Amy Schorr asks Marie Estorge, author of IN THE MIDDLE OF OTHERWISE, 12 questions
Amy: The title of your book IN THE MIDDLE OF OTHERWISE is quite intriguing. Would you please tell us about it?
Marie: My day job is accounting and during a hectic financial close, my colleague said, “Here we are in the middle of otherwise.” I immediately thought, otherwise – a state one finds oneself in if one doesn’t heed advice, follow a process, do what is needed, or take necessary precautions. I asked her if I could borrow that saying for the title of my novel. It was a perfect description of my two protagonists’ current situation.
Amy: Describe the two main characters and where they came from.
Marie: Brodie is an insurance agent who has until midnight to sell five life insurance policies to earn a desperately-needed $10,000.00 bonus. He hasn’t told his wife or daughter about their precarious financial situation, but they will soon learn. Brodie is a nice guy and he means well. He just doesn’t follow through or stay on top of his business.
Jenny is a grieving mother, who two years prior, backed her car over her son. This fatal accident has destroyed her once-happy marriage. She is desperate to obliterate the pain and guilt that consumes her.
Brodie and Jenny’s stories collide when, on the day of her son’s fatal accident, she finds Brodie’s wallet at the edge of her driveway and begins writing him anonymous letters. The letters become sort of a lifeline for her since she and her husband have stopped communicating.
Amy: You obviously had material for your two memoirs (STORKBITES and CONFESSIONS OF A BI-POLAR MARDI GRAS QUEEN) from your personal life. Where did you get your idea for this novel?
Marie: I attended an author event once and when asked how she decided what to write about, the author, Vendela Vida, said, “Write what you fear most.” I thought of a time I nearly backed over my son. My friend was supposed to be watching him while I packed up the car and backed out of her garage. A second before I took my foot off the brake to press on the gas, I saw these blond wisps of hair just above the rear window. Unlike Jenny, I was lucky. My son escaped what would have been a horrible accident. Brodie, the other protagonist in my novel, finds himself in dire financial straits (of his own making), and I’ve been there. I’ve felt his fear, his shame, and his defeat, and I know how scary those situations can be.
Amy: During the storytelling process, do you ever get writer’s block? How do you break through it?
Sometimes, I find myself stuck when I’m starting the next chapter. When this happens, I pull some of my favorite books from my shelves and read the opening sentences of random chapters. Usually, this will trigger an idea of what needs to happen next in the story. A trick that has also helped me is to end a writing session in the middle of a scene. If I know what’s going to happen next, I won’t avoid sitting down to write the next time.
Amy: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Marie: Both. When I’m in the middle of a scene and can barely type fast enough to keep up with my mind, it’s very invigorating. After 6 or 8 hours of writing, however, I’m left completely exhausted. I’ve concentrated so hard, often holding my breath through crucial scenes, that when I step away from my desk, my throat is sore. I try to remind myself to breathe!
Amy: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process while writing?
Marie: Rejection. Envy. Insecurity. Fear. I have been told no in so many ways—some kind and some awful rejections. Luckily, I’ve heard yes, as well. When I’m feeling discouraged and wondering if anyone will want to read anything I’ve written or whether I have any talent, I will remind myself that there could be a yes right around the corner. If I don’t continue forward, I will never reach that yes.
To get over these humps, I’ll sit on the floor of my office, pluck books off the shelves, and read passages from some of my favorite books until I’m feeling inspired and hopeful again. I will comb through Poets & Writers and Writer’s Digest, looking for inspiration.
Admittedly, I often find myself envious when reading about friends’ success on social media. I fear that I’m wasting my time and will never make a living at writing. But I remember how much I enjoy the writing process: fleshing out ideas, figuring out how my characters will react in a situation based on their background and circumstances, reworking a sentence until it flows, and thinking of unique metaphors.
Amy: What is your writing kryptonite?
Marie: Getting feedback from people who hate my writing style and voice. I want complete honesty from people whom I’ve asked to read and critique my work, but I also know that a writer should be selective about whom they trust with their work. Nasty, personal comments in the margins of a manuscript can set me back weeks, even months. Some comments, though on the surface feel rude, are actually helpful and funny: “I’m falling asleep here…is something going to happen?”
Amy: What would you tell your younger writing self?
Marie: Read constantly and widely across genres. Study how your favorite authors craft sentences and paragraphs. Just get the first terrible draft written, then focus on fleshing out the characters and story. The delete button is your friend.
Amy: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Marie: Enrolling in small writing classes of vetted, serious writers led by an experienced writer/editor. Some of the most helpful feedback I received was sitting around the living rooms of old San Francisco Victorians. The biggest waste of money: Paying a former “well-connected” editor $16,000 to edit my manuscript. Or $10,000 to a publicist who “lived next to Oprah.” I’ve found that English teachers make excellent, affordable editors. Also, get recommendations from other writers. A post on Facebook about me needing an editor led to the most amazing collaboration.
Amy: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Marie: Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, and Dave Eggers’ Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever. I LOVED these books—they are so smart and strange.
Amy: If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Marie: Am I too old to be an Olympic Springboard diver? Probably. I’d love to teach writing or accounting at a community college or coach diving again. Make art and purses. Design furniture.
Amy: What does literary success look like to you?
Marie: Success would mean that I can afford to write full time because my work is valued by readers and acknowledged by the industry. I’m invited to literary events where I meet some of my idols. I’m asked to share my knowledge with other authors. Friends, family, and strangers will send a quick note to say how much they enjoyed my book.