What We'd Do With Captive Authors

Michele: Here was my question of the week for my fellow Miss Demeanors:   You get to have the author of your choice, dead or alive, all to yourself for a couple of hours. Who is that author, what three questions would you ask him or her, and what setting would you choose for the meeting?    I know, it’s more than one question and it’s fun. I’m taking Jane Austen for a mani/pedi. No doubt she could use one after walking around the grounds of Pemberly in those dreadful shoes and doing all that needlework, let alone writing by hand with a quill pen.Here’s what I’d ask her:1. Do you intentionally write funny material or does the comedy seep in through the stories you tell?2. How did your own relationships with men influence your portrayal of them in your books?3. How do you view the status of women in the world today compared to the era during which you lived and wrote?  Paula: So many writers, so many choices! I could watch a rehearsal of Hamlet at the Globe Theater with William Shakespeare, attend a Regency ball with Jane Austen, or sail down the Nile with Agatha Christie. But since nobody said anything about time travel, and in the spirit of the season, I’d risk the strike of lightning and go to church and Sunday luncheon with Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist whose Gilead trilogy is my current literary obsession. I’d ask her: 1) How does she take complicated matters of faith and humanity and make them so accessible?2) To what does she attribute her ability to create such living, breathing, heartbreaking characters?3) How does her writing process facilitate the creation of such fully imagined and fully realized fiction?  Tracee: My answer sprang to mind! William Shakespeare. This was triggered by, of all things, the new biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. I purchased it as a Christmas gift and promptly spent some time gently skimming (really being careful to not give it that gently used look!). I was struck by how much we know about da Vinci and by the breadth of his creativity beyond the visual arts, medical studies and scientific inventions (who knew that he wrote plays?). This is a long way of getting to Shakespeare. Such an icon of English literature and yet we know very little, or possibly nothing about him – depending on which side of the fence you are on about current scholarship. I would like to watch Hamlet with him, then have the chance to ask the basics about his life and writing. Shakespeare’s life is such a tabula rasa that anything he said would be a gem. Would it be fair to ask how it feels to be a genius for the ages? (I would have to judge his temperament first….)    Susan:   Charles Dickens. I would love to have gone to one of his public readings of A Christmas Carol.  He was said to be a great reader and acted out all the parts. I can just about hear him reciting the last lines, about Scrooge: “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” As to questions:1. I would love to go on a tour of London with him and ask him how he sees everything so clearly?2. How does he make me feel emotions so strongly?3. How does he transform grief into something so beautiful?  Robin: My first thought was to go to Disneyland with JD Salinger just because of the juxtaposition of being at the “happiest place on Earth” with the creator of a misanthropic icon. But the hands’ down winner is mimosas with Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin, where I pay my respects every time I’m in NYC. I would have only one question: what are your thoughts on the current state of the world? There have been so many cultural advances and yet so many current parallels, it would be fascinating – and I suspect hilarious – to hear the perspective of a woman who was ahead of her time. What surprises her? What doesn’t surprise her at all? How many mimosas can we put away in 2 hours? I guess I do have multiple questions 🙂  Cate: Since so many picked past greats, I am going to go contemporary. I’d like to have a drink with Trevor Noah. I am listening to his audio book Born A Crime (AMAZING!). I would ask:1. Your life was like a thriller plot (real father not in his life because a white man having a romantic relationship, let alone a child, with a black woman was illegal under Apartheid. His abusive stepfather then shot his mother and got a slap on the wrist for her attempted murder). How do you infuse so much love and humor into painful stories?2. How do you strike a balance between talking about race and acknowledging prejudice in your stories without losing the ability to connect with people and being overtly political?3. Which is a better way to handle traumatic past experiences? Compartmentalization or exploration?   Alison:Such a good question, and such a difficult one. I thought about having a cocktail party with a guest list of about fifty, but decided that wouldn’t be playing fair. I vacillated between funny (David Sedaris) and intellectually rigorous (Nobel prize winner Hermann Hesse) before deciding to toss a coin between two other favorites. Heads went to Hemingway. I read The Sun Also Rises on a flight to Madrid and was lucky enough to stay at the Palace Hotel. I would meet him at the hotel bar for a drink (or two or three) and ask: (1) How do you write with such spare and understated style yet still convey so much emotion? (2) How do you engage serious philosophical topics with a breeziness that makes ideas accessible to everyone, and (3) What writer would you meet for a drink and where would he meet him or her? Alexia: I’m still trying to decide who I want to hang with and what my 2nd and 3rd questions would be. But I want to go to The Flying Fish in Little Rock, AR and my first question is,  “Hush puppies or French fries? “I’m inviting Keith Laumer, the late science fiction author and creator of one of my literary crushes, Jame Retief. After we settled the hush puppy/french fry issue, I’d ask him–How did you translate your experiences as a diplomat with the US Foreign Service into a satirical sci-fi series?–Will humans ever travel to other planets in real life? And you, dear readers, how would you answer these questions?    

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