Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Caryn Miriam-Goldberg, Author

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a novel, The Divorce Girl (Ice Cube Books), a non-fiction book, Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other (Potomac Books); The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); the anthologies An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate (co-editor, Ice Cube Books) and Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems (editor, Woodley Press);  and four collections of poetry. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word – at Goddard College where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats. She blogs at www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.com

                                       CARYN ON WRITING DIVORCE GIRL

When I was 14 and just starting my life of writing for hours each day, I read that to be a good writer, you need to open up your awareness and narrate to yourself all you see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Although I tended to do this somewhat obsessively at the time, this advice has served me well because in looking closely at the breathing, sensory world in which we live, I could not only see what was right before my eyes, but what was on the periphery.
Peripheral vision can show us the silver stretched briefly across the fuchsia sunset, the single blue heron crossing back to the wetlands at dusk, the first rising star, and such glimpses are not only gold for a writer but for a human. The universe is full of signs and wonders, and many of them are just on the edges of where we usually look. Such vision serves us well when it comes to the people in our lives who bring with them signs and wonders we would have never imagined if we hadn't opened our sight to see those on the edges.
This is all a lead-in to tell you that I love quirky characters in my fiction, with my coffee, on the road and through the internet. The people who we least expect to matter to us as well as the ones we thought we knew all along and then turn out to show us opulent dimensions -- they are the ones who embody the signs and wonders of being alive.

In writing THE DIVORCE GIRL, I didn't have to look far for such characters. Having based the novel on the framework of what I lived -- growing up in central NJ in the mid-70s, working at the Englishtown Auction, going back and forth to New York City to my dad's store, and hanging out in strip malls -- I met many such surprises disguised as humans. I worked at a clothing boutique with a guy named Eddie, old enough to be my father, but far cooler, and together we would sit in the back room, dissecting my latest love interest gone bad. I sold women's clothing at the auction, right next to 6'8" Ben, who told me stories of the real world. I had teachers who wore long beards, loved Ray Bradbury and Karl Marx, and joked with us about the meaninglessness of the suburbs.
So when I started writing THE DIVORCE GIRL, I knew that more-than-average-eccentric characters weren't be doing guest spots in the narrative, but taking on larger roles. That's because I understood that my main character, Deborah Shapiro, needed to see the world from different vantage points for her art, her survival, and her transition from girl to woman, and who better than these people:
 An ex-wild woman, current denim boutique owner who could hardly believe she ended up, after traveling the world and doing too many drugs, living in 'Jersey and finding the love of her life in an older guy named Uncle Carl.
 A young rabbi hired by a new suburban New Jersey syagogue (after being fire by a New York City synagogue for being too radical) who drank herbal tea (a novelty for the 70s), made his own echinacea, educated teens on the dangers and realities of drugs and sex, and listened to people in need with the intensity of their best beloved.
 A giant named Boy who drove up and down the eastern seaboard buying men's sportswear with slight damages that he could sell at flea markets, in between belting out "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" or "Silhouettes" for his customers.
 A high school wild child from Egypt who was popular for, among other things, breaking the projector of a pro-life group, and whose mother chased her around with a tea pot in one hand, a knife in the other.
It's these and other characters who show Deborah not only the possibility for but the downright necessity of living on her own terms. Their examples -- whether of not taking crap from anyone, going where their heart calls them, navigating their lives by an expansive perspective, or defining for themselves what health, life and art mean -- encourage Deborah to take her own creative risks. Their kindness shows Deborah new ways to make community, and even out of her friends, a family that sees her for who she is.
Most all, their lives help Deborah open up her own peripheral vision. Considering Deborah is an emerging photographer, such insight unlocks the door to her universe for her and shows her how to walk right through.

The Author, Caryn Miriam-Goldberg

THE DIVORCE GIRL will be released July 7, 2012. Here's and early review:

Publishers Weekly Review: Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. Ice Cube (Ingram, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (378p) ISBN 978-1-88-816066-6: Kansas Poet Laureate Mirriam-Goldberg (The Sky Begins at Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body) successfully leaps into the fiction world with her debut novel, a moving coming-of-age story 14 years in the making. At 15 years old, New Jerseyan Deborah Shapiro knows about divorce, yet this budding photographer’s conception of how it should play out quickly dissolves when her bellicose father announces he will remain in the house after her parents’ split. Since a photography class assignment to shoot “whatever is most wrong in your life” coincides with the domestic break-up, Deborah documents every nuance of her increasingly bizarre life, including the violent fights between her parents; a flea market where her father and his new girlfriend, Fatima, sell cheap plus-size clothing; and her father’s subsequent marriage to Fatima. As Deborah unsuccessfully seeks a mother figure to help her endure her father’s regular verbal and physical abuses, she finds support from a kindly rabbi, a Jewish youth group, and her photography classmates. Documenting her life through a camera’s lens helps to lessen the pain of her circumstances, as well as propel her down the track toward a career in photography. Deborah’s story unfolds slowly, but the pacing showcases an insecure yet resilient teenager who ultimately emerges as a strong, compassionate adult.

On Friday, I'll post a review of the book GALLAGHER'S PRIDE, by MK McClintock. 

Thanks for stopping by!


Denise Low said...

thanks for this insightful post about life, the universe, and everything!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Caryn, welcome to my blog.

Friends and Family of Weedle/Donna said...

Thanks so much for hosting me, Caroline, and thanks for dropping by, Denise.

Elaine Stock said...

Caryn, sounds like a fascinating premise. Glad you visited Caroline's blog :)