An introduction to author Rose Gluck: An Interview
by Alexia Montibon-Larsson
I met Rose Gluck on Wattpad while reading her memoir, What Remains Inside. Gluck’s story is a brutally honest, vivid account of growing up with a narcissistic and violently abusive mother who suffered from severe mental illness. Told from the perspective of Donna (Gluck’s real name), What Remains Inside provides a cinematic view of her turbulent teenage years in New England during the early 1980s. Donna haphazardly navigates through her life, trying to escape unhappiness by hanging out with friends while continually finding herself adrift in potential danger, unprotected and uncared for. Despite being subjected to harrowing physical, emotional and psychological abuse, Donna miraculously endures. What Remains Inside is a powerful, moving tale of survival in the face of relentless fear and despair.
As a prolific writer, Gluck has also written many plays and novels and regularly blogs here on WordPress under the title “Words and Pictures.” Her blog posts reflect her interest in everything from antiques and estate sales to personal explorations and the work of other non-fiction writers and memoirists. Historical research and period details inform Gluck’s work whether fiction or non-fiction.
Gluck’s book, Exuberance Is Beauty, tells the story of Eve Miller, a World War II widow living in Oregon. She finds herself caught in a volatile relationship with a manipulative lover, Jeff, who seeks to control her life and destroy her reputation. After being forced into a mental asylum for presumed “hysteria” and “melancholia,” Eve encounters an undercover journalist posing as a patient, a character based upon real life journalist, Nellie Bly. Eve, like Donna, is subjected to terrifying abuse and must find her own way to deter the seemingly inescapable cruelty that follows her and threatens to rob her of happiness. The first in a series of books chronicling the lives of Eve and Jeff, Exuberance Is Beauty beautifully captures the complexity of emotional entanglement and transports the reader into Eve’s world. Gluck’s writing is itself a thing of exuberant beauty: poetic, mesmerizing and lovingly descriptive.
It has been a wonderful experience getting to know Donna. As we approach Thanksgiving week, I would like to give thanks to Donna for her kindness and interest as I am indeed thankful for her friendship. She had reached out to me a few months ago and asked to interview me for Words and Pictures. This is my chance to return the favor not only because I am grateful for the opportunity that she gave me but also because I am genuinely curious to find out more about her writing processes. I have asked Donna to share whatever she would like with regard to these interview questions. Let’s see what she has to say!
Interview Q & A:
1) Your writings as well as your blog posts reflect your interest in estate sales, old photographs, letters and various artifacts that define particular eras. What is it about antiques and artifacts that captures your imagination?
When I was little we lived in an old house in Massachusetts, walking distance to a small beach and across the street from a harbor. My parents rented the house and although I don’t remember it, my mother always said my sister and I played in the attic when we were young children. I know there where old items stored by the home owners. I remember a couple of items my mother had found up there: a wooden box, a sort of chalice looking thing that she claimed was a Victorian rouge container (I’m not sure how she deduced that). She found a small can of gold leaf and I still have it but am not sure where. It was a tin can with find gold powder My mother told me it would make us rich, that it was pure gold. I can’t remember the attic at all but I wondered when I read your question if that was the beginning of my enchantment with antiques and artifacts.
(Google Street Map video / audio tour of Gluck’s childhood home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts)
2) It’s interesting how some writers choose to write under a pen name. What made you choose the name Rose Gluck?
I selected “Rose” because she was the character in my first novel If There Are Any Heavens. And I picked the full name Rose Gluck because I was trying to find a catchy name. I had thought I’d write more in the romance genre to try out self-publishing and possibly make money. It ended up that I just kept writing historical fiction and memoir but the pen name stuck.
3) You’re a prolific writer, having published many novels, plays, blog posts and a memoir. When did you first begin to pursue writing?
My writing was an extension of my childhood pretending. I wasn’t a big reader as a child. Instead I was always lost in my imagination. I remember playing on the bank of a pond while my mother fished with a cane fishing pole. it was very magical place and I can still see the rooms formed by tree trunks and brush. Little seats in stumps. I remember playing “pilgrims” in a half built shed that was in our back yard for a couple of years (until my dad finished building it). I also remember pretending to be in the prehistoric times out in a rocky patch and ditch near an industrial park near our house. I remember maintaining two worlds and I moved freely between them. When I was 14 I began writing and it was simply putting those worlds down on paper. For most of my life I’ve maintained these two states. There have been a few times when I’ve “studied” writing. In particular I spent a few years completely immersed in learning about playwriting. I love plays because of the dimensionality of it and also the intimate relationship with the audience. To me, plays are much harder to write than fiction because it is so technical and illusionary.
4) Both What Remains Inside and Exuberance Is Beauty depict two entirely different experiences of motherhood, childhood and familial relationships: one fraught with loneliness, neglect and abuse; the other filled with tenderness, caring and deep love. The common thread between the two stories is the peril and shame that that main characters, Donna and Eve, endure. The warmth and compassion that the female characters in Exuberance Is Beauty demonstrate toward Eve contrasts strikingly against the coldness that Donna’s mother displays in What Remains Inside. Were you conscious of this as you were writing Exuberance Is Beauty?
I love this question because I hadn’t been conscious of this at all. My inspiration for Eve’s love for Charlie came from mothering my daughter when she was a baby. I could not believe how much I could love another person until I met my daughter. It makes me sad that my mother didn’t get that experience due to her mental illness. My mother gave me other things but not that kind of near worship that a parent has for their child. Also, I was raised Catholic and I don’t know if someone told me this in Catholic school or if it was something I thought of myself, but I saw the story of Jesus as an allegory for all infant children; that we should raise children as if they are Gods. I say this but definitely have not been completely successful at motherhood, but I love my daughter deeply and that is reflected in Eve’s love for Charlie.
5) Historical research is a prominent aspect of your writing. When composing new work, do you find yourself writing around particular topics that interest you? Or does the need for historical research arise during the creative process?
Usually the characters and plot just descend into my life, sometimes suddenly and sometimes they emerge over a period of time. For me historical research is like filling in the details of a broad sketch. I am so happy that we have the internet and I can search google for information, timelines, pictures, videos. The process was more laborious when I wrote my first novel, If There Are Any Heavens. I went to the local library and searched microfilm of old newspapers. I scoured antique stores for period photographs and household goods. I made copies of ads and articles from old 1940s magazines. If There Are Any Heavens was set in my old neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. I was pretty obsessed with researching that book. With my other historical novels I’ve spent less time on research. Yet, those books feel incomplete to me. They feel like broad strokes or treatments and I would love the time to really dig into the history and setting, particularly because they span decades and cities.
Image 1: Historic Pic of Neighborhood in If There Are Any Heavens
Image 2: some of the copies of microfilm pages when Gluck researched at a local library in Portland Oregon.
The Book Trailer for If There Are Any Heavens used images from an old 1940s yearbook as part of the montage. Gluck also included pictures and videos of the local fruit trees in bloom at Reed College in Portland.
6) The Milton quote from Paradise Lost at the end of Exuberance Is Beauty appears to hint that the name of the main character (Eve) was a deliberate choice. What is it about the story of Adam and Eve that resonates with you and with the book series?
I chose the Milton quote because to me it captures the irony of the Adam and Eve story. Eve by virtue of being a woman is the sinner in the relationship. Eve has destroyed her own life by indulging in temptation and so (in the Milton quote) she pleads with for Adam to love her again. All she wants is to regain his love “the sole contentment of her heart.” Adam’s abandonment of Eve in her darkest moments might be considered narcissistic and abusive. Ironically why is it only Adam’s love that can make her heart content?
7) Jeff manipulates a situation that ends up forcing Eve into a mental institution against her will. Was the story of Nellie Bly’s undercover work an inspiration for the story itself or did it come later through research as the story developed?
I had been doing research about women in institutions and found a lot of horrific stories about everyday women who were literally ripped from their lives and sent away to institutions by husbands, fathers, brothers. I still want to write a book or a series of essays and give voice to these poor souls. I had already conceived the plot of Exuberance Is Beauty and I remembered the story of Nelly Bly and she naturally fit. Nelly Bly was an amazing woman and she deserves to be a protagonist in her own right. As a female journalist in the late 19th century she had herself committed in order to expose the cruelty and injustice faced by women sent and locked away. She also wrote about orphan children and dedicated her life to telling the stories of the most vulnerable people. Link to information about Nellie Bly.
8) The saga of Eve and Jeff spans a series of novels. Was this something that had been planned out ahead of time or did you continue to write about the characters as you felt was needed until their story was complete?
It was the latter. I actually kept trying to end Eve’s story. Each novel was an attempt to enlighten and emancipate Eve from her abusive relationship with Jeff. However, as the story went on their lives became woven more tightly. I had been working with a trauma therapist about my own experiences with trauma and my tendency to affiliate in order to protect myself. While I feel I was able to detach from a life of subjugation and tyranny Eve was not. I tried though. I gave her the courage to leave her old neighborhood and have her baby. I introduced her to feminism and poetry. I sent her to college and secured a teaching position for her. I fixed her up with several really honorable and loving men. As the author, you can only do so much I guess. The books kept going until her story was told.
9) Your memoir, What Remains Inside, was written at a particular time in your life. In a recent blog post, you noted how your own long-held perspectives on your mother as well as your experiences as a child and teenager have evolved over time. Do you think you will revisit the topic at some point?
I feel I am nearing the end of the journey in understanding my childhood and my relationship with my mother. She has become akin to one of my characters and I have struggled this past year especially to understand her and the things that happened to me as a child. Like Eve, at the end of the day, my mother lived the life she wanted to live. I sometimes imagine my mother as one of my characters. I imagine us together a threshold. We don’t hug. We shake hands and then she leaves.
10) In your memoir, you reveal that you kept a diary which was hidden from your mother. Did you find yourself reviewing the entries that you wrote as a teenager while you were writing What Remains Inside? Or was it primarily written from memory?
I wish so much that I still had that diary. Unfortunately when I moved from my birthplace I didn’t take very much with me. My departure was the dramatic act of a 23 year old. I bought a one way ticket, had $200 and one suitcase. I got on a plane and flew to San Francisco by myself. I regret now that I left so many things behind.
11) Your personal research on what happened to your mother has been extensive. During your visit to Georgia this month, is there anything in particular that you are hoping to find?
Ironically I didn’t go to Georgia this month. I bought the plane ticket and made all the arrangements. However, in the last few weeks before I was to leave my cousin turned cold towards me. While at first she’d offered to put me up, take me to the places my mom had lived growing up, and said she’d arrange for family interviews, she ended up canceling last minute, texting me saying her life was hectic and “she’s given me all the facts.”
I’m not sure where things went wrong. One part of me thinks there may be so old secret that she didn’t want to stir up. Maybe my call and the idea that I was doing this research triggered things in her. Or, perhaps it was my attitude that had put her off. A cultural difference. I am not Southern and having been raised on the east coast I think maybe I cut to the chase a little too quickly. Also, I had approached this project as a researcher not a family member. Maybe that sabotaged the relationship with my cousin but I felt I needed to be on the outside, objective because of the dangerous psychological terrain I needed to traverse. There would be so many land mines that I had to maintain a sense of distance.
I am beginning to think the story of my search for my mother is about over. I think I have come to terms with what happened and ‘who she was.’ As much as I wanted to ‘find’ my mother. I wanted to reconstruct her as this woman who was the victim of society and if she had not been so then she would have loved and cared for me. Really she just was who she was.
I was getting ready to write a blog post closing the story, finding an ending…but just this morning one of my aunts sent me an email about my mother. I had contacted her months ago. The email was a Facebook personal message and it said that there was an attachment but it wouldn’t open. Of course I wonder what it is. A part of me think it’s a turkey GIF saying happy thanksgiving. Another part of me wonders if somehow it is a copy of the surgery records from 1970.
Note from Rose Gluck: I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be interviewed by writer Alexia Montibon-Larsson. She is the author of Forged In Fire: Stories of Wartime Japan. She was a featured author here earlier this year on my blog Words and Pictures earlier.