Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview with Inconvenient author, Margie Gelbwasser

Today I'm honored to have Margie Gelbwasser stop by the blog! She's the author of the fantastic 2010 debut novel Inconvenient (read my review here!). Enjoy!

Inconvenient was a powerful novel dealing not only with family dynamics and alcoholism, but also society’s perceptions and misconceptions about various cultures and drinking in general. Can you tell us more about what influenced you to write Inconvenient?
Drinking is very common in the Russian culture. When I was growing up, no gathering was complete without a number of shots of vodka or cognac, glasses of wine, etc. No one thought it odd to drive home drunk (and this aspect could also be a sign of the times). So I began to wonder how one would even know someone was an alcoholic when drinking was the norm.
Another issue is that alcoholism is not thought of as a “Jewish” disease. This could be because so many of the meetings are held in churches. As I was writing this book, I found out about organizations trying to bring awareness to the forefront of Jewish communities, to show that alcoholism knows no gender or religious boundaries.

Butterflies have a recurring role in Inconvenient—Lana’s transformation is compared to that of a butterfly, and there are several times that butterflies are used as accents throughout the story. Can you tell us about the importance of this symbol in Inconvenient?
When I first began writing INCONVENIENT, I liked the butterfly imagery. I liked its fragility and the lipstick scene—where Alyssa's mom shows Alyssa to put on lipstick in the shape of a butterfly's kiss—is how my grandma always explained putting on a lipstick. As I wrote more, the butterfly symbolized more (and my first agent, Michelle Andelman, was the one who encouraged me to showcase it more and explained how to do it so it reached its full potential). A butterfly can be rebirth, freedom, fragility, beauty, and I think it touches on all these things in INCONVENIENT.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had always loved writing (and my parents still have my first poems and stories that I hope never go public—a preview: there's a rhyming trilogy of “girl, swirl, and twirl”), but if asked what I wanted to be, I always said doctor, and I carried my little Playschool medicine bag around with me everywhere.

Would you describe a typical writing day? Do you have any must-do’s while writing—coffee, chocolate, silence, TV?
With an almost 4 year old, there are no typical days. I write when he's asleep or when I get a sitter or when he's in nursery school. It just becomes about getting to work and utilizing the time I have. But coffee and silence are always staples. :-)

Can you tell us a little about your road to publication, and why you chose to write for the young adult market? 
It was loooong. I didn't set out to write YA. The first novel I wrote (may it rest in peace) was an epic. It told three stories of one Russian-Jewish family and I likened it to a Russian-Jewish JOY LUCK CLUB. Unfortunately, unlike Tan's novel, it didn't move well. The pacing—among other things—didn't gel. However, the last section was about a teenage girl, and that worked fairly well—significantly better than any of the other pages that my writing partners took notice and said to maybe try writing something with a teen's POV. So I did. I liked the Russian-Jewish element and kept that, but many details got muddled together and the mom was an alcoholic on page 1 (because I had no clue how to develop that plot). I write 150 pages and took a class and my teacher, Kristen Kemp, disliked all but 1/2 page of the book. So I took her notes and decided to stop being lazy and develop plotlines and expand the Russian-Jewish stuff and that eventually became INCONVENIENT. Once I scrapped the 150 pages, I wrote INC in 3 months.
I then spent another 6 months or more revising and got my agent 1 month before my son was born. I then revised—while my infant son slept on me—for another 6 months, and my current fab agent Jennifer Laughran, sold the book about a year after that. At which point, I had to revise for my editor again and cut 20K words. So—as I said—loooong process. From start to finish of writing INC to when it appeared on the shelves, it was 4 years. If you count that generational story in the equation (and I kind of don't—but credit it with making me realize what I excelled at writing), it's MUCH longer.
What do you like to do when you’re not reading or writing?
Spending time with my son, going on family vacations, exercising (especially tackling everything from family to politics to conspiracy theories with one of my close friends while taking a long, brisk walk), hanging out with my nieces and nephews.
Does anyone get to read your work in between draft and final product (or even earlier than that)? If so, who?
I have two friends who are fantastic crit partners, and they both read all my stuff in its many stages. My sister gets to read my book, and provide input, before it goes to print too.

What are some of your favorite books?
In the YA genre:
  • all books by Ellen Hopkins (but IDENTICAL is my favorite)
  • books by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (both the ones they write together and separately)
  • ALBATROSS by Josie Bloss
  • JUMPSTART THE WORLD by Catherine Ryan Hyde
  • anything by Jacqueline Woodson (but IF YOU COME SOFTLY is my favorite)
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and so many more! :-)
Adult titles:
THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

What are you reading now, or what have you just finished?
I just finished FAMILY by Micol Ostow (which I should add to my list of favorites too). It is such a beautiful, heart-wrenching book. Next on my list is EDGES by Lena Roy and THE REVENANT by Sonia Gensler (I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to read the ARC).

(The NJ question) What is your favorite thing or place about New Jersey?
Contrary to the bad press Jersey gets from the rotten egg smell of the Turnpike, the Jersey Shore Cost, and members of the Real Housewives of NJ, NJ has so much to offer. I love its diversity and museums and beaches and how so many people just keep it real.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?
My next novel, PIECES OF US, will be published by Flux in March 2012. It's told in 4 POVs (one of them is second person)--2 boys and 2 girls—and focuses on the secrets each of them have. It also deals with abuse, cyber bullying, and how one character's secret threatens to topple the lives of the other three.

That sounds fascinating, I can't wait for it *adds to to-read list*! Thank you so much for stopping by, Margie!!

Enjoy your reading!


  1. I really enjoyed this book. I always like seeing the path to publication, especially when it's not super easy. It makes it seem more realistic - like something that normal people can do as opposed to authors who get a magical deal and instantly become super rich and successful. As much as I'd like that, it doesn't feel achievable.

  2. Great interview. Thanks for posting.


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