I was at the library (they still exist, try one you may like it) last year in search of a good read when I saw a very intriguing title Seeing Me Naked by @lizapalmer. It’s about a pastry chef from a literary family who must stop being so critical and start accepting the world has other plans to make her happy if only she can let down her guard and let go of the past. I was ‘sucked in’ from page one.
I wanted more from this author, Liza Palmer, who had created such believeable characters I felt like I was with them at brunch in LA and driving up the 101. Fortunately for me there is a bookstore a few blocks from my apartment which is open past 6 P.M. when it the urgent need to read anything Liza had written hit me. Fortunately, her debut novel, Conversations with the Fat Girl, was available and incidently is currently optioned by HBO for a series development.
As fate would have it, one day @lizapalmer tweeted about the relaunch of her website. Thus a retweeting & comment of that lead me to connecting with Liza herself. When her new book A Field Guide To Burying Your Parents was released, the pleasure extended past to reviewing it for SheKnows.com and most delightfully getting to interview Liza.
There are so many rules to everything we do. Liza’s characters break out of the way society sees them, push forward through their issues and face who they were meant to be instead of who people expect them to be. Palmer’s characters resonate as real people because she is such a spark plug herself.
Location: Los Angeles
1) You’ve mentioned in interviews your creative process starts with questions. What have the questions and challenges you’ve asked your characters to face that have taught you something about yourself?
I think it’s all about this puppet theater of self-discovery. I ask the same questions we all ask. Conversations with the Fat Girl was me asking questions about who I was – who I really was. Seeing Me Naked was me asking questions about who I was in the reflection of my parents. And A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents is me asking the question of who I am without my parents. It’s just this ongoing conversation about these giant set pieces in our lives. The next book (White Picket Fences: And Other Crimes Against Humanity) is me questioning what it means to be a woman. BUT! And there’s a big but – writing novels shouldn’t be therapy. It can’t be. Oh my lord, no one – NO ONE – wants to see that. Like a friend of mine says, everybody like a hot dog, but no one wants to know how its made.
2) Your third book, A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents brings up the deep subject of what happens when the roles reverse between parent and child as the caretaker. Which Hawke character reflects how you would deal with those situations?
I think it’s in my nature to question (as evidence by the screed above) so Grace is my natural doppleganger. I have Huston tendencies – which is understandable as those two characters are really two sides of the same coin. But, I think each sibling is another path – which was the idea. Grief makes us do really crazy, beautiful, amazing, bizarre, unexplainable things. Which is why WE NEED A FIELD GUIDE.
3) Some writing courses advise staying away from writing flashbacks yet Field Guide completely does this seemlessly. What was the most difficult part of writing flashbacks and tips you would give other writers for attempting it?
Ugh, the flashbacks. That was BY FAR the hardest part of the structure of the novel. We thought we were going to do trading chapters – one in the present, one in the past – but that didn’t work for obvious reasons. It was an amazing writing exercise as I had to build this whole past life for the Hawkes – even more detailed than usual. It helped me immeasurably. I guess it’s about just diving into the world you’ve created.
Do you dare dive into the pensieve?
Like a pensieve. You know? If your character is experiencing something – what baggage are they carrying around that might make a cameo in that scenario? Because the truth of the matter is that we’re all just Jacob Marleys – clanging around with chains from our past. And the Hawkes really needed that illustrated in 3D – shit, I should have set this whole thing on Pandora. I COULD HAVE MADE BILLIONS.
4) You’ve spoken about the notion of “Kill Your Darlings” when it comes to the edit process. Could you elaborate on what that entails?
It’s about getting out of the way. Taking your ego and all your “craft” and this and that and ‘I was trying to do this can’t you see’ and ‘the genius of that line lies in the….’ and letting the narrative breathe a little. It can’t be about you. There’s no place for it. If you think a line or scene is hilllllarious, but it doesn’t move the story forward or build a character or work really at all (and who hasn’t thought that?!?!?!) put it on a t-shirt, but don’t weight down your prose with it.
5) Music seems to play a big role in your life including getting inspired for the title of Field Guide from Death Cab For Cutie. What are you listening to now & do you listen to music while you are writing?
I’m pretty much obsessed. It’s kind of a problem. What am I listening to RIGHT NOW???? Kids by MGMT. I made a mix for a friend and I’m testing it out for flow. THAT’S RIGHT. For flow. It has to not only contain amazing songs, but it has to build a mooooooood. Man oh man.
I just downloaded the new David Gray album – and it’s breathtaking. The song, Kathleen?? Yeah, it’s pretty much on repeat.
I love anything Timbaland does – I think he’s a genius. I’ve been on a whole Pearl Jam kick – Crazy Mary and Wishlist being the top of the pops for me. I love the alt-country: Drive by Truckers, Kings of Leon, Son Volt…and then going back to the OG: The Band, Lynryd Skynyrd, Bad Company, Marshall Tucker Band – I love it all. I know…no method to the madness. And there’s nothing like a Joni Mitchell song while driving over Laurel Canyon. Court and Spark???? Perfection.
While I’m writing I have a tendency to repeat songs over and over again. I lean on movie soundtracks during writing – they have that swooning emotionalism I need. I love Finale by Danny Elfman from The Kingdom soundtrack. Anything from the Narnia movies. The Transformers soundtrack is bananas. Anything by Harry Gregson Wagner and Thomas Newman will do – they’re brilliant. I thanked James Newton Howard in my acknowledgments because I must have played The Healing off the Lady in the Water soundtrack non-stop for months during the final edits of Field Guide. Just beautiful.
I like to make playlists for the books, characters and really anything that will get me out of writing. So, Field Guide had like 7 playlists: Grace, Grace 2.0, The Grace Project, The Hawkes, Majesty (I imagine it was particularly majestic)…and on and on. I think Grace and John had their own playlist. It’s pretty tortured. Sidebar: Someone made this heartbreak mix and I snagged a copy of it – um…no Tori Amos. WTF???? I mean, is that even a heartbreak mix???? HOW CAN YOU HAVE A HEARTBREAK MIX WITHOUT PRECIOUS THINGS???? Well, you can’t. So…
I could seriously talk about music all day. Ahhh, Kathleen just came on. Must swoon.