Sunday, October 31, 2010

20 Questions with Margie Gelbwasser

Photo taken by Sam Peltz

Margie Gelbwasser was born in Minsk, Belarus. She came to the United States in 1979 and then moved to thesuburbs of New Jersey (to a town very much like Alyssa's Glenfair) in 1984. She is a freelance writer who has written for Self, Ladies Home Journal, and Girl's Life. Her essays on growing up Russian and Jewish have appeared in Waking Up American: Coming of Age Biculturally. Inconvenient is her debut novel. Visit her online at

1. Tea, Coffee or Neither?

Coffee, definitely coffee.

2. Your favourite/dream vacation spot?

We went to Italy for our honeymoon, and I would love to go back there one day. Venice and Capri were our favorites. It would be amazing to take our son there when he's old enough to appreciate it too.

3. Cats or Dogs?

Confession time. When I met my now husband, I didn't like cats, especially not his mean black and white one that could purr one second and leave your ankles bloody the next. But one day she ran away and I missed her. Claws and all. We now have two adorable kitties who purr and lick and are awesome with our toddler. Wait, what was the question? Oh yeah. I guess cats but I have nothing against dogs. As long as they're sweet and friendly.

4. You can't live without...?


5. What was your favourite book as a child?

If we're talking really little, I had a thing for Sesame Street books about Grover. My favorite was about his first day of school. He was very nervous and had a rough day. I cried every time I read that book. I loved Babar, Amelia Bedelia and Little House on the Prairie books too.

6. Who is your favourite author?

There are so many authors I admire. As far as classics go, I LOVE Edith Wharton. Her ability to immerse me in the old New York setting is remarkable. I love how she developed her characters as well. I was also a very big fan of Norma Klein and Norma Fox Mazer. Both of these women were my inspiration for writing books for young adults.

7. If you could have dinner with any book character in history who would it be and why?

I LOVED The Time Traveler's Wife, so I would pick Henry. Granted, it would most likely be difficult to have a full dinner with him because he may pop out of it in the middle to another decade. However, it would be so intriguing to hear about his life and romance with Clare. And, if he can give me some future lottery results, that would be fantastic too. :-)

8. E-readers or the real deal?

Definitely the real deal. Forget about the fact that I'm not computer savvy at all. There's nothing that can replace the feel of a real book, the pages beneath my fingers, the giddy feeling I get when I buy a new bookmark.

9. What is one little fact that we don't know about you?

Uh, how deep are you looking for here? How about, in high school I was super shy but now being around people and meeting new ones totally fuels me.

10. When I write I like to have a little slice of cake(or some cookies) with a glass of milk- Do you have a 'Writing Food'?

Does coffee count as a food? I guess I'm always tired with a three-year-old. :-) I do like your idea of cake or cookies and milk when writing. Can I steal it? :-)

11. The summary of your book sounds unique and wonderfully deep, is there a specific message you want your readers to grasp?

Thank you so much. I don't know if there is a message per se, but I would like readers to connect with the characters and for those struggling with a loved one (parent, friend, etc.) who is an alcoholic to find comfort and know there are places to seek help and know they are not alone. While my parents were not alcoholics, I did have friends whose parents were and when I was older dated someone who had struggles with alcohol (but this didn't click with me at the time). One of the things Inconvenient explores is the impact the Russian culture has on the mother's alcoholism, and I feel there is a myth that women, especially Jewish women, are not alcoholics. Obviously, that's not true. I hope this brings some of that to light too and helps break down those walls. Staying true to yourself and your own beliefs and finding strength within is another theme and something else I hope that resonates with teens. When I was in high school, I certainly had NOTHING close to the confidence I have now. It took me close to my thirtieth birthday to begin to develop a belief in my abilities.

12. Describe the feeling you got when you first found out your book was getting published?

When I got an e-mail from my agent that said Flux was interested in publishing my book, I was in the library working on a writing project. One of my good friends was there writing too. I squealed, jumped out of my seat, and bounced up and down---for exactly two minutes. Then the worry wart in me started thinking of a billion and one things that could go wrong. Gotta love us neurotic writers. LOL

13. What advice would you give someone that would like to write a novel?

Just write. Don't tell yourself you can't or "What's the point since no one will publish me anyway." I know a lot of people who think like this and it's not because they really believe it; the defeatist attitude just makes it easier not to try and, therefore, not to deal with rejection. Get a critique partner or group who will be kind but honest about your work. Listen to their suggestions, revise, send out a query. Just keep going and keep believing.

14. Where did the inspiration for INCONVENIENT come from?

I had had a story in my head about a Russian-Jewish girl for quite some time, but it was a very different story--multigenerational and for adults. After writing the teenager's POV in that story, I kept thinking about her. The things she experienced, what her life was like. I started getting her voice in my head and began to write sentences down. When the multigenerational novel didn't work, I looked at Alyssa's story (but her name was Gabby then). As for subject matter, in the Russian culture, drinking accompanies every holiday, party, success. Many people drink responsibly. Many don't. I began thinking about how much drinking was a part of the culture and how normal it was and how would one recognize an individual who had a problem. And so began the story of Alyssa and her mom.

15. If you weren't writing what would you be doing for a living?

I always thought it would be fun to try event planning. Maybe one day I'll do both. I also ALWAYS wanted to do stand-up, but not as a career. One day, I'll try it.

16. What was the hardest and/or best part of having your first book published?

This is hard to answer as it's just reaching people's hands now. Predictions? Hardest will be how little control I have over the whole thing and negative reviews. If people feel they connected to the characters and story and that it made an impact on them--this will be the best.

17. What are you reading now?

I just finished Ellen Hopkins's Fallout. I'm a big fan of her writing, characterization, and tackling of real issues.

18. Do you have a favourite writing place?

I write where I can, but my couch is super comfy.

19. On your website you mention that your currently working on your second novel, can you share a little teaser? deals with relationships and is told in multiple points of view. It's also edgier and darker than Inconvenient and there are chicken carcasses in it.

20. You currently reside in New Jersey so I have to ask...If you had to pick one:

a) Jersey Shore

b) Real housewives of New Jersey

c) The Sopranos

Oh man. I refuse to watch Jersey Shore because I feel New Jersey has already been stereotyped enough so why add more insult. I love RHNJ as a guilty pleasure to watch, but I am super thankful my life does not have that kind of drama in it. For quality story, acting, and creativity, definitely The Sopranos.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions! You are welcome back at The Crazy Bookworm anytime!

Thank you so much for having me!

Margie Gelbwasser's debut novel is released Nov 1st!
In fifteen-year-old Alyssa Bondar's Russian-Jewish culture, having a few drinks is as traditional asblinchiki and piroshki. So when her mom's midday cocktails turn into an all-day happy hour, it seems like Alyssa's the only one who notices—or cares. Her dad is steeped in the nightly news—and denial—and her best friend Lana is too busy trashing their shared Russian heritage so she can be popular.

Alyssa would rather focus on cross-country meets and her first kiss with her running partner, Keith, but someone has to clean up her mom's mess. But who will be there to catch Alyssa when her mom's next fall off the wagon threatens to drag her down, too?

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