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Thursday
Apr102014

Q & A with Cris Mazza, author of the new memoir, Something Wrong with Her

Tell us a little about your book.  

Something Wrong With Her is a “real-time” memoir that began as an attempt to probe and explain my experience with female sexual dysfunction and ended up initiating a re-connection with a boy from my past.

This is not a book about overcoming FSD. Rather, it is a memoir about a girl who didn’t feel the sexual awakenings she knew she was supposed to feel, and about the boy who loved her nonetheless. Thirty years later I went back to find that boy, now a man, only to discover that he’d never stopped yearning for me. Worse, in an attempt to numb his feelings for me, he’d sealed himself into an abusive marriage.

Something Wrong With Her may not have completely answered the original questions I set out to explain and find closure for, but it became a real-time testimony of my reconnection with this man during — and within — the writing of this memoir, and our candid wrestling with 30-year-old memories, questions and regrets.

 

You've published 17 books of fiction and nonfiction and are an award-winning author, but each new book poses a challenge for most writers.  What were a couple of things you learned about yourself and/or your writing process while you wrote Something Wrong with Her?

About myself there are too many things learned to adequately provide here (for that I needed a book). But, as you say, it was the process of writing that exposed to me the things I learned (for many of those the word “learned” is too strong; perhaps “saw a glimmering that I could not quite articulate.”)  So since process was what led to any possible form of catharsis, I wanted the reading experience of the book to be, as much as it could be, a repeat of my process, not a report of a finished thought-out product. So one challenge was to capture how thought and personal understanding meanders, circles, obsesses and dwells, sinks into despair, stagnates, leaps ahead, is raw, slippery, and constantly revisable. And yet I also wanted the book be readable, a journey, and have its own form of satisfaction (because it wasn’t a redemption or recovery memoir with built-in resolution). I learned as well to trust digressions, interruptions and new patterns; that it’s okay to not know what a book should be about when wading into it. Figuring out en route and realizing-by-surprise what the focus and important questions are is part of the process, especially when the process is the story. 

Why do you think female sexuality, one of your main themes in this book and in others, is often such a fraught, controversial topic? (especially in contrast to male sexuality, which is often the subject of lucrative farces and sex comedies.)  I'm thinking of the 2006 documentary This Movie Is Not Yet Rated, which examines Hollywood's almost shocking double standards in relation to female and male nudity in films - all things related to female pleasure and sexuality often are treated as taboo, and filmmakers who attempt to be honest about them are slapped with an X rating, which is usually a commercial death sentence.  

I often wondered why the iconic women-break-down-the-literary-sexuality-doors book Fear of Flying was not made into a film.  The film rights were purchased and work had begun (with one memorable rumor that Barbra Streisand might be eying the lead role), with an up-and-coming female producer to direct, but the project fell through. I don’t know why and can’t find any info on it. I wonder if it had to do with the “problem” of a story focusing on female sexuality from a female POV instead of just using female sexuality as window dressing or for prurient interest? Undoubtedly it would have gotten an X rating unless watered down. 40 years later, someone now has re-acquired the rights and the film is supposedly being made.  The female director says, “I am so excited to be directing a film about a woman’s sexuality that is in turn smart, sensual, neurotic, erotic, charming and real.” Will they encounter the kinds of issues you list above? Will be interesting to see.   

            Why this is a fraught and controversial topic simply has to be because of our puritan bedrock – a foundation which is very much alive in one of the political parties.  I mean, think about the statement made by a politician recently that women should hold aspirin between their knees as birth control. It’s more than a plea for abstinence. It’s a representation that what is between a woman’s legs is shameful. So how could female sexuality be treated with the same heroic thrust (yes word chosen carefully) as male sexuality? Ours is a dark, dirty, disgraceful place.

Many of us had unintentionally swallowed that idea about our bodies and are now fighting a lifetime of body-loathing, one of the personal issues I tried to not just expose but rub in my own face in this book.

 

This is such a stylistically imaginative book - with an accompanying CD and photocopied excerpts from your old journals, the texts of emails too - how did you begin putting it together?  And lastly, what initially inspired you to write this book? 

 

Some of the motivation for using scanned images from 30-year-old journals and typed letters was that the task of retyping them was far too daunting, and I knew that if I did retype, I’d change / edit / revise them.  Then once I began using the journals to reinforce my memory, I realized how faulty my memory was as well as how the handwriting in the journal spoke sometimes more clearly as the words. I recognized the journal and letters were material worthy of forensic and psychological examination, as though I had not been the one to write them. And yet, I also found that the unsteady distance I thought I had (30 years became 30 seconds at some points) created the real-time limitations and weaknesses of the author, not just the character.

            But using the journals and letters and emails was a technique that only gradually entered the book, was never a plan at the outset. The book created its plan as I got further and further into it.

            While I have been responding to these questions, a review came online that expresses better than I can what I’ve been trying to say in these answers: “There are an awful lot of crucial but incongruent pieces jammed together so that some of their seams are showing, but it adds an authenticity to Mazza's journey of self-discovery, showing just how long and how hard she has been fighting the false starts and full stops that added to the interior hurdles she faced while making peace with and learning about herself.”  (http://ilikereadingandeating.blogspot.com/) 

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Reader Comments (1)

Very interesting concept on a book. Looking forward to reading it as I have read 1 other book in this blog.

May 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

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