Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview with Libby Schmais, author of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein

Marlene: Tell us about your book

Libby: The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein is a novel about existential dread, cupcakes and l’amour. It’s the story of a teenager named Lotus Lowenstein who lives in Park Slope and is kind of obsessed with Sartre (who she calls JP), France and falling in love. Her diary book chronicles her day-to-day life in Brooklyn, falling in love, going to Montreal, not to mention a falling out with her best friend Joni over Sean, the boy they both have feelings for.

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Libby: I was inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan, which is a diary book written by a young woman in the Imperial Court of Japan in the year 1002 It’s called The Pillow Book because the author, Sei Shonagan, was given some notebooks by the Empress to make into a pillow. She used the notebooks to write her thoughts down. When I first read The Pillow Book, I was struck by how modern and even witty it was. I’ve always loved diary books, so I wanted to find a way to use the diary concept and The Pillow Book in a novel. I came up with the idea of a girl living in Park Slope, Brooklyn who was studying The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon in English class, and has the assignment of writing her own pillow book. This also allowed me to include a number of quotes from the original Pillow Book.

Marlene: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Libby: Yes, I remember writing the first sentence and immediately liking the character of Lotus. The beginning is pretty straightforward, in the classic first person narrative “Call Me Ishmael” tradition. Lotus starts with: As you may have guessed, my name is Lotus Lowenstein and this is my diary.

Marlene:What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Libby: The research for this book was, as Lotus would say, très enjoyable. I read a great biography about the relationship between Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, perused some books of French slang and existentialism and took a road trip to Montreal to eat Poutine (a Canadian concoction of French Fries, cheese curds and gravy). I also wandered around Park Slope, eating cupcakes and drinking cappuccino.

Marlene: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Libby: I am particularly fond of the opening of the book where Lotus describes her hopes and dreams, which involve moving to Paris and wandering around in a Trenchcoat with her imaginary French boyfriend, Jean-something.

Marlene: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Libby: One of the parts I had particular trouble with was the fight between the two best friends, Lotus and Joni, and accurately portraying the deep emotions of a friend breakup. Towards the end of the writing of the book, I actually had a falling out (later resolved) with one of my own close friends, which actually helped give me insight into how painful it was for Joni and Lotus.

Marlene: What's on your nightstand right now?

Libby: A glass of water, my Juice Beauty moisturizer, a book on Henry the VIII by Alison Weir (research for my next YA novel), Life in Tudor England (see the theme here), On Writers Block by Victoria Nelson (a great book) and Gidget (highly recommended & who knew she was Jewish).

Marlene: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Libby: Yes, there have been times that I’ve definitely wanted to quit writing. It’s easy to get discouraged when the writing isn’t going well, or when you start comparing yourself to other writers (always a bad idea). Before I started writing this book, I hadn’t written for a while. But I find than when I stop writing, I actually feel worse, not better, so I need to keep reminding myself of that during difficult writing periods.

Marlene: What’s the French Word du Jour?

Libby: Today’s French Word du Jour is Chouette, which means great. If you collect all the French words du jour on the Blog Tourapalooza, you can enter a contest to win fabulous prizes (A $25 Sephora gift card and a personally autographed Pillow Book!). Once you’ve visited all the blog tour stops and collected all the words, email the list of words to with the subject line “French Word du Jour Contest.” The deadline for entries is December 20th and a winner will be selected at random on December 22, 2009. The complete My-Life-Is-Merde-but-Have-a-Bonnes-Fêtes-Anyway Blog Tourapalooza schedule can be found at Our next tour stop is Carrie’s YA Bookshelf on December 3, 2009. See you on the road, mes amis!

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment. Libby will pop back in for one week to respond. You’re up!