Today we're chatting to Sally Koslow, author of The Widow Waltz, her fourth book, told through the alternating perspectives of a mother, Georgia Waltz, and two daughters, the novel digs into how to redefine your life in the face of devastating loss. The Widow Waltz was published earlier this week and we'll be reviewing it here soon.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Once I’ve poured my morning coffee, I’m ready to rock, usually around 8:30 a.m.. To warm up, I read whatever I “finished” the day before, and by “warm up” I mean rewrite, because I never feel my work is finished. Even when I read galleys, I can’t resist rewriting. I work pretty much all day and often after dinner and on the weekend, but never for more than for a few hours at a stretch. I also take mini-breaks to read email or juicy online links, though I know this breaks a basic time management commandment, and I run or go to Pilates—I recently found a class that meets under the trees in Central Park, which is heaven. At least twice a week I meet friends for coffee or lunch. I’d call myself a friendly introvert who has never completely adjusted to the solitude of a writer’s life, especially since I used to be the editor-in-chief of a number of magazines and managed a big staff. At the end of the afternoon, I cook dinner for my husband and reward myself by reading whatever book I have going. Cozy. I feel lucky.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
While pregnant with my second child and working full-time I foolishly accepted a demanding freelance assignment that I didn’t complete before son #2 was born. I had grossly underestimated how frantic and tired I’d be. Just as I was ready to kiss off the project, an extremely sensible friend, a Texas gal who never gets daunted, visited. When I told her I was considering abandoning a lucrative project she said, ridiculous. Just park yourself in front of your typewriter (this was a while ago, even pre-Nike commercial) and do it, page by page. I did. It turned out well. I often hear Ruth’s voice in my head when I’m ready to succumb to writer’s block.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Edith Wharton, whose novels feel modern more than 100 years later thanks to original characters, clever plots, sharp observations about human nature and deft sociological analysis. Every sentence is a wonder.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I start with a core idea. I wanted The Widow Waltz, my new novel, to be a story about a wife and daughters’ need to take charge of their life after the husband/father’s betrayal. My intention was to explore the grit of learning to be self-reliant, especially when you’ve had the good fortune to start out pampered. Next I craft characters and write a few chapters, trying to nail down distinctive voices. This is hard and slow, but once I feel satisfied, the characters carry pick axes to sculpt away a block of granite in my brain to reveal a plot. I constantly rewrite. See question #1.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I came to writing a novel after starting as a magazine staff writer and published articles as early as the 1970s. Then I become a magazine editor, first the kind who assigns pieces to other writers and helps them polish their result, and ultimately the editor-in-chief, which is broader. I loved that work, but about eight years ago the position I had leading a start-up magazine evaporated. That bad turn gave me the chance—thank you, severance pay! —to try and write a novel. Little Pink Slips, my debut in 2008, was vaguely autobiographical, inspired by my work on a magazine that got taken over by a crackpot celebrity. Since then I’ve written three more novels, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx; With Friends like These and now The Widow Waltz, as well as a hybrid of memoir and reporting called Slouching Toward Adulthood, about the lives of adultescents in their 20s and 30s. I still love to write for magazines, and do it as often as possible.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That most writers map out a full book in an intricate outline to which they stubbornly adhere. Most novelists I know are wired more like me, unable to follow road directions after right-turn, left-turn, stop-at-the-church-on-the-corner. They inch their way forward and allow the manuscript to take surprising directions.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Find a good writing workshop. Everyone needs deadlines and your colleague-writers will invest time and energy in helping you improve, as you will do for them.
What are you working on at the moment?
A novel, still in embryonic form.