Interview by: Lauren
Author, Maryrose Wood, answers our questions about her contribution and favorites in the anthology Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, a more in-depth look at her new book My Life: The Musical, what she's working on now, and more!
1. You have a contribution to the book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. When were you asked to include a memoir? What made you decide to help out with this book?
It’s all the fault of the delightful Rachel Fershleiser, who with Larry Smith is the co-editor of the book. Rachel and I had met a few years ago when we both worked on this wonderful project called RIPFest, in which otherwise sane people wrote and filmed and edited and scored fully-produced short films in like, ten minutes. Okay, it was really ten days, but it was truly crazy, like a reality-television version of movie making.
Anyway, my first book for teens came out in 2006. It’s called Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, and in May of that year Rachel wrote a terrific little profile about me and the book in The Villager. We’ve stayed in touch ever since. Then, about a year ago, in her superhero identity as one of the editors of SMITH magazine, she included me in her invitation to submit a six-word memoir.
Honestly, though, you did not have to be somebody special to submit a memoir. They posted in invitation on the SMITH website, and from what I’ve been told they received something like fifteen thousand submissions. I don’t envy them the task of culling through (they picked a little over eight hundred for inclusion), but the finished book is just awesome! It’s truly hard to put down.
2. Who wrote some of your favorite six-word memoirs?
One of my favorites in the book is by Daniel Handler, who in real life is the fellow who wrote the wildly successful series of kids’ books, A Series of Unfortunate Events.
His memoir was:
What?Lemony Snicket?Lemony Snicket?What?
I just love that. I think it’s totally hilarious and captures what has to be the total bludgeoning shock of having your life spun completely around by that kind of commercial success. Not only does Handler catch the essence of that experience in only six words, he only uses three different ones to do it!
One of my other favorites is by Beth Greivel:
Discovered moral code via Judy Blume.
Anyone who writes teen fiction for a living has to appreciate that one!
3. Did it take you a long time to come up with six words to describe your life, or was it surprisingly easy?
I actually fired off a reply to Rachel quite impulsively – so impulsively, in fact, that I did not keep a copy of my six-word memoir or even remember what it was about!
Then, some months later, I got an email from Rachel that my contribution was in the book, and would I please come to the launch party and all that. I was tickled, and yet could not remember for the life of me what I’d written.
Luckily, when I arrived at the party I had to use the bathroom, and there was a copy of the book cleverly placed near the toilet for convenient powder room perusal (it truly makes an awesome bathroom book). So I had a moment to thumb through and found mine before I made a total fool of myself.
4. Your book My Life: The Musical came out in March. Will you give us a brief summary of the book?
Sure! It’s about Emily and Philip, two Broadway-obsessed teens who are best friends and ardent fans of a show called Aurora. They go into New York City every Saturday and wait for rush tickets for the matinee, along with all the other hardcore Aurorafans.
But then some crazy rumors start to fly in the theatre chatrooms that the show might be closing. In their efforts to find out what’s really going on, and — if the rumors prove true — see their beloved show one last time, Emily and Philip get caught up in all kinds of adventures that involve secretly borrowed money, a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof, a dangerous visit to a Broadway producer’s office, a joy-ride in an RV, an underage beer that solves Broadway’s biggest mystery, and a life-changing ride on a Ferris wheel.
Most of all, Emily and Philip discover something unexpected about the depth of their friendship, and spend one unforgettable night in the theatre.
5. Do you have any favorite musicals? Why do you like them so much?
I’d say Sweeney Todd is my favorite, because I think it comes as close to being flawless as a theatrical work can get. The score by Stephen Sondheim is gorgeous and varied, the storytelling is precisely structured and totally engrossing, it offers great roles for stars to play, it’s scary and heartbreaking and hilarious – it’s just wonderful.
For sentimental reasons, I will always love Merrily We Roll Along, not only because it has another wonderful (and totally different) Sondheim score, but because I was in it! When I was a teenager I was obsessed with theatre, just like the characters in my book. After I graduated high school I went to NYU to study acting, and by the time I was eighteen I was cast in the original Broadway company of Merrily.
The show flopped after only two weeks but lives on in a wonderful cast album (there’s even talk of a Broadway revival next season!). Most importantly to me, to this day some of my best friends are people I met in that show. Other people have college buddies that they stay in touch with through their lives; I have Merrily buddies!
6. If you had to pick one song from a musical to go along with your book, what would you choose and why?
Well, it would have to be “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” I think. One reviewer described the book as “a love letter to the theater,” and it really is. The plot includes obsessed fans, aspiring actors, ambitious chorus girls, big stars, Broadway producers, Tony-winning authors — by the time the story’s done you’ve met a real cross section of the whole wonderful tribe of theatre people. It’s a world I know very well and have great affection for.
7. You seem to write about a wide variety of topics. Did you always plan on doing that?
I tend to have a lot of interests! I did improv comedy for a few years and it really taught me how to generate tons of ideas; it’s great training for writers. You learn that new ideas are always flowing, you can’t run out. And you also learn not to be uptight about letting unexpected things happen while you’re dreaming up a story.
I do see myself as the kind of writer who will have a career that encompasses a lot of different kinds of books, ultimately. I like to pay attention and take inspiration from the world around me, which is infinitely varied, and I also like to try different things creatively, to keep myself challenged and growing as a writer. I’ve written plays, screenplays, song lyrics, novels, comedy and drama, fantasy and realistic stories – even musicals! It’s good exercise for the writing muscles.
8. What was the last book that you really enjoyed?
I absolutely loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. It comes out in March and it is one of the funniest, smartest, most thought-provoking YA books I’ve read. It’s about a girl who single-handedly takes on the super-snobby all-male secret society at the elite boarding school she attends. Highly recommended!
9. Each chapter in My Life: The Musical is titled with a song from a musical, and in turn, that song or musical is referenced in the chapter somewhere. When did you come up the idea to do this? Was it hard to find the right songs?
In the book, the character Philip has a truly encyclopedic knowledge of musicals. Any song or show reference is at his fingertips, and his friends have fun trying to stump him with Broadway trivia questions. Believe it or not, I know people like this! So I was inspired that ability that Philip has, of identifying songs and shows so readily, and decided to title each chapter with the name of a song and the show it came from.
Often I didn’t know what the song would be until I’d written and rewritten the chapter a few times, but some perfect choice always presented itself eventually. Sometimes it was a song that got mentioned in the chapter, other times it was a song that commented in some way on the events of that part of the book.
One of my favorites is the chapter in which Philip goes to visit Stevie Stephenson, the notorious Broadway producer, and has a funny conversation with Stevie’s very Irish secretary before he’s allowed in. The title of that chapter is “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” It’s song from Finian’s Rainbow, a show that takes place in Ireland.
10. In My Life, the English teacher is very adamant that Emily stop writing all her papers about Aurora. Was there a specific reason you wanted a character such as him in the story?
Stories develop through conflict and making sure your main characters have obstacles to overcome. I wanted to show that the real-world reaction to Emily’s interest in Aurora was not all positive — from her teacher’s perspective, it’s totally obsessive and not a good thing. Of course, this teacher is also the person who directs the musicals in Emily’s high school, so he’s also a theatre fan; he just thinks she’s gone overboard.
11. For teens nowadays, why would you say that they should check out musicals more often?
Like jazz, Broadway musicals are a uniquely American art form. They combine the thrill of live performance with singing, dancing, acting, amazing sets and costumes and (if it’s a good show) a great story. If you look at the popularity of television programs like “American Idol,” it just affirms that there’s nothing an audience likes more than wonderful singing by a great performer. Musicals deliver all that eight times a week!
12.Are you currently working on anything at the moment?
Currently I’m finishing the first draft of a new book. It’s called A Beautiful Nothing, and it’s a modern retelling of the plot of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” set in the Bronx’s Little Italy. “Much Ado” is a favorite play of mine, and my mom is Italian-American, so I grew up with all of that culture around me, the big Sunday dinners, the homemade wine, the tomato plants in the back yard.
It’s been great to write a book set in that world.And I have a book coming out in May, called How I Found the Perfect Dress. It’s a sequel to Why I Let My Hair Grow Out. In the first book, the main character, Morgan, gets sent to Ireland to get over a broken heart and discovers that she’s also Morganne, a part-goddess figure from Irish lore.
In the sequel, Morgan is back home in Connecticut and thinks all that magic stuff is behind her, but it turns out she’s wrong. Before long she has to figure out how to take an annoying and dangerous enchantment off of Colin, the guy she loves, without pissing off an evil faery queen and while doing a very special favor for a leprechaun.
This book has junior proms, garden gnomes, a very unusual game of mini-golf and a guest appearance by a world-famous rock and roll icon. It’s kind of a wild ride; I had a hilarious time writing it.