Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Blogger: Sally Koslow

Yesterday, I reviewed a great new book called THE LATE, LAMENTED MOLLY MARX by Sally Koslow. In my review, I mentioned that I found the characters and their interactions very interesting. I thought it was wonderful how Ms. Koslow created such flawed, and yet, very real characters; and I even found myself relating to Molly on certain levels.

So when she sent me this guest post about how so many of her readers relate to Molly, I knew I wasn't alone. In this essay, Ms. Koslow explains how she comes up with her books' characters and their stories -- I hope you enjoy reading this guest post as much as I did!

Whenever I discover that another woman loves books as much as I do, I feel as if she’s my instant friend, someone whose brain I want to pick for what to read next. I thank Julie for inviting me to guest-blog today after yesterday’s review, because I know that every Booking Mama reader must be someone who shares our mutual passion for fiction. I wish I could meet you all, face to face.

My second novel, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, arrived in bookstores in May. It’s been a wonderful high to see my book-baby published, but the tiptop of the experience is that readers almost always say they connect to the main character in some way. No one seems to mind that Molly happens to be dead, looking back on her loved ones from an afterlife location I refer to as The Duration. Perhaps the relate-ability to Molly comes from the fact that as she herself admits, she had flaws. Many flaws.

“I liked to gossip” she says.” I didn’t always rejoice at others’ successes. I occasionally forgot birthdays and relied way too much on takeout food. I texted at Mommy and Me classes. I never voted in primaries and ate dark chocolate far in excess of the 6.3 grams that might have lowered my high blood pressure. I don’t even know what 6.3 grams are. I should have lost five pounds Ok, eight. I failed to polish my shoes, which I allowed to run down at the heels.

“I didn’t wash my hairbrushes and sometimes went to bed without removing my makeup. E-mail chain letters terminated on my watch and I never looked at friends’ Internet photo galleries. I subscribed to two cheesy celebrity magazines. I could never complete a crosswords puzzle (not even the easy one on Mondays) or understand football. My abs were going to hell because I did crunches only sporadically. I whodunit movies, I could never follow the plot."

When I started writing fiction I used to wonder, where do characters like Molly Marx come from, flaws and all, arriving uninvited like second-cousins once removed on my father’s side? They invade my brain, assume a physical shape, and start prattling away. Soon enough, I feel as if I’m simply taking dictation at their behest. Sometimes, there are too friggin’ many of them and—sorry, guys-- to make sense of my story, some of these imaginary people have to get the boot.

I’ve grown to realize that every character is a mosaic-- of my friends, of my family, of parts of me and most of all, of my secret self, my imagination. Recently, two high school friends from my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, visited New York, where I live now, bearing a tee-shirt that says “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.” I wear this gift with pride, because its message is accurate. Since I started writing fiction, whatever I experience or remember, no matter how bizarre or painful, gets recycled. Sooner or later, it smirks back at me from the page.

For my first novel, Little Pink Slips, I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. At the time I wrote it, I’d recently completed eight years of having one of the universe’s best jobs, being the editor-in-chief of McCall’s Magazine. Even if you don’t remember McCall’s, your mom, grandmother, great-grandmother or great-great grandmother probably does or did, since the magazine was founded shortly after the Civil War and it was still going strong until the comedienne Rosie O’Donnell came knocking at the door of the owner. Faster than I could say “oh, crap,” I was kicked upstairs, replaced by Rosie, who literally moved into my office (for nine months—her magazine had a short life.). I lived to tell the tale by writing a novel about a magazine editor-in-chief who gets replaced by a—ahem--colorful celebrity.

My current novel, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, begins at a funeral. It was at a real funeral when the idea for the story came to me. From what I could tell that day, the over-the-top eulogies for the woman we were mourning didn’t square with the person I, at least, had known. My mind began to drift. I wondered what the deceased might have thought of these tributes, had she been able to hear them, and from there I moved on to how it’s a fundamental fantasy to wish to know what would be said about us after we die. I walked away from the funeral realizing I’d gotten a gift from my imagination, the concept for a book which I would build around a mystery. I went home and hit the computer to immediately started drafting The Late, Lamented Molly Marx. The first five words I wrote were the title.

Writing fiction sometimes feels like trying to blast through solid stone. But to finish the ultimate product, a novel that tells a complicated story about people who start to feel real, is a feeling like none other!

Happy Reading,
Sally Koslow

p.s. I’m delighted that Julie recommended The Late, Lamented Molly Marx for book clubs. If you visit my website:, you can click through to a discussion guide with all sorts of questions.


bermudaonion said...

This is a great guest post. I am certainly old enough to remember McCall's magazine (I used to love the Betsy McCall paper dolls) and I remember when Rosie took it over too. Now, I'm very curious to read Little Pink Slips.

Beth F said...

My mom read McCall's and I loved cutting out the Betsy McCall dolls. And then I subscribed off and on in my adult life too. I mourned with you when it was taken over.

I've been wanting to read Molly Marx, now I'm going to add Pink Slips too.

Anonymous said...

I really love the sound of Molly Marx. She sounds a lot like me. Email chain letter die on my watch, too. I've added this book to my every growing, impossible to fully fulfill... and even more impossible to read them all... wishlist.

Betsy Teutsch said...

As sally's sister, I can attest to the fact that the characters are fictional. But it was weird to read about Lucy, her semi-crazed, if well-intentioned, sibling!

Kristen said...

Love this guest post. I think we actually still have back issues of McCall's floating around at the cottage (a sort of afterlife place for old magazines). Molly Marx has been on my wishlist since I first read about it and it looks like I'll have to add Pink Slip too. Gee thanks! ;-)

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

The little clip you mentioned about your character could be a lt of what I woud say. So tru and so funny!

I remember McCalls. I worked at G+J right after the big Rosie scandal. What a mess.