Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Q&A with author Karen Rizzo

Karen Rizzo is the author of the new novel Famous Baby. She also has written a memoir, Things to Bring, S#!t to Do...and Other Inventories of Anxiety. She lives in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Famous Baby?

A: I had just published a book [the memoir Things to Bring, S#!t to Do…and Other Inventories of Anxiety]; it was nonfiction, and it was based on lists. [At the time,] there was an explosion of mommy blogs.

I was fascinated by them, and I wanted to write fiction, but I wasn’t sure what the topic would be. I thought, Oh, I’ll write a blog too—but I realized my kids were not up for that; they were too old. My kids are so hyperaware.

Q: How old were they at that point?

A: At that time they were about 7 and 11. They got wind of a couple of things; I threw [the blog] up there for about six months. A parent commented in front of my daughter, How sweet that your daughter did [something that had been posted]. I was on the spot! I said, it was sweet, it was cute—and that’s the last thing my daughter wanted to hear!

After age 3, they roll their eyes. My son, when he was about 6 or 7 and had had a haircut, I said it was really cute, and he looked at me and said, Could you just say handsome, or brave? 

You really have to be careful; they are so much more aware than we ever were. [The blog] wasn’t going to happen.

I was taking a walk; I live in Highland Park in Los Angeles. I take walks and talk to myself. I was walking the hills and trying to think. I blurted out, “I blame Mary Lou F---ing Retton.”

I don’t know why I was thinking about it. It was around the time of the Olympics. We turn it on and don’t turn it off; I’ve always loved them. I remember reading an article about how determined she was, and I was thinking about how you get so determined at such a young age, and who would I have been [if I had been that way].

The character Ruth came out of that. Then it started to come in a few pieces. What if she had secrets? What if she grew up to be a crazy mommy blogger?

Q: Why did you tell the story from different points of view?

A: I loved the first-person narrative. I like writing dialogue. I liked the idea of getting in the head of each character, and being really specific in a personal way.

Q: What do you see as the role of mommy bloggers, and the consequences of sharing personal information? Do you think this will continue, or will there be more of a backlash?

A: I don’t know. I came up with the idea a few years ago, and even in the three-to-four-year period, I’m stunned by how kids have assimilated this idea that everything’s out there, that I record everything I do.

I go to restaurants with my daughter, who’s 12. There are no electronics allowed when we have meals. She’ll look at me and say, That whole family’s looking at [electronic] stuff. 

Maybe they’re so used to being recorded that I don’t know if it will be as big a backlash as I imagined when I started writing the book.

[On the other hand,] I don’t know if it’s Gen X, or a younger generation—the kids in their late teens—they’re deciding they’re not interested in broadcasting everything. My son is 16—maybe it’s a boy thing. My daughter is more into it. [But] if I’m writing a lot about her now, I think she’d be really annoyed.

Q: Do you prefer writing fiction or memoirs?

A: Something in between. I like writing essays, and taking a very small story and relating it to something larger that a lot of people can relate to. It starts with a story about me, or my kid, or something that happened, and then I can go off on that. It’s not memoir per se.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing, or did you make changes along the way?

A: I didn’t know how it was going to end, and I worried about that, but it fell into place.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a play that I’m polishing and it has had readings. It’s definitely darker than Famous Baby. I’m a little obsessed with trying to find a home for that. Doing theater is hard and expensive, unless you’re David Mamet! But I’ve gotten lovely feedback.

Everything comes from your surroundings. The play is about disparity of income within communities that are so close. You can go to a school in Los Angeles that’s rated 10. People who really want to put [their kids] in public school, and have a seven-figure income, and people who are super-struggling and their kids are in that school as well.

That phenomenon is fascinating to me. People assume you have the same disposable income. They are going to Turkey for three weeks, and we’re taking the camper to Ojai for three days.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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