Literary fiction author, Diane Wald, joins the blog this week to discuss My Famous Brain
Author Name: Diane Wald
Book Title: My Famous Brain
Book Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: She Writes Press
Welcome to The Spotlight! How would you describe My Famous Brain?
Although deemed a genius, psychologist Jack MacLeod, who passed away from a brain tumor in his forties, never became famous. In My Famous Brain, Jack narrates his life story from beyond the grave—relying on his intelligence and prodigious memory to gain haunting insights into the struggles and relationships that shaped his existence.
What sparked the idea for this book?
The protagonist, Jack MacLeod, was inspired by a person I met many years ago — a person who, like Jack, had a very high I.Q., could memorize enormous amounts of reading material, and was struggling to cope with a serious health problem. In real life, I didn’t know him all that well or all that long, but he was a fascinating combination of brains and humor and empathy, and I found it easy to invent all kinds of situations for “his” fictional life that fit into the themes I wanted to explore.
How long did it take for you to write it? Did you have to do any research?
I started this book more than twenty years ago, but I wasn’t enough of a seasoned writer to finish it to my satisfaction. Two years ago I took it out of mothballs, and then it was much easier to revise and complete. I did do a bit of research so that all the details would ring true. For example, there’s mention of the protagonist coming into what he feels is an immense sum of money: $50,000. I had to make sure that in the 1970s that amount really was an immense sum — and found out that indeed it would be about $350,000 today. I was so happy to get back to this manuscript, since I’d always felt it was an important story to tell, and because it touched on some of the themes I explored in my previous novel, Gillyflower. Both books, although they tell wildly different tales, are character studies that focus on desires, dreams, synchronicities, and inexplicable connections between people. In both books, for example, the male protagonist develops a deep kinship with a male friend. In My Famous Brain, the friend is gay but the protagonist is not. I think that’s a situation that’s not widely explored.
What drew you to literary fiction?
I’ve been a poet most of my life, with four full-length collections and numerous other publications and honors to my credit. I never seriously considered writing fiction, but as I’ve grown older, it’s come more naturally to me. I like to think I’ve brought my poetry and its love of language to my fiction. One of my favorite blurbs from the back of My Famous Brain, from the incredible poet/novelist Patrick Lawler, says, “Diane Wald is a fantastic story teller with the ear of a poet.” That made me so happy. For me, fiction has to be more than a story — it has to fill the reader with the joy of accomplished writing. That’s what I humbly attempt to do.
What’s your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?
My favorite part is that feeling you get when you just know something works. It’s a real boost to your entire mental/physical/spiritual system. What I find challenging is the ever-present question: “Will I ever be able to do this again?”
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read My Famous Brain?
People who love a complex, character-driven story, people who believe in or are curious about life after death, people who are interested in end-of-life decisions, people who are interested in gifted children/adults, people who are interested in stories about college faculties, people who are interested in stories about psychologists, people who like books about people who love books — any and all of those readers might want to pick up My Famous Brain.
What advice would you give your pre-published writer self?
I would say to her, “Stop complaining. Stop worrying. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop being jealous. It’ll all happen for you. GET TO WORK.”
Do you think My Famous Brain is sad or depressing?
Not at all! Sad things happen, of course, but I think there’s quite a bit of humor in it, and frequent instances of joy and uplifting passages throughout. Jack’s illness never stops him from experiencing as much of life as he can, and after he dies, he’s amazed at what he can recall and how he can manage and learn from his memories.
Are you working on a new project? Please tell us about it.
I have to admit that the pandemic and the socio-political atmosphere of the past year or so put a damper on my writing, but I think I’m on my way back. I’m about 85 pages into another novel about a woman who can physically feel when something’s going to happen and who commits a sort of crime in spite of herself. Wish me luck!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I spent almost twenty years of my life working for animal welfare, and there are animals in all my books — including, in My Famous Brain, a fox named Cybèle and a cat named Tilly. I’m very interested in “outsider art,” and have written about it (check out https://www.unf.edu/mudlark/mudlark10/contents.html). Adore movies. Love fooling around with vegan cooking.
Where can readers find you?
Website from previous book: www.gillyflowernovel.com
Thank you, Diane! My Famous Brain is available NOW.
“My brain was famous, but I was not. Not every gifted child invents a pollutant-free fuel, paints a masterpiece, or finds the cure for cancer,” Jack MacLeod tells us. “Some of us just live out our lives.” Jack died in 1974, and he narrates his story from beyond the grave. His prodigious memory, which allows him to memorize books, and his penchant for psychic connections give him unusual insights into the events of his past life and make him fiercely curious about his current state of existence. Jack immerses us in interconnected tales of his childhood participation in a research study on the intellectually gifted, his dual career as a clinical psychologist and university professor, his participation in the unmasking of an unscrupulous colleague, his long-term health issues, his brief but life-changing love affair with a student, his deep friendship with another man, and his eventual acceptance and celebration of the circumstances of his fate. How Jack dies, and how he deals with the murder of someone close to him, mirrors how he has lived and grown, and marks the significance of everyone and everything that has brought him to yet another level of brilliance.
Diane Wald was born in Paterson, NJ, and has lived in Massachusetts since 1972. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has published over 250 poems in literary magazines since 1966. She was the recipient of a two-year fellowship in poetry from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and has been awarded the Grolier Poetry Prize, The Denny Award, and The Open Voice Award. She also received a state grant from the Artists Foundation (Massachusetts Council on the Arts). She has published four chapbooks (Target of Roses from Grande Ronde Press, My Hat That Was Dreaming from White Fields Press, Double Mirror from Runaway Spoon Press, and faustinetta, gegenschein, trapunto from Cervena Barva Press) and won the Green Lake Chapbook Award from Owl Creek Press. An electronic chapbook (Improvisations on Titles of Works by Jean Dubuffet) appears on the Mudlark website. She received the first annual Anne Halley Poetry Prize from the Massachusetts Review. Her book Lucid Suitcase was published by Red Hen Press in 1999 and her book, The Yellow Hotel, was published by Verse Press in the fall of 2002. Her book WONDERBENDER was published in 2011 by 1913 Press. She has taught at Boston University, The Art Institute of Boston, and Northeastern University. Gillyflower, her first novel, wias released in April 2019 and won first place for Novellas from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Visit the GIllyflower website: www.gillyflowernovel.weebly.com
Available for pre-order now: The Warhol Pillows, poetry, at https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-warhol-pillows-by-diane-wald/