Have your children read your books? Your husband? What did they think?
Everyone in my family read my first book. They were all shocked and had no idea that I had had a ‘different’ childhood. I had never talked about it. I also had no idea I had an unusual childhood until readers commented on my ‘strange’ upbringing. I thought it was normal.
My husband is Jewish from Europe. His family came to North America in the late 50’s when he was a teenager. His parents live near us in the same city. They had some harrowing experiences during the war and the children know them as their grandparents. They often talked about the trauma of the past so I never mentioned what I thought was my idyllic childhood.
My husband was surprised by two things: The first was that I was a writer at all. He thought I was only a practicing psychologist. I used to get up early every morning to write what became Too Close to the Falls so he was shocked by the fact that a book existed. When I invited him to my book launch he asked ‘Who wrote a book?” Secondly, he was surprised by the content. He said ‘for someone who talks a lot, I realized I knew nothing of your past other than you worked in your Dad’s store from a young age.’ He had met my mother so there were no surprises there.
My eldest son, who was in his twenties when Too Close to the Falls was published, said that now he understood so much more about me. He said my attitude toward work and my loathing of kitchen activity made more sense. He said that he always felt I was different from other mothers, but he couldn’t put his finger on the specifics. He said he first noticed it when he was two years old when we went to the park -- he thought it was strange that I used to swing on the swings with him while the other mothers sat on the benches and talked. (He preferred the latter.)
My twins liked Too Close to the Falls. One of my twins, Sam, was on a train in a remote part of northern India and saw a gorgeous American woman reading Too Close to the Falls. He went up to her and said that his mother wrote the book. She said, “I bet” and he had to show her his driver’s license before she believed him. Then they started dating. He said that he was glad I had written the book as it was a great pick-up line.
By the time I wrote After the Falls it was ten years later and now two things had happened. I was known as a writer, at least in local circles, and my children were now in their thirties.
My husband was not shocked by the book as he has met many of the people who are portrayed within it. I am still close to my friends from high school and he has been present when we have laughed over our past antics. He was surprised by the painful parts of the book as I had never presented that side of the story to him or to anyone.
My eldest son refused to read After the Falls saying he had no desire to know of his mother’s past romances since it was ‘creepy’. I can’t say as I blame him. The Twins read it and both said they were proud of me for having been in the civil rights movement. I have one twin, David, who is now in Sierra Leone, Africa working on a legal commission. He pointed out that while reading the book he realized he was now doing similar work to what I had done over forty years ago.
How much influence did your parent's style have on your parenting methods? Any of your sons remind you of yourself as they grew?
I did not parent as I was parented because I have a completely different personality. I am very type A and I parented that way. My mother had the opposite type of personality. I wish I had parented much more like both of my parents. It would have made life easier on all of us. Kids are going to do pretty much what they want anyway. I did find it difficult to discipline three little boys since I had no idea how to do it. (When I was really bad my mother just went to bed with a headache.) My twins were exactly as wild as I was in school—then add the testosterone. I got paid back –doubly! We had some tough times, as I am sure my parents did, but everyone has turned out well. No one makes me laugh as hard as those guys and I am proud of the fact that they all are involved in careers that directly deal with issues of social responsibility and saving the planet.
Although names are changed, did you hear from anyone from the past after the book(s)were published? What happened at your high school reunion!?
When Too Close to the Falls was published in 1999, both of my parents had long been deceased.I was an only child so I had no relatives. My cousins were nuns and they wrote “My prayers are with you” when they read the book. When I gave a talk in my home town of Lewiston, New York, I was surprised by the hundreds of people who came and who had remembered the delivery car so well. I was happy to find that no one had any real quibbles with the book and most people laughed over some of the scenes. My mother’s old bridge club remembered the scene where they ran out the door when I told them that the local prostitute we delivered drugs to said they were hypocrites and that she saw their husbands more than they had. These people were now in their 80’s and enjoyed reliving all the memories.
After the Falls was supposed to be published at the time of my high school reunion. I had even organized a booth set up to sell it last August at my huge high school in Buffalo. However, the publication was postponed until this November so I have not had any reaction yet. It should be interesting.
Although many events are recounted in After the Falls, is there one that particularly stands out in your mind and why?
There are several surprises in the book. There are also a few traumas. In both cases I have made terrible judgment errors that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. In one I realized that I have been horribly selfish and there was no way to repair the wrong. It was too late to fix it no matter how hard I tried. In the other I had been a naive fool and everyone knew it but me. I had to live with that as well. If I tell you exactly what these moments were you will not be surprised when you read them. I prefer that you realize them as I did -- as a shock.
In After the Falls, you go head to head with civil rights/racism and more. What causes/challenges/etc have caught your interest now?
I have not been involved in any causes since I left civil rights. After leaving that movement under duress, I have never been involved in anything like it ever again. I have had many people ask me to join movements but refused.
Any plans to go beyond age 25 in your memoirs - I know that the third volume is due out in 2011?
The end of the trilogy will be on my wedding day in 1975 at the end of my third volume. (We all know nothing happens after marriage anyway!) My husband and children have made it clear that they do not want to be portrayed in my book. Since there is no way to camouflage them, I will have to turn elsewhere for inspiration.
Cathy, thank you so much for stopping by. I have really enjoyed your books and look forward to the third. You can catch up with Cathy on Facebook or on Twitter. And I'm quite enamored with her new blog.
Read an excerpt of After the Falls.
I have a copy of After the Falls to giveaway. Open to US and Canada. Leave a comment to be entered. Ends Sunday Nov 28 at 6 pm EST.