Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 16 Jun 04 11:15
It's my pleasure to introduce our next guest, Mary Mackey. Mary is the author of four collections of poetry and eleven novels. Some of her works have been published by small literary presses; some have made The New York Times bestseller list. "Sweet Revenge," her most recent novel, is a wickedly funny look at a matchmaker who starts a revenge consulting service after being dumped by her boyfriend. Like Mary's previous comic novel "The Stand In," "Sweet Revenge" is published under her pen name, "Kate Clemens." Mary has been an active member of The WELL since August of 1992. A longer bio and samples of her work can be found at www.marymackey.com . Leading the conversation with Mary is Libbi Lepow. Libbi has been a member of The WELL community since May, 1992. She says she feels lucky she has the opportunity to see Mary Mackey both on The WELL and in real life. Until her career was halted by Multiple Sclerosis three years ago, Libbi was the Director of Organization Development at E*TRADE Financial in Menlo Park, CA. Now she hangs out at home. Welcome, Mary and Libbi!
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 16 Jun 04 13:48
Hi, Cynthia. I'm happy to be here. Conversations on The WELL are always interesting. So bring on the questions . . .
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Wed 16 Jun 04 15:33
Hey, Cynthia! Thanks for the opportunity to chat with Mary like this! As a fan of your more, shall we say 'scholarly' novels, I was surprised when you moved into what felt like new territory, at least for your writing - a comic novel. Could you tell us what motivated you to switch literary gears and write "Sweet Revenge" and its predecessor?
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 16 Jun 04 21:12
About 30 years ago I was asked the same question. My first novel, "Immersion" (published in 1971), was set in the jungles of Costa Rica. The story line included ecological destruction, the breakdown of a marriage, and murder all written from a feminist perspective in the style of the French nouveau roman. As far as Alta, the editor, and I can determine, "Immersion" was the first feminist novel published on a feminist press during the Second Wave of feminism. (Alta's press was called Shameless Hussy Press-a name I've always loved). It is now a very rare book, when and if you can find it. My next novel was "McCarthy's List", published by Doubleday in 1979. It was a comic, crazy, surreal look at McCarthyism in Indianapolis in the 1950s, written in what I call "first person insane." One woman wrote to say that she had laughed so hard when she read it, she had been thrown out of the reading room of her local public library.
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Thu 17 Jun 04 08:48
Ah! I haven't read either one of those, Mary, so I need to find copies and remedy that situation ASAP! Those of us who've been lucky enough to spend some time with you are aware of your wicked (and non-stop) sense of humor. As I read "Sweet Revenge", I was stuck with how much it reminded me of conversations with you (no one can string together a list of hysterically funny and accurate metaphors - or are they analogies? - like you can!). Would you say that this novel and its predecessor are told in your own "voice"? It sure seemed that way to me!
Mary Mackey (mm) Thu 17 Jun 04 14:36
Great questions, Libbi. Before I answer them, let me say a little more about the origins of "Sweet Revenge." As you can see from my earlier post, both the serious thread and the comic thread were present in my work from the beginning. But with "Sweet Revenge" and "The Stand In" (my two recent Kate Clemens novels), I turned to comedy for a very specific reason. I started writing them in the fall of 2001, shortly after September 11th, because I was so sad, so filled with grief, so depressed by the email I was getting from my friends in New York and what I was reading in the newspapers, that I needed a refuge, a place where I could relax and enjoy the lighter side of life for an hour or two a day. I wanted laughter and joy in my life again-not all the time, but just long enough to keep me sane; and I decided that other people probably needed to laugh too. So you might say that although "Sweet Revenge" is comic, it was initially written with a serious purpose: to provide a refuge from despair.
Mary Mackey (mm) Thu 17 Jun 04 14:47
In many ways you are right on the mark when you ask if "Sweet Revenge" is in my own voice, but that isn't the whole story. The novel is also in the voice of characters are in their early 30s. I've been told that I do this well and, if so, I owe this talent to my students. I am constantly fascinated by the way they speak (and for that matter, by the way all the different generations use words). I try to reproduce the rhythms, slang, word choice, and emotional sense of each individual character embedded in a particular time, place, and age cohort. On the other hand, if you're asking if that wise-cracking, comic, voice that will do near anything to get a laugh belongs to me, well . . . yes, it does.
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Thu 17 Jun 04 16:59
I knew that! It's interesting to know, though, that your students have also provided inspiration for you, at least in these last two novels. Can you say a little more about that, and maybe give us some idea about the ways in which your students' voices are reflected in this latest novel? I'm curious; did writing the first "Kate Clemens" novel help lift your spirits as you'd hoped it would?
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Fri 18 Jun 04 09:28
Mary, I'm also fascinated with the subject matter of this new novel. Where did you get the idea of revenge-for-sale (assuming you can reveal the sources of your inspirations, that is!)? Would you talk a little about the way you choose the themes of your novels?
not heartb roken, (mim) Fri 18 Jun 04 16:02
As I was reading this novel, I felt it was very much something I can see as a light fun Hollywood movie. I just wodnered, do you have a "dream cast" for the main charatcers? I was thinking maybe Olympia Dukakis for the ex mother- in-law.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 18 Jun 04 23:26
I worship the ground Olympia walks on. She did the narration for a film about Marija Gimbutas, the archaeologist who inspired my three prehistory novels and she's a very active feminist. But I honestly haven't done any fantasy casting of her (or anyone else) in the movie version of "Sweet Revenge." I've been so busy concentrating on "The Stand In" (which has been optioned for a feature film by director Renee De Palma) that I have continued to think of "Sweet Revenge" as a novel, although I agree that it would make a very funny, entertaining film. I can see the characters I created so clearly, they seem to have taken on a life of their own. This is probably why authors don't always make the best directors of films based on their own work. If I were shooting a movie of "Sweet Revenge", I would have to go out and find Nora and Sam-the real Nora and Sam-the ones who only live in my mind. It's odd how much fictional characters take on the traits of flesh and blood human beings. You love them; you hate them; you miss them when the novel is finished; and at times you can't even control them. But I'd love to hear more of your ideas about casting. Who should play Nora?
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 18 Jun 04 23:27
(As for the two Kate Clemens novels, they did indeed lift my spirits. For hours at a time I was happy. The hard part was coming back to the 6:00 news.
not heartb roken, (mim) Sat 19 Jun 04 00:33
I really don't know... no particular big name actor and actresses jumped out at me but i'll ponder and see what i come up with. So if it's not too far off track, i wodner if you could talk a bit about what it means to be optioned, and if you think the other book is going to be a movie eventually, and how that all works. This is of course a fanstasy of mine: write novel, get paid SCADS of money for movie option, and then sit back and watch as my name becomes a household word :) Hmmm, is George Clooney too much of a heartthrob to be Sam? And how abotu Sandra Bullock for Nora?
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Sat 19 Jun 04 07:57
I guess there's no way to get Orlando Bloom in there? I just enjoy looking at him! Mary, when you write a novel like "Sweet Revenge", is there one particular event that sparks your imagination (like the inspiration for your three, prehistorical novels, mentioned above)? I often wonder if writers have the ability to =listen= more intently than those of us who don't write novels, and through that intense listening, capture all kinds of creative ideas that result in -- well, in stories like "Sweet Revenge". How does the Muse arrive in your life?
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 19 Jun 04 21:24
I hate to pop your fantasy, mim, but film options are usually fairly modest. You only get the big money when they actually make the film. (Of course authors like Crichton get millions for options, but such sums are rare exceptions.) A film option works as follows (with some variation depending on the specifics of the contract): a director or producer or someone who just hopes to make the film pays you some money for the exclusive right to the story for a set period of time (eighteen months is a common time frame). If they actually start making the movie within that period, they pay you more. If they finish it, you get more yet. If they fail to get a movie together in the eighteen month period (or whatever) the option lapses and if they want to retain exclusive rights, they have to pay you again. Meanwhile, until they pay you again, you are free to sell the option to someone else. (George Clooney is one of the sexiest men on earth IMHO).
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 19 Jun 04 21:26
Back to Libbi's question: where did I get the idea for "Sweet Revenge." Let me pause here and remind that handful of people who have still not read the novel, that it's about a woman who starts a revenge consulting service called "Payback Time" when her boyfriend humiliates her by dumping her at the altar. She soon finds herself tangled in a hilarious web of revenge and counter-revenge and even become a suspect in a murder case when one of her clients snaps. So the novel is cross-genre: mystery novel, love story, comedy: which makes it move along at a brisk pace. The plot isn't based on real life. I've never been left at the altar-nor have I been a suspect in a murder case, but, hey, everybody's somebody's fool sooner or later; so I've had plenty of moments filled with revenge fantasies, and I've always had a really wicked imagination. You can't imagine how much fun it was to think of evilly funny things to do to get even (particularly since the result was fiction and no one was going to actually get hurt).
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 19 Jun 04 21:27
I also did what you suggest, Libbi: I listened and heard some great stories. (In fact, you can take it as a given that when you are talking to writers they are filing away what you are saying for possible use.) My favorite is the tale the ex-wife of a famous lawyer told me at a party. She said that when her husband of 22 years ran off with his much younger secretary, she went down to the basement where he kept his fine wines and soaked the labels off all the bottles.
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Sat 19 Jun 04 22:22
Oh, mama! Now =that= is evil, indeed! Mary, I know you've spent a lot of time in Brazil, and have a ton of stories associated with your travels. Have you woven any of these experiences into this, or other of your novels?
not heartb roken, (mim) Sun 20 Jun 04 13:17
I love that lawyer revenge story! And thanks for the info about options! Even if it's not some huge windfall, ti still would be pretty cool for me to ever be in a position where someone wanted to option something i wrote...
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 20 Jun 04 19:16
[Still reeling about soaking the wine labels off.]
pooning tang; tanging the poon (viv) Sun 20 Jun 04 19:34
Hi, Mary. I just returned from a weekend away; finished SR on Saturday. This is the first book of yours I've read and am spurred to read your others. It came it me after I finished SR that I couldn't recall any profanity. for all the nasty behavior there's not many nasty words. I wonder if that would hold if it was filmed? Here's my cast: Ashley: Lesley Anne Warren or Phoebe Cates Nora: Lisa Kudrow Sam: Guy Pearce Amber: Someone 30ish like Melanie Griffith
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 20 Jun 04 20:33
Great cast, Viv! Who do you see as Jason? As Otto Jenkins (the potbellied neighbor with the lawn statuary?) ,
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 20 Jun 04 20:34
Libbi asked if I had woven any of my travel experiences into my novels. As some of you know, I just came back from spending three weeks on the upper Amazon (the Rio Negro and its tributaries), canoeing 2000 miles through drowned rain forests, swimming with piranhas, and swatting cannibalistic blackflies. I think the kind of crazy and somewhat eccentric energy that takes me to such places is part of the fuel that keeps me writing, but oddly enough I haven't actually written much about Central and South America although I have traveled south of the border at least once a year since 1966. Only my first novel, "Immersion" is actually set in the jungle, although I have lived in the jungles of Costa Rica and the Amazon off and on for months at a time. However, "Sweet Revenge" does have an important series of scenes set near Iguacu Falls (which I visited while writing the novel). Also, I have been working for some time on a long, historical novel set in Brazil, doing research whenever I can, but it's very complex so it is one of those projects that takes forever.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 20 Jun 04 20:36
Strange as it may seem, I often research locations in Latin America and then transfer them to other venues, because only in remote, fairly undeveloped regions of the world can you find cultures with spiritual traditions and ways of life that seem to echo some of those that may have existed in the past. For example, Goddess religions are alive and well in Brazil. If you go to the southern beaches of Rio on New Years Eve, you can see some 1.5 million people setting up altars in the sand and throwing roses into the waves in honor of Imenja, Condomble Goddess of the Sea. This kind of experience was invaluable to me when I was writing my trilogy about the Goddess-worshipping religions of old Europe. So although Latin America does not often appear directly in my novels, it is there all over the place transformed by the fictional process, and is a very valuable place indeed for me to do research.
pooning tang; tanging the poon (viv) Mon 21 Jun 04 05:33
Dan Ackroyd for Otto Jason, someone who can do the empty pretty: DiCAprio maybe. I'm not too tuned to the current star roster.
Where dwell thee, pretty youth? (tinymonster) Mon 21 Jun 04 08:38
Maybe that's where Bloom can come in!
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