't want to do anything. But they want to be rich.

The talk about subcultures lead to a discussion about blogs, brought up by A.M. [We knew we liked her.] She finds blogs quite fascinating. The others less so and don't seem to get why people write not as themselves. Why people assume different identities.

[I think the issue is whereas the authors see themselves as living on through their books for years, blogs are more about communication and connecting with people now (IMO). During the Q&A I was tempted to ask them their thoughts about bloggers who are getting book deals but my voice wasn't strong enough to carry.]

I believe that after that was the Q&A session. Nothing seemed to stick out enough for me to write down.

It was a good round table in the sense that the discussion was interesting. I don't think it was the greatest "theme" for the discussion or for the authors.

Meg Wolitzer was very funny. I'd love to sit down for a dinner and a few bottles of wine with her. I have a feeling I'd laugh a lot. And that was my final IFOA event. I think that next year I'll try to get to more. There's just something surreal about seeing authors everywhere but at the same time it's really fun. And you get the sense that the authors are having fun too. Oh I forgot to mention that immediately before the roundtable I bumped into Ami and she introduced me to both Claire Messud and Meg Wolitzer. And after the event I saw Janet Fitch chatting with Jane Hamilton. They were both going to be doing readings the next night.

The IFOA is fun. If you are looking for other coverage of it both Zesty and Ragdoll attended IFOA events. (We didn't meet up cause I forgot to text Ragdoll on Sunday but the three of us were at two the same events.)