Where do you get your ideas from?
It’s different every time, but it always takes me by surprise. Usually it’s my wanting to answer a question that’s of personal interest, and it’s usually a question about human behavior. Then I project it into another time and place, and get to pretend it has nothing to do with me.
I’ve been Googling and don’t see anything about your screenwriting.
That’s right, you don’t. One of the weird things about screenwriting is that you can make a living at it without ever seeing your scripts get produced. Your work gets optioned; you’re hired to do rewrites or polishes; you’re brought in as a script consultant. All that happened to me. I won an award, but I remain unproduced. To stay sane in LA over the course of three years, I wrote a monthly newsletter called Nicki’s Hollywood Diary accounting my hilariously painful experiences. I guess I should try to publish that.
What are your favorite books?
I used to have a long list of books I’ve loved, but I read too much to keep it updated. So I replaced it with a list of my favorite writers, but I couldn’t keep that updated either. It was pretty random – Dorothy Parker next to Kazuo Ishiguro, Kurt Vonnegut alongside to Tolstoy and Isabel Allende. It had comedians and playwrights and essayists as well as novelists, and it included too many dead white guys to be considered a hip reading list.
The medievalist in me has appreciated Georges Duby, Henri Pirenne, and Eileen Power.
What advice can you give me on becoming a writer?
I am completely devoid of wisdom on this topic. But here’s two quotes I like a lot:
Stephen King’s advice is: “Read a lot and write a lot.”
Bernard Malamud says: “You start by sitting down and writing.”
How do you write?
I used to have a definitive answer to this, but the truth is, I don’t know anymore. My MO changes with every project, depending on my life circumstances. (My life circumstances change with remarkable frequency. It’s a little alarming how often people tell me I should write a memoir, given I am only 45.)
How did you earn a living along the way?
Actor, director, theatre teacher, lighting designer, therapeutic massage therapist (massage school being the obvious thing to do after graduation from Harvard), magazine editor, copy editor, copy writer, script doctor, riding instructor, art school model, environmental activist, personal assistant to a TV star, temp, waitress and barrista. I’m sure I’ve left out a few things, but those are the highlights.
In hindsight, nearly all of those jobs taught me things that are good to know as a novelist (As an artist’s model, for example, I learned to stay in one position without moving for long periods, which now happens frequently at the keyboard.)
What’s it like growing up on a chic summer resort island?
Living on Martha’s Vineyard year-round, especially for a kid, is nothing at all like vacationing here. When I growing up, it was the poorest county in Massachusetts. It was very quiet in winter. My mother’s roots here go back to the 1600′s and I think it was pretty quiet back then too.
And the other side of your family?
On my father’s side, I’m first-generation American. My father was born in Mumbai, while it was Bombay – his parents were both fleeing persecution circa WWII: Grandpa is a Berlin Jew and Grandma is an Iraqi-Kurdish Jew. These grandparents raised me when I was very young, so I went from a household that was Old-World cosmopolitan and very consciously Jewish, to a cabin my lapsed-Catholic Yankee step-dad built by hand in the New England woods.
I very dearly treasure having had both of those environments in my life, but my creating characters who are straddling cultures is probably autobiographical in impulse. “Nuclear family” is not a phrase I really understand on a gut level. “Pantheon,” however, has great resonance.