This weekend Nye Beach Writers Series is hosting Lauren Kessler, from Eugene, Oregon.
Kessler is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and self-designated guinea pig journalist who combines lively narrative with deep research to explore everything from the seemingly romantic but oh-so-gritty world of ballet to the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement, from the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship to the hidden world of Alzheimer’s sufferers. She is the author of nine works of narrative nonfiction, including her latest, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Her other work includes Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging; My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, A Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence, and Pacific Northwest Book Award winner Dancing with Rose (published in paperback as Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s.
Please join us February 20, 2016 at 7 p.m. at the Nye Beach Visual Arts Center. General admission is $8; students are admitted free. Open mic to follow.
15 Things You May Not Know About Lauren Kessler
1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?
I write for many reasons, but mostly I write because I am intensely curious about…well, about most everything…and writing funds my curiosity and gives legitimacy to my nosiness. It allows me to ask questions without being a nuisance (usually). It allows me to immerse myself in people’s lives without being arrested for stalking. I can even eavesdrop. At one point early in my writing career, I thought maybe I should specialize. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t set those boundaries. And so, during the past decade, I’ve written about exotic plant smuggling and assisted suicide, about communist spies and women’s basketball players, about a whorehouse in the Mojave desert , about my mother. About Alzheimer’s. About 21st century teen girl culture. About ballet. I write to learn.
2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
When I am writing (as opposed to researching, traveling, immersing myself in the world I am going to write about) I keep to a strict routine. A routine means I can focus on the work itself and not waste energy on thinking about how my day will or should go. I wake early, go for a run, then work for about 5 hours. I stand when I work. I drink many many cups of green and herbal tea. When things get tough, I chain chew Orbit Sweet Mint Gum. I don’t have a problem with discipline. This is work I love. I am intensely aware of the privilege I have to do it.
3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
I have never counted. And it is actually impossible to determine, given the every day fiddling, tweaking, revising, rewriting that is a normal part of the process.
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?
The best: When Stubborn Twig, which won the Oregon Book Award, was chosen as the first statewide “Everybody Reads” selection to celebrate Oregon’s sesquicentennial. I had the opportunity to travel to 23 cities and towns across the state to talk about the book, about writing and about our state’s history. Second best: Appearing on the David Letterman Show for Happy Bottom Riding Club.
The worst: When, mid-book, my editor at Viking — whom I loved and had worked with on other projects — left the publishing house.
5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?
I love the act of writing, how alive I feel when I am making connections, when it feels as if I am truly truly using my brain. And I equally love diving into the worlds I want to write about, immersing myself fully, learning by doing.
I dislike pitching book ideas to my agent because sometimes what grabs me is not what grabs him.
6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?
I am a voracious reader. When I am researching a book, I immerse myself in the literature of that world — narrative nonfiction, novels, memoir, poetry, film — as well as, of course, the research and writing of experts. I read, alternately, narrative nonfiction and novels, trading off. All-time favorite authors: May Sarton, Joan Didion, Raymond Chandler, Vladmir Nabokov.
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?
Best: Sweat the small stuff.
Worst: Stick with what you know.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
The iconic narrative/ literary nonfiction writers: John McPhee, Gay Talese, Joan Didion
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?
Apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
I am at the beginning of a new project, another immersion into a fascinating world…but it’s too early to talk about it.
13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
I would not wait at Penn Station for three hours for my then-boyfriend Phil who missed the train (as I too-much-later found out) because he was busy romancing another girl.
14) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Read, read, read.
15) Something we don’t know about you?
I know all the lines to Vachel Lindsay’s poem, The Congo. Also TupTim’s speech in The King and I.
(this is adapted from the flap copy and back cover)
The mother of three grown children who hasn’t had a ballet slipper on her foot in forty years, Lauren Kessler launches herself, full-force, on a journey to dance in the world’s most popular ballet with a professional company.
The result is a midlife quest at turns harrowing and hilarious, an exploration of what it means to venture far outside your comfort zone, to truly test your own limits and raise the bar(re) on your own life. Lauren’s quest to dance The Nutcracker with the Eugene Ballet Company tackles the big issues: fear, angst, risk, resilience, the refusal to “settle in” to midlife, the refusal to become yet another Invisible Woman. It is also a very funny, very real look at what it’s like to push yourself
further than you ever thought you could go—and what happens when you get there.