Monday, March 23, 2009

Author, Sandra Novack (Precious), Interview!

Sandra Novack, the author of "Precious," is my guest today in "Cynthia's Attic.

Read an excerpt from Precious (Random House):

Sissy is too old to be telling anyone she dreams of Gypsies. She is too old to speak of women who crawl through the window to snatch her from bed, too old to be frightened by their long faces, their pellucid eyes and wrinkled, drawn skin. Baba, they call. Little doll. Come with us, Baba, they insist. The Gypsies sing: Child, you are ours. They linger at the brink of her waking, at the border of her dreams. Sissy is too old to confess that she wakes with a sharp start still, or that when she awakens, she calls instinctively for Eva, and then waits and waits yet a moment more before turning on the light atop her bedside table. Hunched down in the sheets, she imagines the mist that hangs outside her window, phantom shapes that emerge from darkness. Her mind races over the always-present dream.

In the moment Sissy awakens, there are no clutching fingers but the disconsolate hurtling of a black bird against the window, the sound of beak hitting glass and then a flutter of wings. Sissy knows this is wrong, that birds and Gypsies have no place together. But, between her dreams and her waking, they are still there—bound. Then, suddenly, nothing: magically, both bird and Gypsies vanish.

Sissy is nine—an unlucky number—and she is too old for such nonsense. She knocks five times, a bumpity- bump- bump rhythm, a language she and her sister, Eva, share through the walls at night.

Where are you? the knocks urge. Can you come here?

CA: So happy to have you here today, Sandra! One of the first questions I'm sure you're asked is, how did you get into writing? Is it something you've always wanted to do?

SN: Actually, I didn't start off wanting to be a writer, no. I grew up in a blue-collar family and was the first to go to college, and I only did so after I worked a few years in a child support/welfare office and also a prison, basically as a secretary. When I finally decided to pay my way through school, I majored in psychology and thought for sure I'd be a counselor. But I took a creative writing class in my senior year, and I really loved it. So I took another, then switched to a masters for English Literature and Creative Writing. Even then I was thinking more of teaching than writing for a living. But the writing bug stayed with me, and in 2001 I decided to dedicate my time to creative writing and did an MFA. I became very serious about writing then, and I started publishing afterward.

Certainly what encouraged me early on was the joy of discovering new worlds and engaging in the creative process. That, and the encouragement of my teachers. Even though I wasn't very good at all, in terms of language or plot or anything really, my teachers always told me, "keep trying!" That's great advice, of course, because the more you write, the better you do get.

CA: I couldn't agree more! "Precious" revolves around families from a blue-collar community in Pennsylvania and the crisis facing them. I see from your bio that you grew up in Pennsylvania. So, the obvious question is, have you based any of the characters or story line on true experiences? Is Sandra in there somewhere?

SN: That's a great question, Mary. By now most can find out that Precious was inspired by the fact that when I was seven, my sister ran away from home and I've never seen her again. So that event is true, though the novel is entirely fictionalized. As for myself, and where I am in the work, personally: I've had friends in PA ask me this, too, and I always say it's like the Bob Dylan movie, I'm Not There. There are little pieces of me everywhere, so much so that any true "Sandy" is diluted and infused all over (and therefore, in another sense, is nowhere).

I am the girl who goes missing (Vicki), and Sissy, too, and even a part of me is in Natalia and Eva. I am the girl who, in the circus scene, Sissy sees, the one who gets lost in the crowd and holds a flower. I am the woman on the wire, and the bird. Etc. etc.

And some parts are based on true experiences, though I'm certain my "truth" would never be known, just by reading the story. For example, and for whatever bizarre reason, I have this "thing" with circuses and carnivals. After my sister ran away, my mother was worried about me and wanted to shield me from things, so she called my other sister and asked her to come and take me out, to do something "fun." My sister took me to Dorney Park--an amusement park.

Then (and unrelated), some years later, after my grammy (who lived with us) died, my mother didn't want me to have to witness the undertaker coming in and such, so she asked my brother to come and get me. He did, and he took me to a local carnival that happened to be in town. You get the point: The carnival scene at the end of Precious is, in a way, a "truth", but not even one my family would see, because I am the only one who thinks, "Carnival in town? Uh-oh, something chaotic has happened, something sad! Run!!" (I say it as a joke, but they do make me a little anxious.)

Part Two of the Interview with Sandra Novack will post March 30! Stay tuned!

Visit Sandra on her Website and her Blog
Buy Precious at your local Independent Bookstore (Such as, Horton's Books & Gifts)
Or Amazon

Mary Cunningham Books
Quake - Shaking Up Young Readers
WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty

Discover the Magic in Cynthia's Attic!


Diana Black said...

It was such a pleasure meeting Sandra a few weeks ago. And this interview is inspiring...

I particularily love this that Sandra said about writing: " of discovering new worlds and engaging in the creative process. That, and the encouragement of my teachers. Even though I wasn't very good at all, in terms of language or plot or anything really, my teachers always told me, "keep trying!" That's great advice, of course, because the more you write, the better you do get."

Thanks, Sandra, & Mary! Look forward to the second half.


Janet Grace Riehl said...

The prose is gorgeous. The writing story and advice is down-to-earth as we children from families who work with their hands tend to be. It's a great background to come from.

Thanks for sharing the work and Sandra's insights and story.

Janet Riehl

Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks for your comments, Diana and Janet.

I think what struck me most was the almost musical feel of the writing even though the book is loosely based on her own sister leaving home.

Sandra is a gifted writer. Stop back next Monday for Part Two!

Dixieland57 said...

Great interview! I really enjoyed reading it.

Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks, Dixieland! The credit goes to Sandra. She's such a kind person and a great writer.

Thanks for stopping by.