An Interview with Nora
FOREWORD MAGAZINE EDITOR MARDI LINK INTERVIEWS
BOOK OF THE YEAR FINALIST NORA EISENBERG
One of the finalists for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the
Year Awards in the General Fiction category is, Just the Way You
Want Me, a novel by Nora Eisenberg, published by Leapfrog Press.
Just the Way You Want Me is Eisenberg’s second book, and
is about how one family was changed forever by the rights abuses
of the McCarthy era during the Cold War. Eisenberg’s first
book, The War at Home (Leapfrog, 2002), was a memoir/novel with
an equally politicized setting. ForeWord This Week spoke to Eisenberg
from her country house in New York.
FTW: Most ‘message’ novels, or even novels with a
political element, often fall flat. How do you make yours so engaging?
Nora Eisenberg: It is a real challenge to blend some sort of
political element with a human story. I think the trick is to
really edit yourself very carefully so that you’re not preaching
and no rhetoric takes over the characters. Trusting the characters
and really following the people that you’ve created to the
moment of exposition is what I try to do.
FTW: How were the experiences of writing each book different?
Eisenberg: The first book was very much driven by personal experience,
although there were significant changes from my own childhood.
I was clearly writing from something that I knew close-up. It
was something that beckoned to me imaginatively. That book almost
wrote itself. The second book was driven not by personal experience
but by the characters. The second book was based not really on
my family at all but was built around an experience I’d
observed with something in the peace movement. A member of that
family was thought to be an FBI agent. It turned out not to be
true, but their life was destroyed. They were earnest activists
who found themselves and the meaning of their life working for
peace and they were ostracized by the people who mattered most
to them. If found myself wondering, What would that be like? So
I crafted this situation and these characters and let it go back
further to sort of the beginning of the madness of J. Edgar Hoover.
FTW: So how much research did you have to do for Just the Way
You Want Me?
Eisenberg: You know, I did a lot of research. I knew the kinds
of people in this book in many ways in my bones because I did
grow up surrounded by progressive people, but I didn’t really
know the specifics. I knew too much when I was writing, and so
I had to just do it with such a light touch.
FTW: Your characters’ inner lives seem almost always tied
to their place in the family. Can you comment?
Eisenberg: Well the families in my books are very powerful. I
think most people experience their families as very powerful.
These families are more so in several ways. They have both that
very powerful ethos that becomes something that the children have
to live with, live along side of, live against. When you’re
part of a family like that, you’re constantly sorting out
what you believe. In this case, it was a certain type of politics.
You start to wonder, Where are you in relation to the things they
believe? There is also a certain fierceness in the families that
I write about. That comes not so much from beliefs, as from the
damage that’s been done to them. The mothers in particular
in both novels are tremendously wounded by circumstances. The
children therefore have to figure out their lives in relation
to those types of wounds.
FTW: You stayed with Leapfrog Press for your second book. Your
experience with them must have been a good one.
Eisenberg: They are the best. They’re both writers and
they are very respectful of what a writer is trying to do. They’re
very imaginative editors and writerly editors. When they make
a suggestion, it’s not as a critic but as a practitioner.
Technically they’re terrific, but also they publish heartfelt
stories. I think that’s true of everything that they publish.
It’s all with heart. There’s a lot of technically
good work out there, but I think the thing that distinguishes
them is that they bring out this feeling of the heart.
FTW: What are you working on now?
Eisenberg: A new novel that’s about a family just after
the Gulf war, just after Desert Storm. The legacy of war in that
family and the repercussions of the gulf experience in the hearts
and minds and bodies of that family.
FTW: Being an author that embraces the political nature of our
country and our history, I’m sure you have some feelings
about the Patriot Act. Can you comment?
Eisenberg: I suppose I do have feelings about it. The distortion
of the truth and the manipulation of fear in citizens its caused
can be turned around. There are a lot of people who want to do
that, and we’re getting into a climate where people are
not afraid to say that the Patriot Act is prohibitive and anti-American.
Saying so makes them patriotic and not anti-American, this act
was passed in a month, there was no committee work. No one had
time to read it. It was just that they were so terrified of looking
soft on terrorism. I think there’s a lot of fresh thinking.
The library association has just been fabulous. Which has been
gratifying to me personally, because right after nine eleven was
a tough time to put out a book like mine. It had a very pronounced
political bent, and they reviewed it well, they were divine, they
got it, they embraced it.
Just the Way You Want Me or
The War at Home
$14.95 Paperback Original
216 Pages / 6 x 9