Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Q&A with Staci Greason


Photo by Sela Shiloni



Staci Greason is the author of the new novel All the Girls in Town. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Brevity and Slate. Also an actor, screenwriter, and TV writer, she appeared in the show Days of Our Lives. She lives in Southern California.


Q: What inspired you to write All the Girls in Town, and how did you create your characters Dani, Red, and Sasha?


A: When I wrote the first draft of All the Girls in Town it was originally going to be a story about one woman, Dani, who’d given all of her talent and love to the wrong guy, a musician named Peter. The subject of the book is completely fictional, but love and music are not unfamiliar territories. I was a singer when I was younger. I love music and the artists who make it.


When we meet Dani, her marriage to Peter has fallen apart. She’s eating her feelings, lives in a crappy apartment, and works shitty temp jobs. Peter has stolen Dani’s lyrics, won the copyright lawsuit and landed a record deal. He’s also married his gorgeous younger backup singer, Sasha.


Dani’s OA sponsor encourages her to journal. Instead, Dani creates a blog called just-deserts (yes, it’s only one “s,” who knew?) where she kills Peter every week. A literary assassin! This discovery delighted me.


Then, it occurred to me that people would read Dani’s blog. Would Peter’s new wife, Sasha? How did Sasha feel reading Dani’s description of her as the anorexic tone-deaf homewrecker? Sasha doesn’t see herself as the bad guy. No one ever sees themselves as the bad person. And then, suddenly, Peter’s scorned lover, Red, a crisis counselor, showed up. Jesus, how many women had Peter hurt?


I was well into writing the first draft of ATGT when #MeToo broke open wide. And then, I read writer Jenny Lumet’s brave, heartbreaking letter to music producer Russell Simmons about the night he raped her, which was published in The Hollywood Reporter. Her courage to come forward and the many other sexual assault survivors added fuel to my fire.


Unfortunately, I am no stranger to intimate emotional abuse or sexual assault. According to the CDC, one in four women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. I wanted to write about what happens to a woman after verbal abuse and/or sexual trauma. In what insidious ways does unhealed trauma affect the trajectory of a woman’s life?


I wanted to write the ending that women deserve. This became the driving force behind my writing All the Girls in Town


Q: The author Leslie Lehr said of the book, “What's more intriguing than a woman scorned? Three women scorned in a rock and roll revenge romp. Yet Staci Greason’s new about so much more. It's about our dreams, what we do for love, and how friendship can save us.” What do you think of that description?


A: First, I love Leslie Lehr. Her book, A Boob’s Life, is not only an educational and enlightening read, but it’s so much fun. I can’t wait to watch the HBO Max series. Leslie is a positive, dynamic presence in the literary world. A great example of a woman supporting other women.


My book is about more than revenge. Revenge may be what Dani, Red, and Sasha think they need, but ultimately, they realize it won’t help them feel any better. I don’t think revenge does us any good. I believe in justice. And, as a practicing Buddhist, I believe in karma. The law of cause and effect.


I wanted Dani, Red, and Sasha to have rich full lives. It’s why they each get their own chapters until they come together for the big finale. I wanted to explore how they each felt alone in their pain until they met one another.


There’s a story in the Lotus Sutra, a Buddhist text, where a young woman is suffering because she’s lost her child. She, of course, is desolate and grieving. She goes to Shakyamuni Buddha for guidance. He tells her to knock on the door of everyone in her village and share her story. When she does this, others offer compassion by sharing their stories of loss.


Trauma may shape our lives, but it doesn’t have to define who we are and what we’re capable of accomplishing. I wanted to write about the necessity of connection and community in healing.


Friendship has saved me time and time again. There were two decades in my life where I wouldn’t have survived without my friends. A big part of practicing Buddhism is the sangha or community of believers. As I’ve struggled to make my dreams come true, facing many obstacles in life, my spirit has always been buoyed to continue on through the support of fellow Buddhists and friends.


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


A: Spoiler Alert:

Originally, the novel skipped Peter’s 40th birthday party and jumped in time to the women’s lives after the big event. But then I got notes from the amazing developmental coach, Pat Verducci. She asked me to think about what I was leaving out. Why hadn’t I written the big confrontation scene? Didn’t the women deserve their day?


It was pretty crazy that I’d just sped on by confronting the bad guy. I hadn’t been willing to go there emotionally. I didn’t want to go into “the lava,” as screenwriter guru Meg LeFauve calls it.


So, I knew what I needed to do. I rolled up my sleeves and dove in. I let the women confront Peter at his 40th birthday party in the Hollywood Hills in front of his friends, music label executives, and the paparazzi. It left me emotionally raw for a while. But it was also explosive, fun, and extremely cathartic to write.


Q: You've also been a screenwriter and actor--did those experiences inform the writing of the novel?


A: It’s been my experience that each form of creative expression feeds and expands the others.


When I was very young, I studied the piano, sang, and wrote poetry and songs on my guitar. In high school, my best friend encouraged me to audition for the school musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I was incredibly shy, but I loved to sing. I was cast in the chorus and the acting bug hit hard. A character feels in a body that moves through space interacting with others. It was incredibly freeing and healing.


Finally, there was a place for a shy kid like me to safely express all of her big feelings in a healthy way.


Acting is a craft. When I studied, I learned the importance of creating a rich backstory for my character. What do they yearn for? What do they avoid? Where are they in their life? What’s just happened before they enter the scene? What will they do to get what they want? What do they do when they don’t get it?


That’s where the juicy rich meat of a story lives. These are all valuable writer questions during rewrites. When it’s time to expand, look for holes, make connections, and let the answers lead you.


When I was on Days of Our Lives, I started writing with a friend. We picked up Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. Once a week, we’d meet and do the exercises in the book together. Over time, I started hearing my own voice. It was exciting to learn what I wanted to say about life.


I discovered the talented and generous writer and teacher Jim Krusoe and began taking his famous ongoing Wednesday night creative writing class at Santa Monica City College. Jim was the first person to tell me that I was a writer. He emphasized that writers read.


I showed up to that group on and off with novels in stages for almost 10 years. Jim read and encouraged me through the writing of two. I believe in the value of mentors. I was fortunate to have discovered a great one.


When my self-published novel The Last Great American Housewife, about a housewife who lives in a tree by the mall to save it from destruction, was optioned for a feature, I wrote the screenplay. I had written a few TV specs and screenplays, but this time I had to learn to cut the wheat from the chaff. Keep only what was necessary. I had to “kill my darlings” as they say in screenwriting.


As Treed (the feature adaptation) placed in fellowships and festivals, I received professional notes and met fellow screenwriters, and expanded my idea of what was a “story.” The best way to become a better writer is to get notes, rewrite, and read others. Ultimately, that experience taught me to not avoid structure, but to dive right into it, finding freedom in a constrictive form. I let myself face working with plot.


Also, a screenplay has a rigid structure which mostly must be adhered to; certain events need to happen around specific page numbers. This can be challenging, but a good kind of challenge in developing muscles. Film is a visual medium. Writing a screenplay taught me the economy of words. Less is definitely more.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve just finished rewrites on a quirky novel about two agoraphobics who join a survivalist cult in the desert. The first draft was written before 9/11. Unfortunately, it’s even more relevant today. I wanted to explore what’s happening in our country by going back in time to the turn of the millennium. Why do people join cults? How can we help them disengage and return?


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Fiction can be an act of political defiance. You can ban a novel filled with angry women who fight back and win. But people will still read it. Here, I get to use my voice uninterrupted to say how I think we can make the world a better place: by women overcoming their differences to unite toward a greater vision.


Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of articles where writers use the term “Post #MeToo.” Post? I want to scream and hurl my phone in rage. We are living in mad times. I’m mad about everything now. These days, a guy can be accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women, have their stories corroborated, hear the predator joke about it, and still become an ex-president.


There was a guy running for Senate in Nevada who had big numbers in the polls. He’d been accused of sexual assault by eight women. Eight women. Eight people whose stories were verified by numerous witnesses. (Witnesses are real people who saw it happen in case we all decided to forget what the word witness means.) Thank god, the guy lost. But, isn’t sexual assault enough to wipe the guy off of our radar and into prison for good?


Do Americans not care about their mothers, wives, daughters, aunts, nieces, girlfriends, partners, coworkers, and friends? Why don’t we love women? I love women! This is what I yell all of the time now.


We are literally fighting for our right to own our bodies. My body. Is up for ownership. But Louis C.K. is still touring. Bill Cosby is out of prison. Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas are Supreme Court justices. This is wrong.


It’s a real problem for anyone who identifies as a woman. It’s my problem. So, I will keep writing about it. I will keep fighting. Even if it means I have to grow old driving a VW van over the border to help girls get the healthcare they need. Even if it means I will be protesting outside of the Supreme Court until the day I die. What else are we here for if not to make the world a better place for others?


I often refer to this Allen Ginsberg quote tacked on the wall in my writer’s room – Well, while I'm here I'll do the work — and what's the work? To ease the pain of living. Everything else, drunken dumbshow.


That sums it up.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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