Laura Moriarty has to go pick up her 5-year-old from daycare before the traffic gets bad in North Lawrence. She also has to plan for an upcoming business trip and simultaneously worry about her daughter beginning kindergarten this year. All in all, she’s a thoroughly modern and typical single parent.
Not quite so typical, however, is the job sending her on that business trip. Moriarty is a best-selling author who will soon embark on a book tour for the release of her new novel, “While I’m Falling.”
The KU grad and Lawrencian has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of her two previous works, "The Rest of Her Life" and “The Center of Everything,” and she’s already working on a follow up to “While I’m Falling.” Laura Moriarty joined us for a discussion about her new book and life as a literary celebrity living in Lawrence—and then she had to run and pick up her daughter.
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Falling Into Place: An interview with Lawrence author Laura Moriarty
Bestselling author Laura Moriarty is out with her third novel, "While I'm Falling." The KU grad and Lawrencian has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of her two previous works, "The Rest of Her Life" and “The Center of Everything,” and she’s already working on a follow up to “While I’m Falling.” Laura Moriarty joined us for a discussion about her new book and life as a literary celebrity living in Lawrence—and then she had to run and pick up her daughter.
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lawrence.com: Tell us a little bit about “While I’m Falling.” What can we expect?
Moriarty: Well, it’s my first book set in Lawrence and eastern Kansas. The main character is a junior at KU who lives in a very, very large dorm — which I call Tweete Hall, but you’ll probably recognize it as McCollum.
Her parents live in Kansas City, and they’re going through a very harsh divorce. The mother is experiencing financial problems and Veronica, the 20-year-old protagonist, is having problems in her own young life. She’s a student who has to navigate her own life choices — career and love and money — as she watches her mother free fall into poverty.
Sounds like a real pick-me-up.
(laughs) Well, it does have some humor.
Was there any real world inspiration for “While I’m Falling”? Maybe drawn from your own history as a student at KU?
Some of it. I was pre-med, and Veronica is pre-med. I was bent on being a doctor. I remember one of those classes of 900 people, organic chemistry, where they said “Look to your right. Look to your left. Only one of you will be here at the end.” It was a nice way to force you to hate your neighbors.
There was a real competitiveness and intensity and stress. I kept up with it for a while, but then I realized I wanted to be a writer. I would have been a bad doctor, but it really felt bad to give up on it. I became another one who dropped out of the way to success and female independence.
- When: Thursday, August 6, 2009, 7 p.m.
- Where: Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., Lawrence
- Cost: Free
- More on this event....
Fast forward to years and years later and I recently read this book called “The Feminine Mistake.” It’s non-fiction and said women have to stop opting out. Even if their husbands make a ton of money, they have to keep working. Men can die, divorce you, get involved with gambling, run off with Argentineans — all sorts of craziness. The book argued that, for yourself and for your children, you really do need to keep your job no matter what. It was pretty dogmatic. I saw the author on TV once, and women were saying, “Well, that would be great, but I have twins with autism.” And she’s like, “I don’t care. Go back to work!”
I’m sympathetic to that argument of constantly working, but now that I have friends making that very decision, I can see how complicated it gets. If you want to get married and have kids, someone has to give, and there are real economic ramifications. Even though I now have both a career and a kid — I’m a working mother — 20 years ago I made the decision to drop out of pre-med. That was my own opting out.
“While I’m Falling” is my attempt to understand those decisions without being dogmatic. It asks questions and examines the choices that go along those decisions.
How does “While I’m Falling” fit in thematically with your previous books? Is it new territory or is it a continuation of topics and themes you’ve explored in the past?
All of my books so far have been about a daughter and a mother. I’m interested in different generations and the ways they play off each other. In my first novel, “The Center of Everything,” the mother and daughter were the two main characters. In my next novel, “The Rest of Her Life,” I brought in a father and a son as sub-characters. In this one, the father/daughter relationship is also examined. Not as much as the mother/daughter relationship, but I really am interested in men and their relationships with families. I think the character list grows a little with every book, but they all look at families and personalities and conflicts. I guess the term is “domestic drama,” which is redundant. It’s something we all have.
It’s a rote and cliché question, but did you use your own relationship with your mother as fodder for “While I’m Falling”?
No. Uh-uh. Nope. I made this one up. I have previously, actually, but not for this book. My parents did get divorced when I was a sophomore, so there’s a little bit of that, but it happens to a lot of people. The kid goes away to school and the parents go, "OK, we’re done. Bye bye!”
Are you ever concerned that you’re going to be pigeonholed as a “chick lit” author?
Oh yeah, definitely. You know, I just got a really nice review for “While I’m Falling” that called it “intelligent chick lit” (Note: that review is posted in the comments below**). The “intelligent” made all the difference. But really, almost any book written by a woman — and there are only a few women who get away from this — is considered “Women’s Literature.” In almost any bookstore, they’ll put you under “women’s literature.” I always think, “Well, ‘Moby Dick’ isn’t ‘men’s literature.’ ‘Lord of the Flies’ isn’t ‘men’s literature.’”
My agent gave it to me straight one time — men don’t really read women writers. There’s always one guy who’s like, “I read it!” But he’s the only guy. I used to worry about it, but there’s nothing wrong with writing for women. I was talking to a male author once who said, “Cry me a river.” Because the truth is that women buy more books. Being a “women’s literature” author is kind of a nice problem to have. It’s a good audience.
Do you focus much on literary style or are you more concerned with just telling a story?
I’m pretty much concerned with story telling, but with “While I’m Falling” I tried for something lighter. I know it sounds like a sad book, it has divorce and poverty, but it actually has a lot of humor in it. I was also going for more plot in a shorter span of time in this one. This one takes place in a few months, while my other novels cover longer periods of time. I was also thinking film-wise with this book. I saw it cinematically. I don’t know if it will be made into a movie or whatever, but I thought of it in more of a visual way.
Any hopes that it might be adapted into a film?
According to the agent in L.A., maybe. She’s all excited. But we’ll see — you never know.
What do you hope to accomplish as a writer? Where do you want to push your work from here?
I’ll always be learning as a writer. It’s hard to just get people in and out of rooms. I don’t know if I have set goals, but I want to work on my language and my realism. I hope someday to work on a huge, expansive, complicated plot. I love those epic kinds of books.
What kind of impact do you hope your work has on an audience?
I hope it’s OK to say, but I like to think I provide comfort and understanding for readers. In the end I got my undergrad degree in social work, not pre-med. I find it really gratifying when I get letters from readers who say how one of my books helped them. I feel kind of bad that I’m not in a helping profession. I didn’t go to medical school and I’m no longer a social worker, so it’s nice that I can do what I really love and still help to ease discomfort on some level.
Why do you still live in Lawrence? You’re a member of the literati now. You can jet-set off to Paris or New York if you’d like. Why stay here?
You know, I’ve lived all over because my dad was a Marine. I came here for college, but was in New England — working with pregnant teens in Portland, Maine — when my first book was published. It occurred to me after I got the advance that I could live anywhere. I picked Lawrence because, for one, it’s cheap to live here. You make what you make as an author. Really, though, I just love this town. I really connect with this place more than any other place that I’ve lived, and I’ve lived in a lot of places. Different countries, different states — I just love this town. I know that I set this book in Lawrence, but this isn’t my “Lawrence novel.” That’s something I still want to write.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a big dry erase board with plot points and interconnecting pieces of string or something?
With the first book, I did. In “The Center of Everything” I wanted it to be set during Reagan’s presidency, so I really did have this huge chart on my wall to line things up. I can’t believe it worked out because it was so complicated. Writing that book was a weird year. After that, I make an outline for each book. The outline changes and gets more detailed before I sit down to write, but then I get to writing it scene by scene, 1,000 words a day.
Now that I have a child, I have a workaday life. It’s not like I’m staying up until 4 a.m. with a bottle of vodka waiting for the mood to strike. A thousand words a day isn’t that much. If you do it five days a week, you’ll have a novel at the end of the year. It’s like working out, you know? You just have to force yourself to do it and you’ll feel better about yourself after you do it. Dorothy Parker said, “I don’t like writing, I like having written.”
Is your daughter aware that mommy is a famous writer?
No, she doesn’t get the “famous” part. I’ll tell her when I have to go on a book tour, and to her it’s like “Blah, blah, blah.” She’s just not that interested. She’s grown up just having it in her midst. She did surprise me the other day when she knew the name of my new book, but she doesn’t care when she sees me on a book jacket or something. It doesn’t impress her as much as candy or Barbie Princess.