Author Interview: The Mother Daughter Show by Natalie Wexler

Welcome to Author Natalie Wexler

Natalie Wexler is the author of The Mother Daughter Show (Fuze Publishing 2011) and an award-winning historical novel, A More Obedient Wife. She is a journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, the American Scholar, the Gettysburg Review, and other publications, and she is a reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. She has also worked as a temporary secretary, a newspaper reporter, a Supreme Court law clerk, a legal historian, and (briefly) an actual lawyer. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband.

Natalie Wexler’s web site:
http://www.nataliewexler.com/

Interview:

If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future?
I would definitely go back to the past. I’ve written one novel, A More Obedient Wife, that’s set in the late 18th century, and now I’m working on another that’s set in 1807. I think writing a historical novel is as close as you can get to time travel without a time machine, and I’ve found it fascinating. After spending so much time imagining the past, I’d love to see what I got right (if anything!) and what I got wrong. On the other hand, the more I’ve learned about the past, the happier I am to live in the present. I have a feeling the smells would get to me pretty quickly, especially in the summer. And I’d certainly want the option of beating a hasty retreat to the present if I got sick.

Any other books in the works?
I’m well into the first draft of my third novel, which—as I mentioned—is set in 1807. I enjoyed writing about my own world in The Mother Daughter Show, but I’m having a great time conjuring up the early 19th century, or trying to. The story is based on one turbulent year in the life of a real person who was the first woman to edit a magazine in the United States, and I’m using excerpts from the magazine itself, along with some other newspaper and magazine articles from the period, as part of the narrative.
What inspired you to want to become a writer?
I don’t know that there was any specific incident that inspired me, but it certainly helped that when I was a kid I got a lot of encouragement from teachers. I think one thing that has always appealed to me about writing is the way it allows me to make connections with readers, some of whom are total strangers that I’ll never meet. But I’m also drawn to the process of writing itself, the complete absorption that comes with trying to choose just the right words and phrases to distill my own experience—or that of my fictional characters—into an essay, story, or novel.

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?
I had many favorite books—I was an only child, living in a neighborhood where there weren’t many other kids, and books were basically my companions. Perhaps because my father was an Anglophile, I was drawn to British authors: E. Nesbit, who wrote The Five Children and It, was an early favorite. As I got older I moved on to Charles Dickens, who I loved. I also remember being entranced by Jane Eyre.

Is there a song you could list as the theme song for your book or any of your characters?
There are actually quite a few songs that play a part in the story of The Mother Daughter Show, since it’s about a group of mothers who are writing a musical revue for their teenage daughters. My main character, Amanda, persists in writing new lyrics to old songs that she’s familiar with and loves, even though some of the other mothers feel strongly that the show should consist only of currently popular songs—which Amanda can’t stand. That was more or less the situation I found myself in during the planning of the real Mother Daughter Show at my daughter’s school, and Amanda’s song lyrics are basically the ones I wrote for the show, only one of which actually got used. So I guess those oldies—the Gershwins’ “You Can’t Take That Away from Me,” the Beatles’ “When I’m 64,” etc.—would be my choice for a soundtrack for the book.

What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?
When you get criticism that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Think about it for a while and try to be open to it. If it still doesn’t make sense to you, move on. But you never know: sometimes a suggestion that seems totally off base turns out to be what your writing needs. After I’d done several drafts of The Mother Daughter Show, for example, someone told me I didn’t have a plot. My first reaction was basically outrage: of course I had a plot! I’d been slaving over the book for months. But eventually I was able to see that this person had a point. I did have a plot, but I needed more of one. It was tough, but eventually I managed to shoehorn a new plot into my existing one, and it made the book much better.

Can you see yourself in any of your characters?
I can see bits and pieces of myself in almost all my characters, because I have to delve into myself to create them, but of course there’s more of me in some than in others. While I have things in common with all three of the main characters in The Mother Daughter Show, Amanda is the closest to me. She’s someone to whom writing means a lot, and she’s a stay-at-home mom in a high-achieving environment who sometimes wonders if she’s lived up to her early promise. I was on a high-powered career track for a while and then got off it when my kids were born, so I can definitely relate to some of her feelings. But at the same time, she’s a fictional creation. Much of her background doesn’t match mine (she’s Italian Catholic, for example, and I’m Jewish), and in creating her I chose certain aspects of myself and basically exaggerated them.

How do you react to a bad review?

Not with as much equanimity as I would like, I’m afraid. Recently I came across an essay by an author making the point that negative comments for some reason loom much larger in one’s consciousness than positive ones, and I’ve definitely found that to be the case. But I remind myself that people’s reactions to books, and especially to novels, are extremely subjective. I’ve certainly had the experience of reading a book someone else has raved about and thinking, “Huh?” Even revered classics have their detractors. So I tell myself that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to love my book. And I try to remind myself of all the people who read it and did love it!

Book Trailer

The Mother Daughter Show

At Barton Friends a D.C. prep school so elite its parent body includes the President and First Lady – three mothers have thrown themselves into organizing the annual musical revue. Will its Machiavellian intrigue somehow enable them to reconnect with their graduating daughters, who are fast spinning out of control? By turns hilarious and poignant, The Mother Daughter Show will appeal to anyone who’s ever had a daughter – and anyone who’s ever been one.