"Every crooked pot has a crooked cover." (A conversation with Renee Rosen)

Earlier this week, Colleen introduced us to Every Crooked Pot, a lovely coming of age story by Renee Rosen, who's making the rounds on the Girlfriends Cyber Circtuit this week. It took me a couple days to catch up with her for our traditional latte and cyber chat.

Renee, I’m intrigued by the title Every Crooked Pot. Where did it come from?
The title references an old Yiddish expression that 'Every crooked pot has a crooked cover.' In other words, there's someone for everyone and that we love people not just in spite of their flaws but because of them. This title was a gift from a dear friend of mine. Her mother used to tell her that expression and I just loved it.
I dedicated the book to my family and the memory of my father. Though the Rosen clan is very different from the Goldman's, I grew up in a household full of love and laughter (and sometimes tears). My father was an amazing man who provided me with a lifetime of material. The most lovable aspects of Artie can be traced back to him. Every writer should be as lucky as I've been to have such a supportive family and this book was a way to preserve some of those memories we shared growing up "Rosen-style."

Let's hear more about the book. Where did the story come from?
Well, it's no secret that Every Crooked Pot is somewhat autobiographical, and yet, I never thought to write about growing up with a strawberry birthmark over my eye until I enrolled in a week-long writing workshop with Michael Cunningham--who of course went on to win the Pulitzer for The Hours. Anyway, Michael gave us an exercise about childhood memories and I jotted something down about how my father once used my eye to get out of a speeding ticket. People in my workshop seemed moved by this account and that incident ended up inspiring the opening scene of the novel. That was the starting point and then, after that, my characters took over and they told me the rest of the story.

Nina and I are similar in some very obvious ways. We both grew up in Akron, Ohio. We both had larger-than-life fathers and mothers who smoked pipes. Like Nina, (and like everyone else I know) I had my share of heartaches with boys and my share of teenage angst. And that's where the similarities ended. Nina's condition was much more severe than mine ever was and she dealt with her birthmark and her family--especially her father--in ways that were very different from my own experience. And while some people think they've read my diary after reading my novel, I'm going on record here and to say that I still have plenty of secrets.

Would Nina still be Nina if she didn't have the mark on her eye?
I think that Nina is the person she is specifically because of her eye. Having that disfigurement forced her to develop other aspects of her personality that she might not have otherwise. For example, I think her sense of humor stems from her wanting to be accepted by her friends and classmates. I also think that Nina is not unique in that respect because I do believe that our childhood shapes us no matter what. I also believe that what we initially think is our greatest liability can become our greatest asset. It's all in how we confront our obstacles.

What’s the writing process for you? Do you outline or just whack away on the story as the spirit moves you?
If only I could outline my writing life would be much easier--in fact my entire life would be much easier. But I'm afraid I just dive in without a clue as to where I'm going. The entire story in Every Crooked Pot grew completely out of the characters. They ran the show from start to finish and each time I tried to impose something on them, they wouldn't go for it. In terms of process, I've been told I'm an 'organic' writer in the sense that I never outline. I start with a group of characters and let them lead the way. I'm also a chronic reviser. My first few drafts are choppy at best. It's only after I go back over the material time and time again that I can get the texture I'm looking for. As for my environment, I do most of my writing at home--though the past few months, I've done my share of writing in airports and hotel rooms and the occasional friend's couch.

What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
An agent once told me that if you hear the same criticism about your work three times, you have to pay attention to it. But, if you get three different responses to your work, then you're probably onto something!


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