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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Schlossberg details ‘Life in Miniature’

Author to speak at Mandel Center Feb. 3

Published: January 28, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

From birth, Adie was different—tiny. From the beginning of the novel “Life in Miniature,” Adie—the smallest girl in her grade—is marked out as unusual. Her small stature gives her a unique vision of the world around her, which author and Brandeis alumna Linda Schlossberg depicts with poignant and specific imagery. Adie notices and remarks on the undersides of tables and whether or not people tie their shoes. When her beautiful mother, however, begins to give into her paranoid delusions and embarks on a dizzying road trip through California, Adie discovers that what seemed like a too-big world is closing in around her.

Schlossberg’s debut novel manages to capture the voice of a young girl confronted by adult choices. She explores the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship, a bond grounded in love but shaken by the mother’s growing irrational fears and Adie’s inability to decide between being loyal to her mother and caring for herself. As her mother spirals out of control, Adie must find a direction for her own life.

In an interview with The Hoot conducted via e-mail, Schlossberg answered questions about the experience of writing this coming-of-age novel.

Kayla Dos Santos: What inspired you to write “Life in Miniature?”

Linda Schlossberg: Questions of mental health and illness have always fascinated me, especially as they are represented in fiction. I’m also a big fan of coming-of-age novels, and I wanted to write a story from a child’s point of view. In “Life in Miniature,” I tried to explore how a child, with her limited understanding and frame of reference, might narrate the story of a family member’s mental illness.

KDS: What surprised you about the experience of writing a novel?

LS: I’m always surprised by the degree to which so much of the writing process takes place at an unconscious level. When we read a published novel it always seems as if the author must have known all along what was going to happen, but the truly strange and exciting thing about writing is that it often escapes from you. Despite your best intentions, the characters end up doing all sorts of things you did not anticipate, and the story goes in directions you did not plan ahead of time.

KDS: How has your role as director of WGS influenced your work? Were there time conflicts? Did your work influence your writing?

LS: Most of the courses I teach in WGS are on topics related to literature and writing. But teaching fiction and writing it are such different things. One is about explicitly trying to reveal or unveil meaning and the other—hopefully— is about hinting at that meaning in a more subtle way.

In terms of scheduling, I had to set aside blocks of time that were specifically devoted to writing and revision. At first I thought it would be impossible to designate a formal schedule for being “creative,” but I soon realized that it actually made things easier, as it allowed me to experience the writing process as everyday and normal, as opposed to something I did in my spare time.

KDS: I noticed in the acknowledgement section that you thanked your writing group; how has the group impacted your work?

LS: Writing for publication can make you feel extremely vulnerable, so it’s very reassuring to have a trusted circle of readers. At the same time, being in a writing group is only helpful if you are open to criticism. Nonstop cheerleading feels good, but it won’t improve your work, and it can keep you from taking important risks. I was lucky to be in a group that was both supportive of my writing and able to challenge it, and the members of the group are now some of my dearest friends.

KDS: What were the challenges or joys of writing in the voice of a pre-adolescent girl?

LS: It’s extremely challenging in that you are limited by what the character can reasonably know at that age. At the same time, you need to make sure the child-narrator doesn’t sound too innocent or too naïve. Children know a lot, even if they don’t always have a sophisticated vocabulary or fully understand the subtleties of the adult world around them.

KDS: Adie seems to notice the small details that adults miss. Why are small details important?

LS: Adults have a larger range of vision than children do—they see things in a broader perspective because of their greater understanding of the way the world works, and their more clearly defined sense of past, present and future. Children effectively live in the moment, which accounts for why they seem to focus so intently on the details right in front of them.

KDS: Why set the book in California?

LS: I grew up in California, first in San Francisco and then in suburban areas not unlike the ones in the story. So whenever I picture what it means to “be a child,” I imagine it with a California backdrop. It’s hard for me to imagine writing from a child’s point of view that didn’t take a California landscape into account.

KDS: During the second half of the book, Adie and her mom spend a lot of time in motels; what intrigued you about motels as a setting?

LS: At the most basic level, motels are transient places where people can hide out, and they tend to be relatively anonymous and generic, which made them a good setting for Adie and her mother’s “escape.” On a thematic level, the “smallness” of the motel room—the tiny soaps, etc.—fits in with the novel’s broader theme of an ever-shrinking world.

KDS: Why are the mother’s fears centered around drugs?

LS: I’ m really interested in the question of how people’s individual fears and anxieties are shaped by the preoccupations of the larger culture. The early 1980s in America were steeped in the rhetoric of “Just Say No” and a pervasive anxiety about drug use and abuse. In a sense the mother’s delusions are a logical—if exaggerated—response to the cues being fed to her by the wider culture. 

KDS: What projects are you currently working on now?

LS: My next novel is very different from “Life in Miniature.” It has multiple narrators—instead of a single point of view—and is told from the perspective of adults.

On Feb. 3 at 5:15 p.m., Schlossberg will take part in a fiction reading as part of “Women and the Coming of Age Novel” with Professor John Plotz (ENG) in the Mandel Center.