Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on local author Laura Zigman. I asked Laura to tell me briefly about herself and her writing, and this was her response:
I’m Laura Zigman, the author of five novels – Animal Husbandry, Dating Big Bird, Her, Piece of Work, and Separation Anxiety. My sixth novel, Small World, will be published next week. I live in Cambridge, MA.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
All the great independent bookstores, for which I’m so grateful, and Bookshop.org.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I would love people to follow me! On Twitter and Instagram I’m @laurazigman. And my website is: www.laurazigman.com
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from [newest release/spotlighted release]?
My work always starts in an autobiographical place, but the lens of the story always widens from there: my first novel, Animal Husbandry, was about a woman who gets dumped and tries to figure out male behavior by studying animal behavior (spoiler alert: I was dumped and tried to figure out male behavior by studying animal behavior). All my subsequent novels dealt with some aspect of what I was experiencing and what people I knew were experiencing – stress about my biological clock; getting married; resuscitating a dormant career after taking time off with a child; and middle-age when life is marked more by loss and grief. In Small World, I finally wrote about my childhood – I grew up in a family that had lost a child (my oldest sister who I didn’t really know died when she was seven and I was three, after being institutionalized for most of her life). The novel is both very much based on what I and my older sister Linda experienced, but also very fictionalized, too, starting with the comic situation of two divorced sisters moving in together as adults and being forced to confront their past.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
Like most writers, I love doing research because if you’re researching it means you’re not writing. Yet. I did a lot of research into the institution where my sister lived, The Fernald School in Waltham, and that was incredibly interesting. I tried to get my sister’s medical records, but I learned very quickly that Massachusetts has incredibly strict privacy laws which means you have to get a lawyer to establish your right to guardianship and then pursue files which may or may not exist after more than 50 years. The other research I did for this book which was really fun was spending lots of time on the Nextdoor app – Small World is the fictional version of this popular neighborhood app and Joyce, the main character in the novel, is obsessed with the problems posted and solved on the site and turns her favorite ones into poetry. Whenever I was stuck or tired of writing, I would look for great posts about lost cats or bad neighbors and write my own version.
What was the inspiration for SMALL WORLD? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
I’d always wanted to write about my childhood, about what it was like growing up with sad parents and feeling somewhat invisible because of their grief. People do the best they can in these terrible situations and while I know my parents absolutely did their best, my sister and I were deeply affected by how the loss of their first child changed them. We often have wondered what our family would have been like, what our parents would have been like – what we would have been like, as individuals and as sisters – had we been a family of five instead of four.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
My dog Lady, a beautiful Sheltie, who is now 14. We got her in 2008. She is my first dog, and until we got her, I didn’t understand how attached you could get and the depth of comfort a pet like her can provide. She is truly and absolutely an essential part of our family. I can’t imagine life without her.
Thanks so much for answering our questions, Laura. And good luck with Small World!