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Twenty Questions with Barbara Donsky, writer : 0% read

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Twenty Questions with Barbara Donsky, writer

Barbara Donsky, is the author of the fascinating Veronica’s Grave, out in May 2016 with She Writes Press.  It’s a memoir about the psychological cost of families who keep secrets – and you know that I have a weakness for family dramas, especially ones with secrets. Over the last few weeks, as The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells has gone out into the world, I have been amazed by the stories that have come to me of mothers who have either walked out on their families or held the families of others together – and of children who have been both party to and kept from the truth about their mothers. Barbara’s memoir explores this subject beautifully; it has been a real treat to discover her writing.

Barbara has worked as a teacher and has written a number of articles on reading and composition. She has also had a short story published in the Naples Review: What’s the Matter with Harry? Barbara blogs, both about Veronica’s Grave, her life as a writer and about walking in New York and Paris in search of all things French. She lives in Manhattan with her husband.

Here’s a little window into Barbara’s world:

Which three words would you use to describe yourself?

  • Creative
  • hard-working
  • joyful

How would you describe your writing style?

I am not sure I can describe my writing style. Most of my writing (hence my ‘style’) has been geared to the world of academe – a dissertation, related articles. Also numerous pieces written for local newspapers for Boys & Girls Clubs. A far cry from that of my short stories and memoir, in which, hopefully, I’m creating ‘pictures’ and ‘music’ with words. Impressionistic snapshots, if you will.

What do you love most about writing?

What I love most about writing is the solitude, even when writing in bustling coffee shops.


What do you find hardest about writing?

The first draft. Something I’m faced with regularly, blogging weekly as I do.

Tell us about what inspired you to write your wonderful memoir, Veronica’s Grave.

At the beginning there was no conscious plan. Even in hindsight, it seems accidental. Passing a kiosk on Madison Avenue, I picked up a catalog from Gotham Writers. What caught my eye was a course in writing for the Big Screen, but I ended up registering for Memoir Writing because the hours were better. So it began. As I pulled together the pieces of my life, I saw a number of themes running throughout: family secrets and damage done; the power of literature – from the comics to my beloved Nancy Drew—to offer hope, to show the way up from blue; the persistence and tenacity to hold true to my values, against my father’s wishes, and get an education; and the slow realization that unresolved grief lasts for a lifetime. The idea that no child should grieve the loss of a loved one alone has fueled the writing of Veronica’s Grave.  

Veronica’s Grave is about family secrets and their consequences, especially on children. Do you think that all families have secrets – that it is inevitable? And is revealing the truth always the best way forward?

There are secrets, and then there are secrets. When two uncles were thrown in jail for a few hours in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, after a police officer spotted open cans of beer in their car, it was a “secret” shared only by the adults in the family. Not knowing anything about the incident was in no way harmful for the children. On the other hand, when a child is expected to maintain a secret for the benefit of her parents and younger brothers—the sacrificial lamb—it’s another story, one with damaging consequences.

In many cases revealing the truth may not be the best way forward. My parents certainly didn’t think for a moment that revealing the truth was the way to go. It worked for them and for my younger brother who benefitted from not knowing that his mother was actually his stepmother. He would only learn the truth when he was twenty, ready to enlist in the US Navy.

What kind of child were you?

The good daughter.

Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

The fictional character I’d most like to meet is the one whose exploits fired my youthful imagination: Nancy Drew.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. O, for a madeleine dipped in tea.

Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?


What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love walking and photographing the city for an hour or so, and then stopping for coffee anywhere. Come spring, summer and fall, I love my rooftop garden.

What are you reading at the moment and would you recommend it?

I am always reading two and three books at a time. On my night stand this week are Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell; The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah; and poems by Tomas Transtromer. Had you caught me a week or so earlier, there would have been a Paris theme: The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure; The Paris Wife by Paula McLain; The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino; and Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick. All of which I adored.

What’s your favourite word?

Pamplemousse. It’s only a grapefruit, but in French, it sounds like so much more.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

The most important life lesson? “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes . . . and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” —Eleanor Roosevelt (Φ BK Harvard-Radcliffe, 1941)

Which writer do you most admire?

Marcel Proust. Whatever he says, no one could say it better. It’s the poetry of his language, his gift of metaphor in nearly every paragraph, his total recall of the smallest details of his childhood. Intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

What song or piece of music would you choose as the theme tune to your life?

Something in a minor key…

Where do you write?

I write at home, in a small office, between the laundry room and the kitchen. On the desk sits a statue of Ganesha, “the remover of obstacles.” With my computer, he’s kept quite busy.

What or who inspires you?

Walking in the city inspires me, lifts my spirits.

When are you happiest?

“Paris is always a good idea.” Audrey Hepburn

What are you working on at the moment?

When the original manuscript for Veronica’s Grave came in at a hefty 144,000 words, my editor said: No one’s going to buy such a lengthy memoir from a debut author. So we trimmed it to a svelte 78,000 words. Which left me wondering what to do with all the well-crafted sentences and exhilarating paragraphs on the cutting room floor? Blog them! When I blogged a few snippets, readers loved them. I’m now weighing how best to use the unpublished part of the original manuscript, a part quite unlike Veronica’s Grave, which reads more like an adventure in the Bronx, where I’m searching for Veronica.

What are your top three writing tips?

  • Rise early
  • Meditate
  • Start writing whatever comes to mind in longhand.


You can find out more about Barbara by going to her website and Facebook page and by following her writing blog and her blog about Paris and all things French. And you can order her wonderful memoir.