I read her first book, "Kinflicks," when I was still at the height of my dance career, performing in my dance play "Zinnia" every weekend in New York.
(I was tired of doing one-night stands, determined to find a way to dance in New York and rented an off-Broadway theater.)
We ran "Zinna" for 55 performances at the Colonnades Theater (across the street from Joe Papp's theater complex), and thanks to my husband's name from "Shenandoah," his friendship with Richard Burton and Hal Prince," my agent, Audrey Wood, my husband's agent, Eric Schepard, who handled Tommy Tune and movie stars, we had a chic IN crowd buying tickets for my "Zinnia."
During the run, I arrived at the Colonnades a few hours early, and read Lisa Alther's first book. It was the late seventies, and I was thinking about quitting dancing, and trying to be a writer. The book grabbed me. I had to read every word. (And since I'm a voracious speed reader, and fly through pages, occasionally I skip.)
Lisa Alther creates a scene, and the characters in it with ... what is it? Is it instinct or craft? The pages read as if it's instinctive -- the author's huge desire to communicate what she knows, and say what she wants to say.
(Ouch! It hurts to remember that I'm a barely published writer, that if I hadn't found Fran Weil, a Website designer who happens to have been a theater critic -- who is deeply involved in the arts from jobs she's held, and the writing she's done -- if I hadn't found Fran, would I have my blog, and Website, The Readery -- my five unpublished books in an online library, that enables any visitor to read them for free?)
OUCH is because of what Alther did as a writer when she was in her early thirties. (She was born in 1944; Kinflicks was published in 1976 .) She is truthful, imaginative, passionate. brave, free, daring -- she speaks what is on her mind. And she's an actress/actor who can become anyone -- old, young, girl, boy, little kid, teenager, grandparent, any race, upper class educated, or lower class, illiterate.
Lisa Alther is what I would want to be when I grow up ... Yes, yes, sure, I'm already grown up, and I BE what I am.
Yesterday I finished re-reading Alther's "Original Sins," which is even more astounding (to me), than "Kinflicks." More than a favorite book, it is a BEST BOOK. It's a marvelous, important story -- more than a story -- a landscape of what young people in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties were, and are.
I read her next two books as they came out. I was into my writing career working with the editor at Bantam books who'd edited, and gotten my first novel published -- edited it all wrong! It wasn't what I wanted to say but she thought I was talented, and I'd started on a second novel -- sent her my first 71 pages.
"I love it" my editor said. It was about a dancer and her best friend back in the twenties, (about someone like me, but not me.) BANG Crash! After saying she loved it, my editor said, " You have to kill the best friend."
The friend character was chubby, with "beach-ball bosoms," a passionately articulate secretary, who understood the body and soul of a would-be dancer, because she'd dreamed all her life of being a dancer, and knew she couldn't be. The chubby friend was my way of speaking to plain ordinary readers about the ballerina dream that many young girls have.
"Em," cried my editor,. "Don't make her fat, and for God's sake, Em, she sounds like ... she can't be a lesbian! It'll never get published."
I sputtered something about Lisa Alther's latest new book, "Other Women." The new book was chock-full of stunning, evocative, fascinating, touching scenes of "woman-loving-another-woman" love.
My editor had statistics, knew the publisher, knew the head of the book sales department, and told me in no uncertain terms, that the book had ruined Lisa Alther's career.
Well ... the dancer and chubby friend story was revised, re-conceived, and re-written four times, stymied, stifled, stripped of why I wanted to write it, and it died.
Is there a rule? My rule, based on experience, is -- you have to listen to your inner voice. If, as you're beginning a project, you get words laid on you --words that dull the glitter of what got you started -- s h e l v e it.
I went onto another big book. With the same editor, ignoring the advice from a first and then a second "therapist," -- that the editor was the "clobber," not "lesbian."
In fact, Alther's next books involving gay romance, gay love, gay sex, didn't boom and explode into bestseller-dom the way the first two did.
Was her career ruined?
RUINED with those remarkable big, huge, amazing astounding books in libraries, still able to be bought and read?
Get them, read them. They're great books.