In this series, we interview emerging and established writers as well as professionals in the publishing world to give you insight – and tools – into the art and craft of writing.
Today’s chat is with Nina Sankovitch, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, which launches today – congratulations, Nina! Tolstoy and the Purple Chair has been named an Outstanding Debut Novel of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and given a starred review. Nina reviews books on the Huffington Post and at readallday.org.
“On that beautiful August afternoon, I sat back in my beach chair and surveyed where I was. Looking over a glittering ocean under a blue sky. Kids close by me on the sand, Jack still jumping waves, Marvin and Dorothy coming back now over the dunes. I was doing okay. I was creating order by following lessons learned from the books I immersed myself in, day after day. My year of magical reading was proving to be a fitting ending to the sorrow of my sister’s death, and a solid beginning to the rest of my life.”
“An entertaining bibliophile’s dream… As well as being an homage to her sister and their family of readers, Sankovitch’s memoir speaks to the power that books can have over our daily lives. Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity, and [her memoir] will make the perfect gift from one bookworm to another.” Publisher’s Weekly
“Nina Sankovitch has crafted a dazzling memoir that reminds us of the most primal function of literature–to heal, to nurture and to connect us to our truest selves.” Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us, Bombay Time, and The Weight of Heaven
“Anyone who has ever sought refuge in literature will identify with Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.”
O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE
Tessa: Your book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, is literally the most exquisite book I’ve ever read. I read it in one sitting; sobbing in the first few pages, transfixed and increasingly joyful throughout, and fabulously optimistic by the end. Did you realize, when you were writing it, that the reader’s experience might mirror your own catharsis?
Nina: It was not a conscious choice – to put the reader through grief and bring them back to joy – but of course when I read, those books which I love best of all are ones which can make me part of the experience portrayed through the words, characters, plot, and landscape. That I have been able to do the same for you, Tessa, in my book, is very, very satisfying for me, and certainly will make us closer as fellow readers and writers – and connection is what counts, right?
Tessa: Absolutely! How long did it take to write?
Nina: It took me about one year to complete the book, start to finish.
Tessa: What inspires your creativity and makes you want to write?
Nina: Reading inspires my creativity, and my reactions to life. The books that I read, the people I meet, the family I love, and the natural world all compel me to write. Writing for me is sharing; I wouldn’t write if I thought no one would read what I had to say. Instead I’d sit in coffee shops and try to engage passers-by in discussions! I love a dinner party where I can really talk to people; to travel and make new friends; to observe the world and comment on it, not necessarily because I think I am so astute in my observations but because I like discussion and learning and interpretation. The world is so beautiful and I want to share that beauty; it’s also very confusing at times; for example, how we can live our daily lives oblivious to horrors on the other side of the world – or right next door. As I explore in my book, there’s no “karma” that binds us all together, there are only the connections that we ourselves forge, through getting to know people and places, and understanding times in the past and present. I make so many of my connections, learn so many of my life lessons, through reading – and Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is my effort to share what I’ve learned.
Tessa: What gets in the way of your ability to write?
Nina: Distraction. Worry is a big distraction. Fear is another. But when I sit down and commit to answering the simple question What am I trying to say, the words come. Eventually.
Tessa: Where do your ideas originate?
Nina: My ideas come from my reading, from my every day life, and from my hopes and dreams for the future, not only my own but the futures of the planet and all the people on it.
Tessa: When do you know your story/novel is finished?
Nina: When I have said what I intended to say.
Tessa: What sort of writing ritual do you set up for yourself when you’re working on a story or novel?
Nina: Mints in my desk drawer, water and coffee nearby, and an outline of what I would like to achieve.
Tessa: What’s the best, and worst, writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Nina: The best is two-fold; write what you know and show, don’t tell. The worst would be to write at the same time every day – I write when the words come and always carry a notebook to jot down sudden thoughts, perfect sentences, ideas.
Tessa: What experience from your childhood informs who you are as a writer today?
Nina: The joy of reading was a huge part of my childhood, as it is a huge part of my adulthood. All the books I read as a kid inform who I am as an adult.
Tessa: How old were you when started to write?
Nina: I was around ten years old – I began writing in a journal to be like Harriet in Harriet the Spy.
Tessa: What was your favorite childhood book?
Nina: There were so many but I loved the Melendy family dynamic in The Saturdays and the subsequent novels of Elizabeth Enright; the mysteries of Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew; the heroism of The Knights of the Roundtable by Malory; and the company of Harriet the Spy.
Tessa: What books are you currently reading?
Nina: I just reread Howards End by E.M. Forster and it is truly a great book. I think it will set off a frenzy of Forster-reading for me!
Tessa: What quality most intrigues you in a person?
Nina: The ability to be kind and generous, in thought and in deed.
Tessa: And least?
Nina: Blind ambition.
Tessa: What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Nina: Books, cats, family, food, friends. Woods and fields and lakes, sandy beaches and the ocean.
Tessa: What is your favorite motto or quotation?
Nina: Having just reread Howards End, I am thinking about “Only Connect” by Forster.
Tessa: What profession other than writing would you like to attempt?
Nina: Bookshop owner. I would love that. Or farmer. I would like to grow vegetables and raise chickens (for eggs).
Tessa: If you had the power to change anything in the world, what would it be?
Nina: Stupidity and greed in government.
Tessa: What persists for you as a constant source of worry or hope?
Nina: A constant source of hope for me is the beauty in the world, in nature and in human gestures and interactions.
Tessa: What’s next for you?
Nina: More reading and writing. I continue to write book reviews and observations on my site and for The Huffington Post, and I am working on a piece about letters, letter-writing, and diary-keeping.
Tessa: Thank you for your time, Nina!
Nina: Thank you!