Therese here. Today’s guest is debut author Mia March. Mia’s novel, The Meryl Streep Movie Club, seems to be taking over the world: It’s set to be translated in over *15* languages, and reviewers love it. Romantic Times called it “meaningful women’s fiction,” and said the sometimes (read: often) prickly Kirkus: a “heartwarming, spirit-lifting read just in time for beach season.” (Read the full review HERE.) What’s the book about?
Two sisters and the cousin they grew up with after a tragedy are summoned home to their family matriarch’s inn on the coast of Maine for a shocking announcement. Suddenly, Isabel, June, and Kat are sharing the attic bedroom–and barely speaking. But when innkeeper Lolly asks them to join her and the guests in the parlor for weekly Movie Night–it’s Meryl Streep month–they find themselves sharing secrets, talking long into the night–and questioning everything they thought they knew about life, love, and one another.
Each woman sees her complicated life reflected through the magic of cinema: Isabel’s husband is having an affair, and an old pact may keep her from what she wants most . . . June has promised her seven-year-old son that she’ll somehow find his father, who he’s never known . . . and Kat is ambivalent about accepting her lifelong best friend’s marriage proposal. Through everything, Lolly has always been there for them, and now Isabel, June, Kat–and Meryl–must be there for her. Finding themselves. Finding each other. Finding a happy ending.
I’m thrilled she’s with us today to talk about igniting the idea for a novel until it’s a full-bodied flame of possibility. Enjoy!
Inspiration and the “Yeah, but…”
Six years ago, when I was going through a divorce, I rented a bunch of Meryl Streep movies from Blockbuster (remember video stores?) and spent a sad-sack weekend on my couch with tissues and popcorn. Heartburn made me laugh for the first time in months. Out of Africa reminded me to strive. And movie after movie, I couldn’t help remembering a Thanksgiving years before, when my mother and grandmother, who weren’t getting along, joined me to watch The Bridges of Madison County. The discussion that film engendered afterward changed everything; we talked—and very openly—when we weren’t talking at all two hours earlier. Flash forward to the Meryl Streep marathon and an idea: a novel about a fractured family of women, watching Meryl Streep movies and how discussing the films might change their perspectives, their relationships, open up their views about their lives. I emailed a writer friend with my idea, and she wrote back, “Who doesn’t love Meryl Streep? But, to be honest, it sounds kind of gimmicky.”
Yeah, I guess, I remember thinking, inspiration deflating. Gimmicky. Gimmicky is bad. Gimmicky is reliance on something other than story, something other than character. It’s using and phony baloney. But I couldn’t stop thinking about those women. And the story I imagined writing didn’t feel gimmicky to me; it felt like a story about characters, about family and estrangements, and how people find their way back to one another.
I sat down with the laptop and let myself write without worrying; I just wrote to see what would come out. I knew in my heart of hearts that what I had, the story I wanted to tell, was special to me, filled me with questions that I wanted to answer. To me, that’s what makes inspiration novel-worthy, what makes it worth the ups and down, triumphs and tribulations, joy and torture of writing a book. While I was writing, I kept thinking: if I take away the “gimmick,” the frame work of Meryl Streep movies, do I still have a solid story? Are the characters dependent on that framework, or do they have their own force?
“Yeah, but if you took away the framework of Meryl Streep movies,” my friend wrote back when I emailed excitedly that I’d written the first five chapters, “would anyone in the publishing business—let alone readers—be interested?” I have some tough writer friends. When it comes to the subject of writing, sometimes those tough friends are great; sometimes they’re not thinking of me or the pages I’ve shown them at all. This, I’ve come to learn, is when you really have to trust your gut.
Questions posed are just that. Questions posed. And the answers are going to be as individual as we are as writers. Now that I’d written those first several chapters, now that the story was alive in my head, heart, mind, and soul, I knew the answer to my friend’s question was: I sure as hell hope so. Because this is the story I want to tell. The way I want to tell it. And that’s what matters.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about inspiration, since it’s always a question writers are asked. Inspiration, to me, is a light—from the barest flicker to full out fire. What inspires you can be as wispy as a vague memory, a feeling, a mood, to something you see that sends you racing for your writer’s notebook, the back of an envelope, your laptop. It means something to you, gets you excited, and there’s a story inside it, a story to grow from it. I love the millions of possibilities for inspiration—as varied as writers are. Two writers will look at a child’s balloon floating up and away and see two very different stories in it. But many times, in writers groups I’ve belonged to over the years, I’ve heard/read a writer say to another: “Yeah, but, will that idea/plot/structure really attract an agent/editor/readers?”
The way my friend (who meant well) deflated me at just a two-line description of my own inspiration for a novel and then (almost) again when I mentioned I’d written fifty pages, I wonder how many other writers are discouraged from pursuing what inspires them. Too quiet. Too gimmicky. Too outrageous. Too sad. Not realistic. Too realistic. And on and on. Because there’s only one person who can judge whether your inspiration is truly novel-worthy: you.
Have you ever been discouraged by well-meaning friends/family about your ideas for your work with a “yeah, but?” Has it kept you from pursuing a particular idea, or have you forged ahead?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s egor.gribanov