Thursday, January 1, 2009

GUEST BLOG: Leslie Lehr on inspiration

What better way to start out the New Year than with a blog post about inspiration! So, I invited a very inspiring woman, award-winning writer, Leslie Lehr, to guest blog all about where she finds inspiration.

Leslie will be back on my blog soon to give away copies of her novel, WIFE GOES ON. But the best things come to those who wait, so we'll be doing that later this month, along with an interview with Leslie. But for now, without further ado, I present to you: Guest blogger Leslie Lehr!

There is nothing more inspiring than real life. That’s why I tell my students (in the Writers Program at UCLA) that the most important thing a writer can do is read, but you also need to put down your books and experience life so that you have something to write about. No need to go bullfighting like Hemingway, but just being aware of the world and the people around you can offer great inspiration. Novel writing is a lot different than nonfiction, when you are essentially researching and reporting on something with a particular point of view – even history books get rewritten when new information comes up or the prevailing point of view has changed. But with fiction, you are responsible for creating an entire world, so every single detail, every word, must work together to create the story and the emotional truth that you want to explore. While life is surely stranger than fiction, I think that’s because it’s more arbitrary, whereas fiction can’t be. Even a short story is intensely precise. And essays are an organized expression of thought – so it’s often the first way I write about a subject makes me angry or confused or thrilled. I have to feel passionate enough to plop my tush in the chair and do this thing that no one may appreciate as much as I do. So when I take on an entire novel, it’s because something has been on my mind so much that I know I can sustain the passion necessary to explore the “what-ifs” of the situation. There a question I want to answer. I feel so lucky to get to do that - to say what I think is important and to have a voice in this world - that I am inspired to work really hard and do the very best I can.

Just as it’s a lot more fun to go to the movies when there is a woman in the story, I enjoy writing about contemporary women because that’s who I am. There is so much to explore in both the dark and the light sides of our culture, so many choices we make as women and as mothers, that my stories usually starts with something personal. Something that bothers me or something that I want. For instance, when I was a struggling young career woman dreaming of the glamorous life, I wrote my first produced screenplay, “Heartless," a romantic thriller about a young woman who becomes dangerously obsessed with the murdered donor. My boyfriend at the time heard I was writing a murder mystery and immediately suggested I make it sort of caper story with a diamond heist. As much as I like diamonds, the identity issue is what made me want to write it as a love story – and it’s been playing in Europe for 6 years now, so I’m glad I stuck with what I wanted to see. Not long after that, married and frustrated at the changes in my life after my first baby was born, I vented in humorous essays that became my first book, Welcome to Club Mom: The End of Life as You Know it. The publisher changed the subtitle to : The Adventure Begins.

A year or so later during a toddler playdate, my former boss’s wife, a pretty model, pointed out my first gray hair. We were standing there on the driveway in my front yard - and I wanted to slap her. The anger stayed with me and I wondered what would happen if I was the kind of person who actually would do that. At the same time, a young, single production assistant kept calling my husband for work or for help with her car, etc. He was gone all hours working on location, so I wondered what that same person would do if she didn’t trust her husband. That inspired my first novel, 66 Laps, which won the Pirates Alley Faulkner Prize.

On the heels of Club Mom, my mother kept wanting to tell her side, so I worked up a proposal and sold Club Grandma, which has had many incarnations and is now excerpted on But it was mostly inspired by money – nonfiction is easier to sell, but it feels a lot like homework. And I did Nesting, a coffee table book about a nursery designer, for the same reason, then the designer on Oprah, so the publicity helped my other projects. By then I had given up on the long hours and travel of the film business completely and committed to redecorating an extra bedroom into an office and was officially a writer. I was teaching and starting to meet other writers, not many of them moms, and it was very frustrating not having housekeeping help like many of the working moms and time to watch Oprah like many of the stay-at-home moms. So, I was invited to vent my frustration for the book Mommy Wars. Katie Couric laughed about it on the Today show, because of the title: “I Hate Everybody.” The real mommy war is in our heads of course; it certainly was in mine. Which brings us back to all the choices we make in life, how each little one impacts the next one, which is what keeps me writing.

In fact, I was working on a literary novel about a Mom who worked in Hollywood trying to protect her daughter in this crazy culture, when I had a long overdue but excruciating divorce and was asked to write about the difficult decision for anthology called The Honeymoon's Over. By the time I turned it in, I had emerged from the darkness into such blinding happiness, that I was inspired to write this novel, Wife Goes On. I found such camaraderie with other single women or women who had been there, that I created the four characters in Wife Goes On and sold it from the outline. I put my other novel aside and wrote as fast as I could and published it in paperback so more women who needed it could afford it. (Plus paperbacks are an easy gift to give to friends who would enjoy it and it’s lighter to carry in your purse.) These characters are all made up, but many of their experiences and all of their emotions are very real. Plus, the sex is good. And the jokes are fun.

Now of course, I’m returning to the literary novel and since my life is different, so is the book. I’ve changed the structure to be less dark, and more of an a detective type mystery where the mom has already lost her daughter and has to find her. Obviously, having two daughters still inspires the question that I want to answer, but the events are not real and the themes are universal to motherhood. I am always very careful to protect everyone who has no choice in the matter. And now that this Wife had gone on, so to speak, I’ve been in a happy relationship for a few years, so I’m inspired to add a stronger romantic subplot. I try not to question inspiration, just to keep my eyes and ears and heart open for the next book. Meanwhile, I enjoy, every little detail that inspires me, from the way the sun shimmers on the ocean, to the blessing of having readers and writers like you, Brenda, who are so committed to the written word. That’s truly inspiring.

Want to win a free copy of Leslie's latest novel, WIFE GOES ON? Check back later this month for a giveaway!

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