Hey everyone! I am very, VERY excited to bring this interview to you today. It’s been nearly seven weeks in the making that I was offered a chance to read and review. A Gift for My Sister, as well as the opportunity to interview the author, Ann Pearlman, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for her memoir, Infidelity. So please help me welcome Ann to The Bawdy Book Blog!
About Ann Pearlman
Ann Pearlman is a writer of both fiction, and non-fiction books and has been passionate about writing since eighth grade. Getting Free: Women and Psychotherapy was written with two colleagues and used as both a consciousness-raising book in the woman’s movement as well as college textbook. Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair With Your Spouse, garnered the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show and many other TV talk shows. Her memoir, Infidelity, was nominated for National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and made into a Lifetime movie by Lionsgate. Inside the Crips, with a foreword by Ice T, took readers into the life of a Crip gang member and the California Prison system. The Christmas Cookie Club became an international bestseller, spawning cookie exchanges and donations to charity. The Christmas Cookie Cookbook: All the Rules and Delicious Recipes to Start Your Own Holiday Cookie Club was written with her friend, Marybeth Bayer, who is a terrific baker as well as the hostess of the cookie exchange Ann attends. A Gift for My Sister hit the stands in the U.S in the spring of 2012 to wonderful reviews.
~ Hi Ann, thanks for coming to hang out and answer a few questions at The Bawdy Book Blog! I absolutely loved your book, it is one of best contemporary reads I’ve ever come across.
Jennie, I can’t tell you how much your love of Gift for My Sister has warmed my heart and how much I appreciate the wonderful things you have said about it! “One of the best contemporary reads you’ve ever come across!“ WOW! So here are the answers to your questions:
~ Infidelity seems to have largely influenced your life. You wrote a memoir, also called Infidelity, in which you were nominated for a Pultizer Prize and National Book Award, and you’ve also recently released A Gift for My Sister, which features infidelity (and the fear of it) as an aspect of the story. Overall, the story arc is a very healing one. Did you plot it that way, or did you find it taking you that way on its own?
Infidelity has had an impact not only on my personal life, as I’ve written about in Infidelity, but also as result of my work as a psychotherapist and Marriage and Family Therapist, a private practice which I have maintained while writing. I have seen hundreds of couples and individuals struggling with all aspects of this dilemma. The estimates are that between 65-85% of all marriages deal with this issue and it’s a factor in our divorce rate.
I absolutely plotted A Gift for My Sister to look at two fatherless daughters, one through death, and the other through desertion with infidelity a large component. Your parents form your perceptions of people, and family. When a parent cheats, that becomes incorporated as a crucial part of your understanding of what people are capable of doing. You’re left with a dilemma. Are you going to repeat this by marrying a cheater? By being a cheater? How do you prevent this from happening to you? Or do you assume that’s the way it is? Meanwhile, your unconscious leads you to hook up with someone who is similar, or opposite, to your first loves, your parents. I wrote about this extensively in Infidelity. I pushed Tara on this conflict as part of the plot, and part of the fascination of her character. She chooses a partner who, because of his profession, has women all over him, and is terrified of trusting him. But then she has an opportunity to grab the gold ring, and betray him in a different way. How will she find the way out of her own conflict? How much of her temptation with King is because of her fear of Aaron’s infidelity vs. her lust for fame and security? And yes, I was rooting for her to realize and appreciate what she had, allow herself to feel the love of her family, and plotted the novel to remind her.
I wanted the novel to sing loud and clear about the importance of family.
~ Bi-racial relationships are another fascinating aspect of A Gift for My Sister, and Tara, one of your main characters, as a white woman, has to deal with the inevitable fallout of having a relationship with a black man. How did you draw parallels from your own personal experience with this?
It was easy for me to draw on my experiences as part of a biracial family. After all, I’m a blond, white woman, my children are black. We have experienced so many incidents, some infuriating and frustrating, some wretched, some stupid, some hilarious if they weren’t so tragic, that I could write book after book detailing them. And don’t even start me on the insanity that happens when driving while black, or with a black person, which was the impetus for the version of the Texas stop of Sky and Smoke. Or the sometimes unsettling and sometimes funny situations that occur because we’re not read as a family: like the time when my son and I were setting up his college bank account and the bank manager assumed that I was his sugar mama, not his mother. It was confusing for us, extremely embarrassing for the banker, aggravating and later hilarious for my son and I.
People in our society see race first, family resemblance does not occur. So Sky [does] not recognize her own nephew’s smile as like her mother’s until she sees beyond race. More and more families will be presented with the opportunity of welcoming members from different races and ethnicities into their fold. In 1970, .7% of marriages were interracial. By 2010, 8% were interracial and 14.6% of all marriages were between members of different ethnicities.
We are a society increasingly separated by various political beliefs, religion, classes, and regions. We do not necessarily have a chance to meet people across these stringent divisions allowing the media stereotypes, urban myths of fear and suspicion to grow into attitudes and then beliefs. This is one of the gifts that Tara gives Sky—the opportunity to meet her new family and understand her own racist attitudes. In doing so, Sky’s entire life is opened up and she grabs the new one presented after her tragedy. We’ve come a long way toward diminishing racism in our society; we are not finished in either leveling the playing field or meeting people without the veil of preconceptions and celebrating each of us as individuals with the wondrous panoply of our cultural variety.
~ Tara, like you, dated a black man. Sky, like you, lost her father (I read your recent blog post regarding luck). How else are these two emotionally deep characters like yourself?
They represent a divergence that is intrinsic in my personality —the wild, unconventional woman who lives for the now, losing herself in her art, and following her spontaneity, vs. the conscientious planner who tries to stave off calamity and plan for the future. Both of those traits are so much a part of me: I am liable to take risks that drive my family crazy (traveling by myself to third world countries, spending time in south central LA working on a book about gangs, dying my hair weird colors) and yet, I make sure my business affairs are absolutely in order, keep lists of what I need to do, pay bills and taxes on time, exercise and eat healthily so I don’t develop the deadly cardiac or diabetic diseases that felled my parents. You can see how these meld in the way I handle my writing. Writing, devoting time to any art, is a huge risk. I do it in a disciplined fashion: writing 5 days a week from 8-12, setting deadlines which I meet, maintaining additional ways to earn a living.
How else am I like Tara: I always wanted to be a singer or rap artist. Unfortunately, I’m a monotone, but I makeup lyrics and sing anyway.
How else am I like Sky: I am a GPS nut, afraid of getting lost, and have it on my phone as well as my car and am likely to print out a map, too. (I know, doesn’t fit with being a traveler.)
I make lists.
~ You also have a novel called The Christmas Cookie Club, an indirect predecessor to A Gift for My Sister. Any plans to follow up with another book on the family?
Sky and Tara are the daughters of the hostess of the cookie club. Both are pregnant during the night the novel takes place.
I fall in love with my characters, so the wonderful women from The Christmas Cookie Club are likely to crop up again. They are, on the surface, ordinary, middle-class Mid-western women, yet each has had a fascinating life and has overcome and endured difficulties and come to the other side stronger. Isn’t that like so many of us? In writing The Christmas Cookie Club, I inadvertently gave myself a cast of wonderful characters to draw on if I so wish.
~What other inspiration helped you write A Gift for My Sister?
I am fascinated with the concept of luck and how people survive in spite of a stream of terrible luck, one of the themes of the novel.
It is so much fun hanging out with toddlers! Children teach you the world all over again. And both Levy and Rachel are especially adorable children.
I have two wonderful, very different daughters who are very close. Unfortunately, I never had a sister and although I’m very close with my brother, I’ve always thought one could have a very special relationship with a sister, a closeness and understanding that is the best of women’s friendships and family love. I know it doesn’t always work out that way; sisters have their own issues of competition with an extra smidgeon of sibling rivalry. I was able to experience having a sister vicariously through Sky and Tara and, since I wrote in both of their voices, able to have two sisters.
~ If you had to pick only five songs for the soundtrack, which would you choose….and why?
This is a hard question, because I write with music and lyrics (yes, I have several totally written rap lyrics) in my mind that end up in the prose. Then they are cut because of the difficulty using lyrics and people don’t seem to like reading lyrics, or poems, in novels. Music and creation seem tied to me. See my blog on three watercolors, three music genres. http://www.annpearlman.net/blog/three-watercolors-three-music-genres-and-the-awe-of-creation/
But here are some songs for the movie of Gift:
UMI says, Mos Def The lyrics Tomorrow may never come for you and me, life is not a promise express one of the themes of the book and Mos Def’s voice floats over them like sweet honey, belying their message. I love this classic rap album: Black on Both Sides.
Faure: Requiem op 48 Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. Tara listens to this as they ride through the American plain and samples a note that becomes crucial for one of their rap songs and is her own psychological bridge when she does her solo performance. I love painting to this music.
His eye is on the Sparrow Isaac Hayes. T-Bone sings this song at Troy’s funeral for Sky. I chose this version because it is the closest to the sound of my father-in-law singing it. I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches me.
Take Care, Drake and Rihanna I know you’ve been hurt…if you let me, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll take care of you. Again this is a universal issue that is played out in the novel. Will we really be there for each other? Tara tries to take care of Sky, Aaron tries to take care of Tara.
Superstar Lupe Fiasco (feat. Mathew Santos) This rap song expresses the lust and the bragging aspect of being a celebrity. If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear. This is Tara’s draw to King and one of the pulls she shares with Special.
~I think readers forget that authors are readers as well. What are you reading (or recently read)? And entertain us with a quote from it!
I just finished Julian Barnes A Sense of an Ending, a sad, but profound novel. Here are some quotes:
“History isn’t the lies of the victors…. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”
“When we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”
“We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly.”
~What inspired you to begin writing?
I’ve been writing since eighth grade when my teacher asked us to write a thank you note to the donors of a painting of two little girls playing in the sand in front of the sea. I ended up writing about the sea and got that sense of taking dictation from the gods. Wanting to recapture that feeling, I’ve been writing ever since.
~Can you tell us your next project in the works?
I don’t talk about it until there’s a first draft done. Sorry. And this first draft is taking a long time.