To celebrate the release of the 10 year anniversary of my memoir, Chicken, I’m doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire. I first met Laura Schenone when I saw her read from her James Beard Award winning book, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove. She’s a beautiful, lyrical writer, who is somehow as good at reading her work as she is at writing it. She manages to be one of those rare hybrids, a writer who is literary and page turning simultaneously. I recently read her spectacular memoir, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken and I totally fell in love with it. And it’s not really my kind of book. I prefer writing where people are getting their heads blown off and/or are engaged in acts of insane depravity which showcase the darkest heart of humans. Him but these books are so thoughtful, the storytelling so riveting, and the characters come to life in such a beautiful way, you feel like you’re floating down a warm river through a breathtaking countryside, with some crazy rapids waiting up ahead. And she also writes about big subjects like family and food and love, using her own experiences often as a jumping off point to illuminate deep human truths. She’s working on her next memoir, and we thought we would check in with her about what it takes to turn your life into a book.
David Henry Sterry: Why in gods name did you decide to write a memoir?
Laura Schenone: I don’t know that I decided. I think I was writing it in my head my whole life.
DHS: What were the worst things about writing the memoir?
LS: Complete embarrassment of writing a memoir. But also trying to make a character out of myself and be honest.
DHS: What were the best things about writing the memoir?
LS: That’s any easy one: Italy. Specifically, Genoa. My memoir was a quest tale about the search for a long lost family recipe and involved travel there. I studied the language, and that was wonderful. I loved the place, the people I met, and the food.
DHS: Did writing the memoir help you make some sense out of the chaos we call life?
LS: Absolutely. I felt far more at peace over some things once I’d finished it and still do. I have much less of a need to look backward.
DHS: How did you make narrative out of the random events that happened to you?
LS: I had three interwoven themes. One was the forward momentum of the search for something and an obsession with that. The other was the flashback associative part in which the past flies up. The third was me meditating about the present. I wove them together in the most natural way I could. In terms of sequence, there was mention of a love story between my great grandparents that had to go more toward the front of the book to hook the reader.
DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?
LS: I’d just had a book that had done pretty well, so it was fairly easy. I loved my editor at W.W. Norton and wanted to stay there.
DHS: How did you go about marketing and promoting your memoir?
LS: I cooked and made ravioli everywhere.
DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking to the public about the most intimate parts of you memoir?
LS: The raw parts I never read in public. But there were times I was uncomfortable when people asked me questions I didn’t want to answer. Sadly, my book didn’t have much sex in it, so that was no problem.
DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to the memoir?
LS: Some loved it. Some really did not appreciate it in the least. There were some very painful moments.
DHS: Any advice for someone writing a memoir?
LS: There are many memoirs out there. Most are not good. Your memoir really isn’t supposed to be just about you. Before you begin, try to really understand the form. Study the ones that manage to elevate personal experience to something far greater. Shoot high.