I’m so thrilled to welcome Christine O’Brien to the Debutante Ball this week! Christine is a lecturer in the English Composition Department at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. She earned a BA in English at the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a double MFA in non-fiction and fiction from St. Mary’s College, where she was awarded the college’s Agnes Butler Scholarship for Literary Excellence. Christine has previously worked for ABC-TV, Alex Ponti and NBC Productions.
Her essays and short stories have appeared in such journals as Seneca Review and Slush Pile Magazine, and her work received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her debut memoir, CRAVE (November 2018, St. Martin’s Press), has just been released — and Bustle just named it one of the Top 11 non-fiction books to check out this month!
Christine and I are are longtime classmates in The Book Writing World, a Bay Area based (and online) writers group and workshop founded by writers Elizabeth Stark & Angie Powers. I am so delighted to be able to host Christine on the Debutante Ball! You can contact her through Facebook and her website.
Crave: A Memoir of Food and Longing – Hunger comes in many forms. In her memoir, Christine S. O’Brien tells a story of family turmoil and incessant hunger hidden behind the luxury and privilege of New York’s famed Dakota apartment building. Her explosively angry father was ABC Executive Ed Scherick, the successful television and film producer who created shows and films like ABC’s Wide World of Sports and The Stepford Wives. Raised on farm in the Midwest, her calm, beautiful mother Carol narrowly survived a dramatic accident when she was child. There was no hint of instability in her life until one day she collapsed in the family’s apartment and spent the next year in bed. “Your mother’s illness is not physical,” Christine’s father tells her…
Christine is giving away a signed copy of CRAVE: A MEMOIR OF FOOD AND LONGING to one reader who shares this interview on FB or Twitter (details at the end of the post)! Thank you so much for being here, Christine!
Devi: Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
Christine: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It shocks me that the language in this novel is so contemporary. To me it feels like it was written this morning, which only reminds me that when an artist connects to the truth of something, that connection resonates across any seeming divisions. Including the division of time. I’m also amazed at the quiet brilliance of her character depiction. She isn’t trying to trumpet the nuanced genius of her characters, she just puts the details on the page with so much trust, which might explain the fact that the book wasn’t as recognized in 1937 as it is now. There’s no fanfare, only the careful, studied, observance of truth.
Devi: Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
Christine: Writing is making me happy right now. I’m working on a second memoir. Some of the events in this second book are mentioned in the middle section of Crave, but after discovering a trio of lost diaries — after I finished Crave— I realized the account of one summer tells a separate story with different themes, one in which the narrator embarks on a challenging and high-stakes journey towards selfhood.
Devi: The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.
Christine: I put aside my manuscript many many times over the 8 years I worked on it. Then invariably, someone – like Elizabeth Stark, my Book Writing World teacher and mentor — would ask, “What’s happening with your book?” and I’d pull it out of a drawer, dust it off, and carve away at it, some more. It was like that, all the way through, peaks and troughs of optimism and hopelessness. In those optimistic moments, I’d send off a slurry of queries. After many “no thank you’s” or even “very close, but it’s not quite right’s,” I received an email from an agent asking me where did I find her address, telling me she had requested that Writer’s Market (which was where I had found her address!) take her off their list, and then saying she wanted to talk about my book. It turned out, she hadn’t accepted an unsolicited manuscript in fourteen years but she said, when she read my query, she had “a hunch” about me. She loved my writing. Very early on she started pitching the book to an editor she had worked with at St. Martin’s Press on a few cookbooks. He was a “foodie,” as she put it. Even so, she made me work on the nonfiction proposal for 2 solid years to the day I signed my contract with her, before she felt it was ready. I sent it to St. Martin’s and a handful of other publishers. St. Martin’s wanted it, we heard from them, a week after they received the proposal.
Devi: What time of day do you love best?
Christine: I love the morning. I feel bathed in peace at that time of day. I write best in the morning. Second to morning, I love dusk. Both seem like magical times to me.
Devi: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Christine: My advice for aspiring writers is to 1. write, write, write, and 2. find a way to get feedback and direction as you go. You need to have someone you trust or a writing group, readers with an understanding of the craft who can help you shape your work.
GIVEAWAY DETAILS! Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter and SHARE the interview for a chance to win CRAVE! For extra entries, comment on this post by Friday, NOV. 16. We’ll choose and contact the winner shortly afterwards.
“Do you mind that I’m going to be writing a book about the fact that I was hungry?” I asked my mother.
“Just tell a good story,” she replied.
…Craving a cure for a malady that the doctors said had no physical basis, Christine’s mother Carol resorted to increasingly bizarre nutritional diets―from raw liver to fresh yeast―before beginning a rigid dietary regime known as “The Program.” It consisted largely of celery juice and blended salads―a forerunner of today’s smoothie. Determined to preserve the health of her family, Carol insisted that they follow The Program. Despite their constant hunger, Christine and her three younger brothers loyally followed their mother’s eating plan, even as their father’s rage grew and grew. The more their father screamed, the more their mother’s very survival seemed to depend on their total adherence to The Program.
This well-meant tyranny of the dinner table led Christine to her own cravings for family, for food, and for the words to tell the story of her hunger. Crave is the chronicle of Christine’s painful and ultimately satisfying awakening. And, just as her mother asked, it’s a good story.