Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Author Snapshot: Rachel Cline

Last month, we told you a bit about Rachel Cline’s journeyman’s eye and poet’s heart when the author’s second novel was published. My Liar (Random House), follows up 2004’s highly acclaimed What to Keep.
The Los Angeles film community provides the backdrop for My Liar, and though this community is well rendered (it’s a world this author once inhabited) it really is just the setting. The real meat here comes through the relationships between women: the complex connections, the competitions and self-definitions. Cline serves it all up with pathos and heart and great dollops of dark humor.

A Snapshot of Rachel Kennedy Cline...

Born: New York Hospital, but was taken home to Brooklyn
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Birthday: 1957
Web site:

Please tell us about your most recent book.
My Liar is about a creative woman working as a film editor in Hollywood, on the scruffy or “indie” end of the movie business -- and particularly looks at her twisted friendship with another woman, the director she works for. A critic named Helen Eisenbach recently wrote this sentence, which I love as a summary: “My Liar is the doomed ménage a trois between an artist, her art and that dirty mistress, commerce.”

What’s on your nightstand?
What Maisie Knew by Henry James, because I’m thinking about writing something about a child who knows too much and because I’m always feeling remiss about not having read enough of James.

A Dream from My Father by Barack Obama, which I picked up while checking to see whether the local McNally-Robinson bookstore had My Liar in stock (it didn’t). So, I buried my sorrows and my nose in the book on the ride home and couldn’t stop reading -- it’s such a nuanced self-portrait, full of confusion and ambivalence. In other words, it’s a lot more interesting than what I expected to find in a book authored by a presidential candidate.

Last Resorts by Clare Boylan, a book with a tacky-looking cover that I picked up at a second-hand shop, but which turned out to be the best thing I’d read in ages. I’m keeping it close to remind me to look out for more of Boylan’s work -- she died in 2006 (at only 58) but left seven novels and three story collections.

What inspires you?
Finding a great book by an author I’d never heard of. Reading a great book by anyone.

What are you working on now?
Don’t want to jinx it.

Tell us about your process.
Establishing a practice is the most important part of learning to be a writer and everyone’s approach is different -- I didn’t find my own way until I finally just gave in to the fact that it requires sitting there and tolerating feeling completely uncomfortable until you don’t feel that way anymore. For me, the only way to do that is to get to the desk when I’m still half-asleep and to not let myself flake out until I’ve either sat there for two hours or produced 1000 words.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
It’s winter and the leaves are down, so if I really crane my neck, I can see the Statue of Liberty.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
The idea of becoming “a writer” crystallized for me when I was nine or ten (around the time my parents’ marriage broke up, and also around the time I first read Harriet the Spy). Of course, my mother was a writer, so that was where I really got the idea. The hard part wasn’t knowing that being a writer was what I wanted, but realizing that it was something I had to do whether or not I could ever figure out how to get paid for it.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Probably writing them anyway. Unless you mean, in a coma or something -- that’s really the only circumstance I can imagine keeping me away from writing, entirely.

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

Looking around at all my friends and the people who had helped me at the publication party for What to Keep. I figured that was what a bride must feel like, except I was actually being praised for something I had done (versus a role I had assumed in society) and so even my snotty little inner voice couldn’t find a way to berate me at that moment. Added bonus: I was wearing a red dress.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
None of it’s easy. But I think I’m better at taking criticism than a lot of people. I find it strangely satisfying to hear what’s wrong with my work -- as long as it’s at a point where I can still fix it. (And even after publication, if the criticism is based on a serious reading, I don’t mind that so much, either. It’s being dismissed that kills me.)

What’s the most difficult?
Getting out of the habit of thinking of myself as a failure.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Isn’t [enter character name here] really you?

What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
Anything about the ideas and images in the book, itself.

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I’m afraid that one day I’ll unconsciously lick the spoon I just used to serve the cat food from the can. Ick!

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