SC: Could you speak a little about your process when writing this novel? Were the sections drafted chronologically, was there a certain theme that you started with and expanded the plot from?
LS: I usually start my novels with a central idea. I don't outline but I do know, in a vague way, what I am going for. That said, I start writing chronologically but that often goes out the window when I am deep into a book. I can write the middle, the end, anything can happen. I also have a tendency, when finished with a first draft to rearrange parts and sections. In fact I might do that up until the final edit! I am very concerned with smooth transitions.
SC: The book follows a very particular structure. Could you speak a little to your thoughts when it came to those choices and how the structure informed content/plot or vice versa?
LS: The structure of Shivah came to me in a flash, even before the title. I began to understand that while I was writing I had also begun the real life mourning process. I just had no idea that process and the novel would take a dozen years. And in fact, of course, the mourning process is still with me.
SC: Besides structure, which craft elements were you most interested in prioritizing in the novel?
LS: I value beautifully crafted sentences above all else. I am absolutely fanatical about finding the right sentence, the right words, the right rhythm. I want my readers to stop many times in the novel and say: Wow. I want them to think: This is powerful, this is beautiful, this is true. So, my writing has to be everything at once: compelling, intelligent, gorgeous, and also I wish to use the fewest words possible. I am a cross between Raymond Carver and Philip Roth. Anyway, that is the goal.
SC: What went into the decisions on characterizing Leah's mother in the novel? Was there ever a concern on your part about balancing the mother's flaws without sacrificing the reader's emotional investment, particularly in Leah's grief?
LS: I absolutely was concerned with balancing Mother's issues with the things she handed down to Leah: the strength and faith and commitment and love of beautiful things. I have written a number of non-fiction essays on my real mother and I understood the balance but needed to stay on top of it when writing a novel and a longer work. I needed her to be believable, not a villain but a complex character; I needed Leah to also be flawed: too introspective, too concerned about closure. I needed both the main characters to be people readers might recognize.
SC: Since the nature of grief often doesn't function like many readers expect a narrative to (with a neat beginning, middle, and ending), how did you balance finding a resolution for Leah within the confines of the novel?
LS: I don't think I completely understood the nature of grief until I began to write about it about 15 years ago: first in dealing with my father's long illness and death, then with an estrangement with my sisters after that death, and then with my mother's protracted disappearance. I also realized that I had tamped down other "griefs" over the years and that ultimately, to heal, I had to at least acknowledge my own helplessness to change the outcome of an event: no just the death or estrangement or even the failure of purpose but that I had to learn to move on or I would be captured forever in the spiral that is grief. In the novel, it was important to me to end on a positive note: especially when the Mother dies before the book even opens. It was important to show a journey for the two, Mother and Leah, that wasn't always linear but that had its own end that made sense. I think the novel is very much the way women talk to each other, in my experience; they circle and circle and go off on tangents but they also talk about everything that matters, eventually.
Lisa Solod has been writing since the age of eight and publishing since the age of seventeen. She has pursued numerous careers and held a number of jobs over the years including journalist, public relations expert, advertising copywriter, freelance writer and novelist. A lifelong writer, she finds listening to and telling stories just about the best thing in the world. Her writing has appeared online in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Lilith, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Savannah Magazine, The Manifest-Station, and the Huffington Post among other places.