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Why did you include scenes from the play Elise is writing in the book?

Early in her career Elise was lauded as a playwright to watch, but it’s been years since she’s been able to get a play produced. Her career feels like it’s behind her, her marriage has ended, her son is increasingly withdrawn, and her mother has started acting erratically when Elise unexpectedly gets a generous commission from a prestigious theater company. Morning Pages begins 65 days before her deadline, and she is struggling to figure out how to end her play.  

While I was writing the book I took a playwrighting class because I thought it was important to learn more about playwrighting while writing about a playwright, and as an exercise I decided to write the play my character was writing. I was also reading a lot of plays, and even though plays are written to be acted and watched in a theater, they are terrific to read. It became increasingly clear to me that I should include scenes from the play Elise is writing as a way to further illuminate her creative process. The scenes from the play became a secondary story within the book.


What’s the play about?

The play is titled Deja New and it’s about a 40-year-old professionally successful single woman whose parents got divorced when she was a child. Her mother moves in with her after she is in a car accident. After her father’s fifth wife kicks him out, he moves in as well. For the first time since she was eight, she’s living with both her parents, who after all these years still despise each other. The play deals with the emotional hold parents can have on us even as adults.

Why did you decide to use Morning Pages to tell Elise’s story?

Morning Pages, for those who don’t know, are the brainchild of Julia Cameron, who recommended writing three pages stream-of-consciousness every morning as soon as you wake up to help you get over your creative blocks. I have done Morning Pages on and off for the past two decades. When I am in the habit of doing them, I use them to contemplate, to vent, to chronicle my day, to brainstorm, to ruminate, and to try to make sense of things in my life that are confounding to me. Using the device of Morning Pages for this novel allowed me a flexibility that I wouldn’t have had with a more traditional narrative structure. I had been reading, and was inspired by a number of incredible contemporary books with non-traditional structures—by Jennifer Egan, Maria Semple, Jenny Offill, Sheila Heti, and Heidi Julavits— and realized that telling this story through Morning Pages would complement the way I write and the somewhat distracted way my brain works.


Is this book auto-fiction? Are the characters based on people from your real life?

There are elements of this book that can certainly be called auto-fiction. Elise’s struggle as a working playwright is based on the difficulties I faced as a children’s book author. The character of Mom and the complicated relationship between Elise and her mother was, as they say, “ripped from the headlines.” The character of Dad and Larry (in the play) has echoes of my father. The characters who are completely invented include Marsden, Elliot, and Maya. I’m not going to comment about the handsome man in the elevator.


Complicated relationships with parents are a major theme in the book. Why did you want to mine that territory?

I’m fascinated by the relationship we have as adults with our parents, especially when those relationships are complicated. How we still long for the approval of our parents and regress in their presence even after we have children of our own.


Elise and her best friend Maya tend to be walking in their scenes together. Why do you have them walking?

I am a walker. I tend to walk three to five miles a day. Walking with friends is a great way to catch up and even better way to work through your mutual problems, lament the world’s woes, and then feel better about it all.

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