This week, Madeline Wheeler, author of the autobiographical, social action play,
Revealing Frankie, asks Stacy Morrison, author of Falling Apart in One Piece
, five questions about coping, process, voice, and embracing it all—even the hard stuff.
1. Why did you feel compelled to write Falling Apart in One Piece? I'm a single mom of two years now, so I identified with all the "rebuilding a life on your own" trials. What are you hoping your readers gain from your divorce tale?
Frankly, I tried not to write Falling Apart In One Piece
. But in the months after my divorce finally ended, it became clearer and clearer to me that I had something I wanted to say, some things I wanted people to see, not just about divorce but also about the nature of life and grief and happiness. I hope that readers get at least one of the three main realizations I had as I lived these two years: (1) the way we “do” divorce in our culture is terribly dehumanizing, and that even people who love us are very quick to help us bury our marriages, instead of helping us honor them; (2) that there is tremendous strength to be found in dropping to your knees and being vulnerable, a strength that will carry you through the worst that life offers up to you, and that this is a very peaceful and wonderful discovery; and (3) that this life is good—all of it. Even the hard stuff. I am a much happier and more peaceful person for truly knowing this, and living it every day.
2. You describe many moments of closing mental shoji screens, and the compartmentalization you experienced. Did you find this to be a positive coping mechanism and/or strength? Was this a process you used before your divorce or is it something that developed during your divorce journey?
Those moments of sweet denial—of consciously choosing to close the door on my agony, so I could do those Things that Must Be Done—were utterly necessary. And it’s a very familiar habit, this shifting from one thing to the next, one channel, one role, one task to the other; I’d been doing this for years. I think every woman does this! And I know that I’m just one of those women who really thrives on stress, the juggle and gamble of it, and compartmentalization is one of the tools that facilitates that.
3. Falling Apart, though heart wrenching at times, has a heap-lode of joy in it which I wasn't expecting from a divorce memoir. I know the obstacles you overcame within the story—job loss, the blindside break-up, the emergency room visits, harrowing long trips, continual job and childcare eruptions, and all that water—but what did you find was your greatest obstacle in writing the book?
The greatest obstacle in writing the book was time, which is why it took me almost two years to write it. But the biggest emotional hurdle was giving myself permission to be worthy of writing a book! I kept thinking, “Who cares what I have to say?” And then I’d flash back to all the parties I’d been at where a ring of women and I stood engaged in a conversation about what had been unfolding in my life and in my head. And then I’d have to remind myself that I had something—some things—I’d really wanted to say. And then I would lift up my hands and bring them down on the keyboard again. And again. And again.
4. I enjoyed the intimacy of Falling Apart. I felt like you allowed me into your little world. You have an honest voice that comes across clearly in your editor columns and blog posts at Redbook. What did you discover about the writing process that you didn't know with all your other writing and editing experience?
I have to admit, that I have never, ever, ever thought of myself as a writer. And I was always proud of this, because I believed that was why I was such a good editor: I can inhabit other people’s voices and help draw them out. Sure, I write blogs and editor’s letters, headlines and deks, but those are so conversational, on one hand, and staccato on the other. Writing a book seemed beyond me. So I started with what I know best: purpose, overall framework, structure. These are the elements of writing that I manage every day. And starting there, with a good, solid foundation—I wrote the chapter outline on my Blackberry one afternoon in about 15 minutes, the lessons I’d lived were so potently clear to me—made all the many hard months of writing and rewriting that came to follow possible. I could always go back to the bones, and trust the bones of it, when I was having a hard time getting lost in fleshing it all out. And boy, did I get lost! Colored Post-It notes that I used to mark the different kinds of problems my manuscript had—time issues, repeating issues, this-section-is-boring issues—kept me sane.
5. Falling Apart in One Piece is interesting for writers on many levels. Not only is it a fine example of non-fiction, but we get a peek into the world of magazine publishing from the editor's perspective. She Writes has a large memoir writers group. What wisdom or advice can you pass on to She Writers approaching their first book proposal?
Find the irresistible tension in your story, and ride it hard. Find the car accident within you. Find the part of your story people can’t resist turning their head to watch and put it front and center. That’s why my book opens with the moment Chris said goodbye, and included my bitchy little comment to him. Once you read that, you’re in. But I first had to write—and then delete—the Why I Am Writing This Book Chapters before I could get there. Just get in to the middle of your story and let it rip! I love people’s stories; that’s what’s always motivated me to do what I do. The lives we women are leading every day will forever be the reason I get out of bed and come to work, excited and raring to go.
Stacy Morrison is the editor in chief of
Redbook magazine. Under her guidance, the magazine has found new vibrancy as the total-life guide for today’s women/wives/mothers. She has appeared as an expert on women, love, sex, money, and more on NBC’s Today, CNN Headline News, CNN Moneyline, and The Early Show, among many other TV programs. She lives in Brooklyn with her 6-year-old son, Zack, whose father is at the house many, many times a week.
You can order
Falling Apart in One Piece here.
Photograph by Anna Wolf