AMY FERRIS

Tell Me a Story: Women of Wonder author Amy Friedman interviews Amy Ferris, whose new memoir, Marrying George Clooney, will literally make you laugh and cry.


Q: First let me say that one of my favorite things about Marrying George Clooney is that it’s one of those books that actually made me laugh out loud; almost no one can do that to me, but you did. When you’re writing funny, do you think you’re funny? Are you trying to be? Have you always been? Were you the class cut-up? Is there anyone you can’t make laugh?

A: I am so glad you laughed out loud! I don’t think I try to be funny, I just write exactly as I speak, and I’ve always had a good sense of humor—especially when it comes to dealing with and exposing all of my fears, my worries, my shame and guilt. You gotta find humor in there. Both my parents were very, very sharp—razor sharp—each had a wicked sense of humor, and my brother is very quick and funny. There’s no escaping it. It’s not something I’m trying to do—to be funny—It’s just I try not to filter myself when I’m writing, so what I’m thinking goes right down on the page. What I managed to do really well with this book is I took some very difficult situations—menopause and dementia, illness and loss—and found the humanity and every day humor in it, the universality in it. Because the minute you see it universally, how can you not find the humor, the funny, the self-deprecating. People deeply relate to that, especially if there’s humor along with the sadness.

Q: Besides sharing with you a first name, a complicated relationship with a brother, and menopausal symptoms, I’m also the daughter of a woman with Alzheimer’s, so naturally when I stopped laughing, I discovered tears pouring down my face. Did the sadness within the pages of Marrying George Clooney evolve out of the stories themselves, the truthfulness, or were you striving to inspire the reader’s tears? The book reads, like the best of literature, as effortless, so beautifully honest, it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t simply flow. Was that the case?

A: I have to say the pieces about my mom were just so sad and profound for me, I was very emotional while writing the epilogue. I wasn’t going for the reader tears (well, that’s not completely true, I am going for three to four million reader tears now), I just knew that I had much pain and sadness in my relationship with her, and I knew—I knew—she was going to die. I think the hardest part for me was finding the truth for myself with this book. When I spent time with her, and visited her, I was completely torn. I didn’t want to betray her. And I didn’t want to see her scared, incontinent, disconnected. I wasn’t sure I wanted to expose that, share that, but I knew in order to write about this time, this experience—these moments that I had with her—then I had to not worry so much, I just had to find a way that felt authentic and true and turn the poison of our relationship into medicine. I wanted to convey the truth and managed to do just that while falling in love with her. But as she slipped deeper and deeper into dementia, I saw her own fears so much, and it was because I was able to see that—the very same fears I have—that I could pour tons of love into the epilogue and honor her the way I did.
The writing itself, the physical writing, was absolutely joyous. It did flow, and it flowed effortlessly, and I didn’t want to cheat myself out of any of these experiences worrying too much if how I conveyed my point of view would rock the boat a bit, or a lot. At some point I realized if I wrote my truth, if I stayed true to myself and shared that experience from my point of view, many, many women would feel liberated. I don’t feel I owe anyone anything other than a completely unobstructed view to the side of the street I live on. Memoirs can be somewhat challenging, because inevitably someone will say, “Hey that’s not how I saw it, or that’s not what went down.” Everyone—depending on where you’re seated—will see a cloud formation differently. Trying to convince someone that how they see or feel something is inaccurate because it’s not how you see it—is both selfish and controlling. The very, very best you can do is tell your story, your side. And hope that you can inspire and encourage others because of your journey. Give them the courage to speak up.

Q: My hairdresser is forever telling me that she can’t figure out why it’s taking me so long to finish my memoir. “Isn’t it just what happened in real life?” she asks. Was writing this book difficult for you? How long did it take you to write, and what was your process? What is it about writing “truth” that’s easy, and what is hard?

A: Writing “real” is hard because, somewhere, I don’t know how deep down, but somewhere, you think, am I going to offend that person, or that person...or any person? Krista (Lyons, my publisher) often reminded me, first and foremost, you must be 100 percent committed to telling your story—not the story you think someone wants hear. Your personal, amazing, bold, courageous, audacious story, and once you do that—yeah, all sorts of obstacles surface, and more than once you will be sitting right across the table from fear and doubt, and disbelief, not to mention all the folks who tell why you shouldn’t do it... And I am here to say, just thank them, and move on. But, you go through all sorts of writing stages: The first is the spitting out of everything, every detail, nuance, every little remembrance gets written about, earmarked, tucked away, in new folders, multi-colored folders, pink for the bad day, blue for the feisty day, purple for the fuck-you day. It took me about two years on and off to write it, and in that period of time there was so much happening. But I also felt it was my therapy. To write continuously about painful situations with great humor, to accept that not only was my mother dying, but I was also in brand new territory with menopause, which was—and is—an unbelievable journey. My therapist recently said to me: "You know Amy, some relationships just never get mended. Their sole purpose is to constantly remind you how little about yourself you love, and it’s really a question of writing your truth, living your truth, owning it, standing in it." There are many many more stories to tell. Many more. It was a liberating moment for me, to accept that fact.

Q: How do you approach the different parts of your life—as screenwriter, memoir writer, editor, essayist, wife, friend, advisory board member, urban dweller and country mouse? And incidentally, since you are a screenwriter, have you thought of writing the screen adaptation of Marrying George Clooney? What would it feel like for you to allow someone else to take on that task?

A: I enjoy all writing. I loved screenwriting when I was doing it, the collaboration. I’ve had the fortune of working with some really wonderful folks, both in a creative capacity and on the business end. I loved working with Julie Dash, who was and continues to be such a mentor to me. Here’s this woman who has so much brilliance and talent and patience, and loves the written word. She has such reverence for it. And her ability to share her vision and make you feel like your contribution is priceless just always amazed me, having worked with some other folks that were so steeped in ego. And of course Krista Lyons, my editor and publisher at Seal, a true, true champion of all things women. What a pure delight to work with her. I think the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had as a screenwriter or as an author, or even as an editor, were when they were collaborative. I think collaboration is like the best kind of romance. There is something magical about bringing something to life and knowing that one or two or three people made that happen, and each person stepped away learning something new, knowing something more, having been given the ability to shine.

Q: I can’t wait to read the next Amy Ferris production. What is next up for you?

A: I’m adapting Marrying George to the stage. And Amy Friedman and I are writing an anthology—a collection of stories called That Kiss. Sexy, funny, charming, hilarious, poignant, moving, enlightening... it’s about that kiss, that moment, when it all changed, shifted, you knew... that deep, sexy, sweet, long, even messy moment, when you just knew nothing would ever, ever be the same.

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Comment by Alicia Anstead on October 26, 2009 at 7:36am
Over the weekend, I interviewed four memoir writers onstage at the Boston Book Festival, and they all commented on the importance of the "tragedy" and "comedy" mix to the success of their work. It's the tried-and-true combination -- and I was delighted to read that Amy Ferris agrees. One of the other important questions that came up for this panel was about readership. Michael Greenberg writes in his memoir "Beg, Borrow and Steal: A Writer's Life" that when he called his former wife to discuss the past, she said: "Who can remember these things, Michael, and who cares?" The question is a good one. Why cares about memoir? The audience answered it for us: people who have walked in the same or similar paths. My own feeling is that a lot of memoirs suffer from not being elegantly written (I'm sure this is not true of Amy Ferris!), but somehow the story still has an impact. It's the genre of our times -- and that didn't happen because people aren't reading memoir. They clearly are. Congratulations on your book, Amy Ferris. And thanks. Amy Friedman, for taking the time to do this excellent interview and share it with the rest of us.
Comment by Mary Roy on October 19, 2009 at 11:48pm
Brilliant questions. Inspiring answers. Really. I regret missing the Pacific Palisades date. I must buy this book. Mother with dementia, writer daughter, menopause. Hello.
Comment by Mel Ryane on October 19, 2009 at 1:11pm
A beautiful and inspiring interview. Thank you Amy & Amy...could be a deli or a hair salon or a publisher.
Comment by Amy Wallen on October 19, 2009 at 12:45pm
Fabulous interview. Makes me want to go out and buy the book, which I just did, only I didn't go out, I just pushed those buttons on my keyboard. I love stories that make you laugh and cry. I think a person goes even deeper into the feelings when laughter leads them there. Thank you to both Amys from another Amy.
Comment by Gwyn Nichols on October 17, 2009 at 8:55am
I especially loved your description of collaboration, and I shared it with two clients who are collaborating on a book about collaboration! I'd love to hear more about your own experiences of collaborating together, Amys.
Comment by Hope Edelman on October 16, 2009 at 11:09pm
Smart, insightful, and inspiring questions and answers! Amy Ferris (as opposed to Amy Friedman), I am so sorry to have missed your reading in Pacific Palisades. I had every intention of going there, and then the vicissitudes of motherhood totally got in the way. But I am going over to Village Books tomorrow to buy a signed copy, which is a distantly next-best thing. Congratulations to you for the book's success. I see it in every bookstore I enter.
Comment by Amy Ferris on October 16, 2009 at 6:08pm
and thank you kamy for giving amy & i this opportunity to do the 5 questions - we loved every minute of it!
amy
Comment by Kamy Wicoff on October 16, 2009 at 6:33am
Wow -- I am so grateful to have this exchange to share with all the members of She Writes. Talk about effortless, and funny, and inspiring. Thank you both.
Kamy

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