Book Week on Mummy Mayhem continues...
In the northern summer of 2004, Lisa Genova – a trained neuroscientist - was preparing to head back to work after the birth of her daughter when she suddenly asked herself, ‘What if I could do something else? If I could do anything I wanted, what would it be?’ She recalled always wanting to write a book, and so she decided to not return to work at all, and write a novel instead.
Lisa’s first novel, Still Alice (a story about a woman who, at age 50, has early onset Alzheimer’s disease), was rejected by a number of publishers before Lisa decided to self-publish it. For ten months, Lisa sold her book out of the back of her car before it was finally sold at auction to publishers, Simon & Schuster.
Once in store, more copies of Lisa’s book sold in two days than she had managed to sell herself in ten months, and in it’s first week her book debuted at #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Lisa’s second novel, Left Neglected (also a New York Times Bestseller), is the story of Sarah Nickerson – a busy, corporate mother of three children who is trying to balance her home and work life. In one second - as she reaches for her phone in her car - Sarah changes her life forever when she is involved in an accident, sustaining a traumatic brain injury that erases the left side of her world.
Formerly in control of her life, Sarah is forced to rely on those around her – including her husband, Bob, and her formerly absent mother.
The story of Sarah’s fight to regain the control she once had, coupled with the realisation that perhaps there is more to life than she once thought, makes for a fantastically, good read.
However, what I also love about this book is that it incorporates so many other subjects for consideration. There’s the difficult relationship that Sarah has for her mother; her son’s learning and behavioural issues; how mothers balance work and family life; how two working parents balance family life and responsibilities…and much, much more.
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Lisa – a mother of three herself – about her latest book, and about the road to becoming an author:
JA: I love your bio on goodreads - you're a Harvard-trained Neuroscientist, a Meisner-trained actress and 'an entirely untrained writer'! What made you decide you wanted to write a novel?
LG: My grandmother’s Alzheimer’s was the seed for Still Alice. As the neuroscientist in the family, I felt it was my job to learn everything I could about Alzheimer’s so I could then help my family better understand and care for my grandmother. But everything I read was written by a scientist, a medical professional, or a caregiver. They were all views from the outside looking in. I could understand the disease as a neuroscientist but not as a granddaughter. I couldn’t understand what it felt like to have Alzheimer’s. For some odd reason that I’ll never fully understand, I thought that writing a novel would help me understand this.
JA: When researching Still Alice, what fact surprised you the most about the disease?
LG: I’m not sure about surprises, but there were certainly lots of lessons. I came to know many people with Alzheimer’s and was in touch with them almost every day while I was writing Still Alice. The same messages kept coming through in these conversations. “I am more than what I can remember.” “This is a disease that I have, it is not who I am.” “I am not dying. I’m a person living with Alzheimer’s. I want to do that as well as I possibly can.”
JA: Still Alice debuted at #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List. (That's huge - congrats!) When writing your latest book, Left Neglected, did you feel any pressure to repeat the success of your first book?
LG: Yes! I was quite terrified. Will it be any good? Will I finish it on time? Maybe I only know how to write about Alzheimer’s? I had to get past this terror every time I sat down to write. I’d usually tell myself something like, “Okay, Lisa. Stop telling yourself you have to write a bestseller, and start telling yourself you have to write the next scene. That’s all. A few pages. You can write a few pages. And let’s just say they can be horrible, embarrassing pages that you’ll need to delete later. Write it anyway. Go ahead.” (<- I love that! ~ JA)
JA: In Left Neglected, the main character, Sarah, is given a wake-up call after sustaining a brain injury that sees her losing the left side of her world. She's suddenly not in control of her life anymore. It has certainly motivated me to think twice before trying to multi-task whilst driving!
Lots of mums juggle a lot of different things: marriage, kids, work and everything (and more) that comes with that. How do you maintain a good balance of work and play in your own life?
LG: I have a husband, three kids (10 years old, 3 years old, and 8 months), and a writing career, so I know the juggling act! For me, it takes a conscious effort to stay in balance, to keep a healthy perspective. I generally write in the mornings and spend afternoons with my kids. I try to go to yoga twice a week, even though this takes time away from my allotted time for writing. I shut the computer off in the evening, so I can spend time with my husband. And my cell phone is always off when I’m in the car!
JA: The road you took to becoming a published author was not an overly conventional one, was it? Why did you decide to self-publish your first book, Still Alice? Is self-publishing something you'd recommend to writers wanting to get their manuscripts out 'there'?
LG: I self-published Still Alice because I couldn’t find a literary agent to represent it. I sent out about 100 query letters to literary agents. I’m still waiting to hear back from some of them! Four agents asked to read the manuscript, but they all turned it down. They thought Alzheimer’s was too depressing for fiction, that there wouldn’t be an audience for it. One thought that I should write nonfiction. I was left with two choices: stick Still Alice in a drawer, or self-publish it. So I self-published and spent the next ten months selling copies out of the trunk of my car. Through some great press, reader reviews, and word-of-mouth, I was eventually introduced to an agent, and Still Alice then sold to Simon & Schuster. Yes, I’d definitely recommend self-publishing as a road to readers!
JA: Have you got anything else in the works at the moment?
LG: I’m now writing my third novel, Love Anthony, about a boy with autism. (Due out 2013.)
Well, I for one can’t wait. I am currently reading Still Alice, as I hadn’t read it before Lisa’s latest book.
Now for some exciting news…I have three AUTOGRAPHED copies* of Lisa’s new book, Left Neglected to offer my readers! All you have to do is leave a comment. If you tweet this post as well, you get an extra entry (but you have to come back and let me know that you did it!). If you share this post on your wall on Facebook..you also get another entry (but once again, let me know you’ve done it).
I’ll be drawing the names of the three winners next week on Thursday evening (12th), and will publish the winners in my weekly Friday post: On Mummy Mayhem This Week the following day. So come back and check out to see if you’ve won!
Lisa is currently touring Australia through to 10 May. (I’m so bummed – I had two opportunities to meet Lisa in person this week, and couldn’t attend either function! Ah, the responsibilities of motherhood. *sigh*) But if you want to catch up on what Lisa’s up to, check out her Facebook Page for more details.
A big thanks to Lisa for taking the time out of her busy schedule for Mummy Mayhem readers!
* Giveaway open to all Australian residents.