Writing in a Coffee Shop by Guest Author Lisa Genova

lisagenovawebWe’re very pleased to welcome guest author Lisa Genova today to the ball.

Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. She used her experience and knowledge to pen her debut novel Still Alice, about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book has been critically acclaimed, and a New York Times Bestseller. She is currently working on her next novel, LEFT NEGLECTED.

I have a great office in my house. Brick floor, two deep and comfy chairs, a café table and chairs, and a desk with my iMac computer on it. Three of the four walls are windows, so it has lots of natural light, and the west window wall overlooks a saltwater creek that runs into Pleasant Bay. Two swans just swam by. A huge bulletin board hangs above my desk tacked with Still Alice clippings, pictures of my kids, and my intention board. My intention board has lots of great words on it that help me stay grounded and balanced by simple reminder: Grateful, Grow, Create, Live in the Moment, Books that Make a Difference, Believe, Open Minds.

newcoverSounds lovely, right? Inspiring even. It is, but honestly, I prefer Starbucks. I find it difficult to write at home. There are bills to pay, laundry to do, phone calls to take and return, food in the fridge. So at home, there is always the possibility that when a scene I’m writing isn’t flying effortlessly from my head into the pen, I’ll think, Hmm. I really should pay those bills. I know if I find myself choosing bills over writing the next sentence, it’s time to get out of the house.

Plus, I have two kids (8 and 1). If I’m home, one of them always needs me for something, even if there’s a perfectly good adult other than me here to get the job done. I’m a sucker for games and songs and hugs and kisses.

So I go to Starbucks. There’s nothing else to do at Starbucks but drink caffeine, which I need because the 1 yr old doesn’t sleep through the night, and write. You can’t even daydream there for long without looking like a nut. I wrote Still Alice almost entirely at Starbucks.

I love my home office and enjoy writing in here when I can. Like right now. But if I didn’t have it, I’d be fine at a table at the coffee shop down the street.

Just don’t tell my husband this. He’ll want to convert my beautiful office into something else, like a gym or a gameroom.

12 Replies to “Writing in a Coffee Shop by Guest Author Lisa Genova”

  1. Thanks for being our guest, Lisa! I often go to coffee shops to write, too–if only to get away from all the toys around my desk.

    I’m really impressed by how much positive feedback you’ve gotten from people dealing with Alzheimer’s or have have someone with Alzheimer’s in their family. Did you do a lot of interviews specifically for the book or did you just use your knowledge of the illness from your work?

  2. Hi Meredith,

    The seed for this book came from both my passion and curiosity for how the brain works and from watching my grandmother with Alzheimer’s. I read everything I could get my hands on about Alzheimers–from the scientific literature to the non-fiction, self help–but I couldn’t get a satsifying answer to the question I kept asking as I watched her: What does it feel like to have this?
    She was too far along to be able to have that kind of conversation with me.

    I did a lot of research for Still Alice. Although it’s a novel, I felt an enormous responsibility to tell the truth about the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s. So I interviewed general practice physicians and neurologists, scientists and genetic counselors, social workers. I sat in on neuropsych testing and shadowed neurologists. This was extremely helpful, but it was still a view from the outside looking in.

    I found a support group online called the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network International. This is a support group formed by and for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Not caregivers, not clinicians. I introduced myself, told them what I was trying to do, and asked if I could join their group. Amazingly, the let me in. So while I was writing Still Alice, I went to their one hour chat at least once a day. I posted and responded to and read emails on the yahoo message board. And I got to know about a dozen people with early onset Alzheimer’s very well. We’re still close today. It’s been an extraordinary experience. They really let me and shared their most vulnerable selves. I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture everyone’s experience with AD, but I became convinced I could capture the essence of it.

  3. Lisa, Thanks for being our guest. Your novel sounds incredible. Alzheimers is such a scary and heartbreaking disease, isn’t it? I think it just leaves people completely bewildered. On a happier note, your office sounds lovely. And I have the same problem with my kids–they all barge in when I’m working and I sometimes think they’re vampires based on their sleeping habits….Good luck with your new book!

  4. Hi Deb,

    Thanks for having me! AD is incredibly scary and heartbreaking, but that’s not all it is. I think when most people hear the word “Alzheimer’s,” they immediately skip to the image of end stage Alzheimer’s–vacant-eyed, without language, in a nursing home, remembering no one. But there is life between diagnosis and end stage, especially if diagnosed early, and while that life is now scary and challenging, it is still a life that matters and has value. This is, I hope, one of the messages of this book. To live life with all that you have while you’re here. And, you are more than what you can remember.

    And thanks! The new book is called Left Neglected. I’m about 50 pages in and am loving it! The website is: http://www.LeftNeglected.com

  5. Hi, Lisa! I think every writer can identify with the distractions of home. I never even stopped to think how much harder that makes it to get through a tough spot.

    Your book sounds fantastic. I’m sure it will touch many people’s lives.

    Thanks for being our guest today!

  6. Oh Lisa, I need to read your book. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and toward the end he didn’t know me anymore. But you know what? I played a violin for him — not just any violin, HIS violin, and the one passed down to him by his father and eventually to me, the violin I learned to play on because my parents couldn’t afford to buy one — and he smiled and tapped along. The tune was “Daisy, daisy, give your answer, do…” It was the last time I saw him and though he didn’t know me, I felt connected anyway.

    Now we’re dealing with similar issues with my grandmother, and it’s not easy with all the differing opinions on what to do or not do. Yes, I need to go get this book right now, I think.

    Regarding the office, I can relate to this: “So at home, there is always the possibility that when a scene I’m writing isn’t flying effortlessly from my head into the pen, I’ll think, Hmm. I really should pay those bills.”

    It takes an enormous effort to slack off on the house when a manuscript isn’t coming together easily…because at least the dishes can be done (well, they stay done for about five minutes anyway.)

    Kristina (Debutante Ball Girl Monday)

  7. Hi Kristina,

    Wow, thank you for sharing that. Music, especially tunes from our earliest childhood, are some of the long-lasting memories. When someone with AD has seemingly forgotten all his personal history, he might still light up, hum and dance along to Amazing Grace. And you’re right, we really can’t connect with our loved ones who have AD based on information they don’t have access to anymore. You need to join him where he can meet you. For all of us, whether we have AD or not, our truth, our reality, is based only on the information we have access to. And sometimes a leap of faith.

    As far as the office, kid, orderly house balance…I have no illusions. My house will be satisfyingly clean when the kids move out, hopefully when they’re 18!

  8. Isn’t it amazing that we can have this beautiful space dedicated just for our writing with everything at our fingertips: comfy chair, printer, paper, pens, good lighting etc. and yet we traipse off to a coffee shop?

    I do it too:;)

  9. Thanks so much for the interview. My mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s for years–so heartbreaking. I can’t wait to read your book and I hope I can convince my non-reading but still “carrying the sadness” hubby to read it, too.

  10. Thanks, Rebbie. I just met a woman last week who’s been caring for her mother, who is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. She drove 2 hours to attend a book club meeting in the town I live in so she could talk about what she’s been experiencing. In the day to day, she needs to “stay strong” and “not talk about it.” And she doesn’t want to burden others with it all. I think Still Alice gave her permission to talk about it. After she read the book, she knew she wasn’t alone. She saw pieces of her and her mother in Alice’s story, and was comforted by the this.

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