Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Birthdays and Writing

My idea of a perfect day was foiled from the start. I had planned to rise early, have some lovely coffee from freshly ground beans, and get to work. Of course, the phone rang at 7:30 with the first birthday well wisher. I’m in a lull now, grateful not to have to speak to anyone. Certainly. I could have opted not to take any calls–the blessings of Caller ID–but that seemed awfully rude and self-serving. Instead, I spoke to countless friends, a former student, etc., my son and his girlfriend. All very, very sweet and loving. Yet, I still haven’t had the chance to write, and the morning is soon gone. I’ll go to a yoga class, have lunch with two friends, and then come home to cloister myself for a few hours. I know that birthdays are something to celebrate. I’m 57 today, an event that seems mind boggling in light of the fact that my late mother was only 54 when my father passed. I’ve lost so many people dear to me, some at terribly young ages that I know I shouldn’t be cynical about birthdays. I miss my parents, my friend Bette, my sweet Polly, Freddy, Shelly, my in-laws, my sister-in-law Brenda, aunts and uncles… the list feels endless.  When I think of myself at 57, the idea is daunting. How is it possible when I still feel like I’m twenty-something inside. I have so many plans, so many hopes, so many books I want to write. I wonder if I am in a creative downturn now because I need to wait for my birthday to pass. I hope so because lately the words are not moving onto the paper, and I have this awful feeling that I am running out of time. But 57 is still young…right?

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February 18, 2010 Posted by | Writing | , | Leave a comment

Thoughts From Phyllis Schieber About Writing

This past weekend I watched the documentary “Man on Wire,” the breathtaking film about Philippe Petit, the twenty-four-year old French self-trained wire walker who pulled off the “artistic crime of the century” in 1974 when he walked and danced on a wire suspended between the two towers of the World Trade Center. For forty-five minutes, Petit performed a high-wire act without a safety net or a harness, mesmerizing the crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk 110 stories below. While I was fascinated by Petit’s skill and the daring feat that continues to amaze, I was perhaps even more taken with his attitude and response to the hordes of reporters who asked the same question over and over: “Why did you do it?” Petit’s frustration is almost as exquisite as his exploit. He responds, “Here I do something magnificent and beautiful and people ask why. There is no why.” And such is the response of that rare individual: a true artist, the person who creates and performs for the sake of art.

I am no Philippe Petit. I know why I write, but I understand what he means when he says, “There is no why.”  If someone were to ask me why I write, I would have to say, “Because I have no choice.” In the years between the sales of my books, I continued to write, and I would have continued even if my agent was unable to sell The Sinner’s Guide to Confession. I write because I am a writer. I write because it is the way I make sense of the world. And I write because whatever I see or hear or experience has the potential to be translated into narrative. I notice the way a woman holds her bread at the edge of her husband’s plate, so his beans will not spill over. I record the most subtle exchange of looks between friends when someone else at the table mentions a name. I am aware of how a mother and daughter resemble each other as they shop together in a department store. When I attend a dinner for a friend and the hostess tells the story of how her previous home burned down, I am eager to leave and jot down the details because it is likely I will want to use not only the story, but the narrator’s wonderful tone and good humor as she tell about the unfortunate event. I will be sure to make mention of her crisp blue eyes and her throaty laughter. Often when I ask someone if he or she noticed something that was so apparent to me, I get a quizzical look. Always, however, I am the one who is perplexed. How is it possible that such an unusual expression, or such a surprisingly harsh tone or such an unexpected movement could go unnoticed when it is as plain as anything to me? I am always listening, always looking and always writing in my head.

One of the most important lessons I have learned as a writer is that I am not unique. I remember once many years ago, I had a meltdown and phoned my writing teacher of many years, the late Hayes Jacobs. I wailed, “I’ll never be successful. I don’t have any talent. I’m wasting my time in your seminar. There’s no point.” He listened without interruption. When I was done, he said, “You too, eh?” I laughed, but I felt better immediately. Apparently, all writers anguish at one time or another. The life of a writer is a solitary and often frustrating. Still, I celebrate that it is my daunting destiny to recreate my perceptions, and then put them in a form that makes sense to others. Sometimes I struggle, and sometimes the words seem to dance onto the page. When the words dance, a rare occurrence, I worry that it is too easy. There seems to be a happy medium. Writing is always a consequence of extremes. Mostly, however, I feel blessed that I am able to string words together in a way that has an impact on others. The ability to make someone laugh or cry, or even both, is a thrill that little else surpasses.

Perhaps it is because I began to read early and never stopped that it feels as though what happens in books makes much more sense than what happens in real life. Books are simply a written record of the writer’s truth, and I have the wonderful job of delivering that truth to my readers. When a story begins to take shape in my consciousness, I always worry if it is a story worth telling. Is it original? Is it interesting enough? Once I move past that stage and allow myself to be swept along by the characters and their needs, I settle down to the real work of making the story come to life. I am in charge now, but not really. The story is in charge. I am merely its voice. I almost never grow tired of being a writer. There is always something that inspires me, or evokes a memory, or sparks an emotion. I sometimes have this image of myself holding a huge magnet, watching as all my thoughts and dreams come twirling at top speed, drawn to the magnet, eager to be captured and finally uncovered.

I am always on the lookout for a new story, an anecdote that can be turned into a novel, a few lines in the newspaper that catch my attention, or the way a couple holds hands on the train, staring wordlessly ahead. Something must have just happened. I study them surreptitiously for the duration of the ride, wondering, imagining, and planning. It is the beginning of chapter. There really is no why.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Thoughts From Phyllis Schieber, Writing | Leave a comment

Phyllis Schieber Talks About Motherhood

As I was considering topics for this post, it occurred to me that one of the subjects I have neglected is how motherhood figures into the subtext of The Sinner’s Guide to Confession. As a preface to that discussion, I feel the need to address how motherhood figures into my life. I am the mother of a twenty-four-year-old son. One of my dear friends, the mother of five daughters, once told me that, “It doesn’t matter how many children you have. Once you’re a mother, you’re a mother.” I believe that is true.  Motherhood empowered me as nothing else in my life ever did. Nevertheless, women artists are typically placed in the unfortunate experience of having to choose how to divide their time between th Many years ago I read an essay by Alice Walker, “One Child of One’s Own” that had a profound impact on me.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | motherhood, Thoughts From Phyllis Schieber, Writing | Leave a comment

Phyllis Schieber Shares Her Thoughts About Being A Reader and A Writer

I do not think it is possible to be a writer and not be a reader. I have been a reader all my life. As a child, I never owned books. There was simply no money for books beyond the occasional selections I could make at a school book fair. I still have my tattered paperback copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It is held together with rubber bands, but I cherish it because it was one of the only books I owned. Although I may not have owned books, my mother took me to the library every week. Over the long summer break, we were allowed to take out as many books as we wanted, and I can remember going to the library with a shopping cart to load up with wonderful thick books like Marjorie Morningstar, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brother Karamazov, David Copperfield. . . I remember them all. My taste in reading changed over the years, and I was drawn mostly to women writers. I love Fay Weldon. Her early books, Puffball, Down Among the Women, Praxis and one of my all time favorites, The Fat Woman’s Joke, are incredibly funny and sharp and almost relentlessly honest. Weldon is a keen observer of how women make their way in the world, and of how men can invariably bring despair of some sort even they do not mean to. Weldon makes me laugh. I never grow tired of her work.

I am also a great fan of Carol Shields. I have read all her work with great admiration, but I am most fond of Unless. There are lines in that novel that just sing. I am awed by her talent, her boldness, and her clarity. I have read and loved work by Rachel Ingalls, especially Mrs. Caliban. And I will never forget Dorothy Alison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. A book like that is a remarkable achievement. The story never leaves you. Anne Tyler’s work is so consistently good that even if the plot occasionally falters, the writing is just so clean, so disarmingly enough, that nothing else matters. I anticipate her books with joy. I have intermittently loved Alice Hoffman, particularly some of her earlier works like Turtle Moon, Second Nature and At Risk. I would be remiss if I did not admit that her work has influenced me. Jane Smiley’s Ordinary Love and Good Will may be among the finest pieces I’ve ever read. And I enjoy Alison Lurie and Alice Adams as well.  The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard is a remarkable book. I love the short stories of Joyce Carol Oates and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They are flawless. Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm of the Hand stories are beautiful, and I revisit them to remind myself of how less is more and of how difficult it can be to achieve that.

When I read, I want an “ah-ha” moment at least once. I want to close my eyes for a moment and say. “Yes, that is exactly how that feels.” It is what I strive for when I write. It is always my intention to be honest, to anticipate a reader’s connection with my words and to know that even if it is only once, I have achieved that goal.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Thoughts From Phyllis Schieber, Writing | Leave a comment

Read Reviews for Willing Spirits by Phyllis Schieber

Willing Spirits Cover

Praise for Willing Spirits

“Willing Spirits is like a string of pearls—one familiar, fragile moment linked to another and another to form the rope of women’s lives twined together. Beautifully written, full of wit and wisdom and heart—read this one with your mother, your daughter, or your best friend.”—Jodi Picoult

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“What a warm, oh-so-human account of love and women’s friendship! These are women I know, and I’m recommending the book to all my female friends and students.”  Rosemary Daniell, author of Sleeping with Soldiers

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“Women are still from Venus and men from Mars in Schieber’s strong debut, a paean to the healing power and enduring strength of female friendship.” –Publisher’s Weekly

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I want mothers to read Willing Spirits because there’s a readiness to forfeit everything about yourself that only a mother can know.

I want daughters to read Willing Spirits because they have a mother that they know nothing of.

I want women to read Willing Spirits because there’s a perceptive sisterhood that only woman understand.

Willing Spirits is what I’d label an intuitive novel. Not the sort of novel that comes from the heart so much as from the gut.

Jane & Gwen have been friend for many years, sharing the joys and sorrow Willing Spirits of life. We enter their story at one given moment in a long line of moments. Jane’s husband has finally proven to be the cad he’s always threatened to be; Gwen’s lonely single motherhood has been altered by an affair.  Both of the women have children on the brink of adulthood, a phase much more trying than nose-wiping days past. A simple story of two women friends.

Yet, Phyllis Schieber’s pen makes this simple story glow. Her understanding of the complexities of human emotion illuminates the everyday life of her characters. Affairs, divorces, unplanned pregnancy, death, birth, love, sex …. Keep naming it; it’s all in there. PS paints her characters with a watercolor brush of sin and virtue, blurring the line between good guy and bad guy, a canvas of two women’s lives.  In the end, you’ll know someone with a friendship exactly like Jane and Gwen: quirky, accepting, honest and true. And I hope that someone is you.

Recommended for book groups galore! Also for readers interested in understated, exceptionally insightful, stories about our everyday life.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Books By Phyllis Schieber, reviews, Willing Spirits, Writing | Leave a comment