27 November, 2017

Questions from Book Tour - Part 1

1. What’s your writing setup like? Do you have a certain playlist you listen to or a drink you always have?

Yes. I have a beautiful vintage pull-down writing desk! It has been handed down from my mother— she found it on the street when she was in college. When she discovered it, it was covered in layers of paint that she stripped away to reveal a beautiful raw wood. The desk has been in my home since childhood, and the handle where you “pull-down” is the face of a lion, that I always thought was the face of Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia.

I write first thing in the morning, with my morning coffee or tea (poured from my perfect tea-for-one teapot gifted to me by beloved pal and actress Lara Pulver). I start by what I call “sitting with” my writing for at least an hour—internet free—and spending time in the that innately creative world while I’m waking up, still feeling a bit “dreamy.” I’m certainly not the first artist to start the day with their creativity, “morning pages” is one of the primary tenants of The Artist’s Way, and though that was not where this ritual began for me personally, it is no wonder! There is a certain creative freedom that comes to us just as we first start to stir—a lack of internal editor, a connection to a more playful and innocent place of total possibility.

After that, I usually immediately do my vocal (singing) warm-up, followed by working on any music I have going on/coming up. And that means I have all my creativity “chores” done at the very beginning of the day and everything else achieved is gravy.

I’m not a slave to regiment— sometimes this all goes out the window, sometimes I’ve been known to write (literally) all night long and fall asleep at 8am after a particularly long lighting-bolt of inspiration. Sometimes (especially when I have a deadline and it’s like the Wild West with da’ rules,) I will include parts of m neighborhood and city into my writing “set up” — the city has a number of beautiful cafes with back gardens, sidewalk spots to park a laptop or a legal notepad, and write. It helps to “air yourself out!” Staying in your apartment and writing for 16 hours is something I can only do when it is a deadline RED ALERT, or when the spirit of inspiration had really struck. That image of Michael Douglas as writer Michael Chabon in Wonder Boys? You know the image I speak of: of a writer in their under-pants padding ceaselessly around the book in The Bathrobe of Shame? Yep. Been there. All with my perfect little tea pot, under the “supervision” of my cat, Tatiana.

2. Speaking of which, what do you do when you are creatively blocked? How do you deal with writer’s block?
Practically I do three things:

First, I return to some of my original sources of inspiration.
For After Anatevka specifically, I drew from several sources of inspiration you’d likely never even imagine: Rosencranz and Guildestern Are Dead inspired my writing of the “scenes between the scenes,” the J.J. Abrams TV show Lost was on television when I first began the novel, and directly inspired the “flashback” structure of the story-telling. The prose of John Steinbeck and Boris Pasternak (particularly East of Eden and Dr. Zhivago, respectively), the stories of Yiddish oral tradition and other Yiddish writers in addition to Shalom Aleichem such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, and I.L Peretz. I return to the masters and pray for a jolt by “praying at the altar.”

Second, I “phone a friend.”
I also have a small circle of (very) trusted friends that I will call and talk through the troubles with. That can be anything from story, plot, conflict, to trusting them to comb through the words themselves and tell me if I use too many italics. Or Whatever. Sometimes I scream into the phone while this friend talks me off the proverbial ledge. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we do victory laps. The best part is, I always enjoy returning the favor. To give the two most important credit: I have been bouncing ideas with Santino Fontana since we were teenagers, and I don’t know where I’d be creatively without Bobby Steggert. Which is why both are thanked in the acknowledgments of my book by name only, without any need for explanation.

Third, I walk. Everywhere. Until I drop.
I usually get the heck out of my “space” and walk and walk and walk. Anywhere. Often commingling #1 and #2 whilst power-walking my way to publication. Have you ever seen the episode of The West Wing where CJ can’t sleep so she exercises on a stationary bike until she sweats out her spleen? Yeah. It’s like that. With less political consequences.

3. Do you have to be familiar with the play or Sholom Aleichem's stories to appreciate the book?

Not at all. The piece is accessible to all, and a stand-alone story. If you know the Sholom Aleichem and the musical, even better.

I truly wanted to create was an utterly original story based upon and inspired by, but not tied to, the source material. My research makes clear that the sentimental shtetl world altered hugely in 1905— right after the first Russian Revolution. The safety, security and rules of life-as-they-knew-it changed suddenly to a stark and harsher reality— I wanted the story, as well as the prose itself, to reflect that reality. That makes this a story about Hodel, but one that takes up its own mantel and carries the story into the 20th century and hopefully, beyond.

4. Many questions are left unanswered at the end of the play. Why did you choose to make Hodel's story the basis of your novel?

Hodel took on a deeper significance for me than any other character I’d ever portrayed, mostly because when I began rehearsing her in London I was coming to terms with the death of my father 5 years earlier at the age of 18.

Hodel’s final scene is not only an assertion of her adult autonomy, but it her chance to say goodbye to her father, a chance I was personally lacking in my real life. When Hodel said “Papa God alone knows when we shall see each other again” it was more than a piece of dialogue for me. It felt mythological, primal even.

I suppose I only now see the direct connection between an 18-year0old girl who boards a train to Siberia, and an 18-year-old girl who boarded a plane to Scotland. By exploring and assuring Hodel's future, and her capacity to endure, I was in some deeper way doing the same for myself.

5. You’ve made the transition from West End to Broadway and from acting to writing so well. What would your advice be to people hoping to do similar / any advice or aspiring creatives?

Being a “multi-hyphenate” is simultaneously straightforward, and tremendously complex.

To “do” something other than what is listed on, say, your tax return, there is very little required other than to just do it. You want to write? Don’t wait for a permission slip from the Gods of Writing; just write. An essay. A blog post. A Tweet. It doesn’t matter what you create as long as you actually create it, and create it from a place of authenticity.


  1. Inspiring as always, my dear

  2. Thank you for your time and effort to summarize everything for the audience,. I am truly learning from your experience. Thanks again for useful resource.

    StudentFM | student accommodation in preston

    student accommodation in sheffield



Related Posts with Thumbnails