This week begins the first of three visitations--no, not the ghosts of Christmas! These are three lovely women who, along with me, are the founding members of Rocketgirls, a collaborative web presence devoted to writing. The official web site is almost finished and when it is, I'll link to it here. Meanwhile, please enjoy the effervescent, joyful and talented Ms. Gerhman. Today we start with an interview. Wednesday and Friday I'll post writing excerpts of hers.
Jody Gehrman grew up in northern California, a place that has gotten so thoroughly into her blood she's been forced to return. She attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied playwriting and Japanese. College confirmed her commitment to writing, and after graduation she freelanced as a journalist in San Francisco before becoming a contributing editor at The San Francisco Review of Books. In 1996, Gehrman won a New Women Playwrights Award for Tribal Life in America; she has had nine of her plays produced across the country.
Writing is Gehrman's primary obsession, but she still indulges in other forms of exhibitionism now and then. She's been an aspiring singer-songwriter since she was eight, and she performs frequently as an actress. In 1998 she founded the Women's Theater Ensemble in Bellingham, Washington where she wrote and performed her one-woman show, Stone Sisters. She considers her addiction to the arts to be a direct bi-product of her bohemian upbringing; as a kid she spent weekends at her father's commune in Berkeley, hanging out with his anarchist friends.
Like many writers, Gehrman has had way too many jobs and addresses; she has been a massage therapist, an editor, a cocktail waitress, a publicist, and a travel writer. She has lived in California, Spain, Texas, Japan, Washington and Canada. She has an MA in English and a Masters in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California. She currently teaches writing at Mendocino College in northern California.
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Regardless of how your books have been marketed, how do you qualify the genre you like to write in? In other words what turns you on enough that you can begin a novel?
I BEGIN WITH A CHARACTER NAME AND WORK FROM THERE. ONCE I FIND THE CHARACTER'S NAME AND A THEIR BASIC APPEARANCE, MAYBE A FEW QUIRKS, I GET CURIOUS ABOUT WHO THEY REALLY ARE AND WHAT MAKES THEM TICK; THEIR STORY UNFOLDS FROM THERE. SETTING IS ANOTHER MAJOR PLEASURE FOR ME-FINDING THE RIGHT WORLD FOR THIS CHARACTER TO INHABIT. I GUESS I'D CLASSIFY MY NOVELS AS COMING OF AGE STORIES OF VARIOUS HUES. THE CHARACTERS IN MY ADULT FICTION TEND TO BE ON THE MOVE, TRYING TO FIND THEMSELVES THROUGH ADVENTURE, THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE, THROUGH ENTERING ALIEN LANDSCAPES. THOSE ARE COMING OF AGE NOVELS FOR LATE BLOOMERS, I GUESS. MY YOUNG ADULT FICTION SO FAR IS MUCH MORE CONTAINED GEOGRAPHICALLY, BUT THE WORLD OF A TEENAGE GIRL IS SO INTENSE, IT HARDLY REQUIRES ANY ROAMING--THE ADVENTURE IS HAPPENING IN HER BEDROOM, HER LOCKER, HER HEAD.
Though it's clear that writing is where it's at for you, you have a real love of theater, too, and even started a women's theater group in Washington state. Most writers are introverts, so how'd you come by that "exhibitionist" streak as you refer to it?
I'VE ALWAYS LOVED THE STAGE, SINCE I WAS A LITTLE KID. I FIND MANY WRITERS TO BE AT LEAST MILDLY THEATRICAL. THEATRE AND FICTION SPRING FROM A SIMILAR INSTINCT--THE DESIRE TO BE SOMEONE ELSE FOR AWHILE, TO TRANSCEND OUR OWN SMALL SELVES.
As someone who has published multiple books (Summer in the Land of Skin; Tart) now and has new one (Confessions of a Triple-Shot Betty) coming out soon, what has been the most unexpectedly positive, and unexpectedly negative aspect of being a published author?
POSITIVE: SOMETIMES WHEN PEOPLE READ MY BOOKS THEY START TO FEEL LIKE THEY KNOW ME. IT'S A LITTLE CONFUSING, BUT ALSO SORT OF GREAT, BECAUSE IT CUTS THROUGH ALL THE AWKWARDNESS WE TEND TO FEEL AROUND STRANGERS. I'LL BE AT THE GYM AND SOMEONE IN THE LOCKER ROOM WILL COME UP TO ME
WHILE I'M APPLYING DEODORANT AND SHE'LL BE LIKE, "READ YOUR BOOK. LOVED IT!" SHE'LL THEN PROCEED TO TALK TO ME LIKE WE'RE INCREDIBLY INTIMATE FRIENDS, EVEN THOUGH I DON'T KNOW HER NAME. IT'S WEIRD BUT WONDERFUL.
NEGATIVE: THE DISMISSIVE ATTITUDE SURROUNDING "CHICK LIT" MAKES ME CRAZY. WHEN YOU'RE MARKETED IN A CERTAIN WAY, PEOPLE SOMETIMES THINK IT'S OKAY TO TELL YOU THE BOOK YOU JUST SLAVED OVER FOR SEVERAL YEARS IS "CUTE." THAT REALLY SHOCKED ME AND MADE ME FEEL SMALL.
Okay, from one bohemian child to another, please dish on your father's commune. Voyeuristic readers want to know what it was like.
"COMMUNE" IS POSSIBLY A MISLEADING TERM FOR THE WORLD MY FATHER ESCAPED TO IN THE EIGHTIES. IT WASN'T A GOATS AND HERB GARDEN TYPE COMMUNE; IT WAS MUCH MORE URBAN. HE WAS A FULL TIME PEACE ACTIVIST LIVING IN BERKELEY AND ALL HIS ACTIVIST FRIENDS POOLED RESOURCES TO LIVE IN A BIG, RAMSHACKLE HOUSE WITH AN ORGONE BOX IN THE BACKYARD WHERE THEY'D DROP ACID AFTER A LONG DAY AT THE PEACE CAMP. I LOVED HIS SCENE, THOUGH IT WAS SOMETIMES OVERWHELMING. I WAS LIKE TWELVE, FROM A VERY SMALL TOWN AND I WAS DISCUSSING CARL JUNG AND WILHELM REICH WITH DRAG QUEENS AND BEARDED FEMINISTS AND I FELT LIKE MY MIND WOULD EXPLODE. I'M VERY THANKFUL TO MY FATHER FOR EXPANDING MY WORLD, THOUGH I'M ALSO REALLY GLAD I HAD MY MOM'S MORE STABLE ENVIRONMENT TO COME HOME TO.
What elements do you have to work out ahead of time before writing a novel? How much is planned, in other words, and how much is organically discovered?
IT REALLY VARIES FOR ME DEPENDING ON THE BOOK. LATELY I FIND IF I CAN SCRATCH OUT A FIVE PAGE SYNOPSIS LOOSELY OUTLINING THE THEMES AND THE PLOT, I'M HAPPIEST FINDING THE REST AS I GO. WHEN I REVISE, THOUGH, OR GET STUCK MIDWAY, I OFTEN HAVE TO JUST BRAINSTORM AND OUTLINE FOR PAGES AND PAGES TO FIND MY WAY BACK TO SOME UNIFIED VISION.
Okay, here's a hypothetical. If you were forced to give up both writing and theater, what else would you do with your life?
HMMM...I THINK I WOULD DANCE AND BE A MUSICIAN. THESE ARE BOTH PASSIONS I'VE PUT VARYING DEGREES OF ENERGY INTO AT EARLIER STAGES IN MY LIFE, SO IT WOULDN'T BE ENTIRELY NEW. IT'S ALL THE SAME THING, REALLY--IT ALL SPRINGS FROM A NEED TO SYNTHESIZE AND EXPRESS THE WORLD WE'VE ABSORBED THROUGHOUT THE DAY...AN ONGOING EFFORT TO MAKE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL.
Buy Jody's Books:
Summer in the Land of Skin
Notes from the Backseat (January)
Confessions of a Triple-Shot Betty (April)