Yesterday evening, I attended “An Evening with Lisa Genova” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library. This Imagine It Event was well-attended by fans of the best-selling author of Still Alice, Left Neglected, Love Anthony, and Inside the O’Briens. Her latest release, Every Note Played, achieved best-seller status yesterday!
In the armchair conversation with a Kitchener author, Lisa shared her extraordinary writing journey.
Growing up, Lisa had no desire to write. Her lifelong ambition was to become a scientist. Fascinated by the biology of the brain, she earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard and went on to work as a strategy consultant for the health-care industry. She followed a linear path and married her childhood sweetheart and then had a child.
Soon afterward, her marriage started unraveling and eventually ended. Devastated and uncertain how to proceed with her life, she asked herself the following questions: “What do I want to do now? What do I want my life to look like? If I could do anything I wanted to do, what would that be?”
Her answer: Write a book.
Inspired by her grandmother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Lisa started writing Still Alice. She was determined to discover how people like her grandmother felt as their personal history slowly slipped away.
While writing, she also decided to take acting lessons. Her family and friends wondered: “What happened to Lisa?”
Upon completing the novel, Lisa sent out query letters to agents and received “tons of rejections.” She didn’t take these rejections too personally since the agents were only rejecting her queries, not her manuscript. Two of the three agents who read the manuscript turned it down, convinced that no one would want to read about such a depressing topic. The third agent suggested she write non-fiction instead.
Undaunted, Lisa decided to self-publish, ignoring the possible stigma that might be associated with the book. After much persistence and dogged determination (Lisa sold the book out of the trunk of her car), Still Alice garnered a glowing review in the Boston Sunday Globe. Simon and Schuster acquired the book that eventually sold more than 2 million copies and was translated into 37 languages. Julianne Moore received an Oscar for Best Actress in the film version of the book.
The popularity of Still Alice allowed Lisa to write full time.
Each of her books is extensively researched. Well aware that she has two separate audiences—those who know nothing about the diseases and those who have experienced the diseases first-hand—Lisa works hard to ensure that all details are correct.
Lisa interviewed twelve “real” experts—people who are living with ALS—before writing Every Note Played. She was moved by their ability to show their most vulnerable selves. In turn, she allowed herself to be permeable. She also interviewed concert and jazz musicians and took piano lessons.
The novel alternates between two POVs: Richard, the accomplished concert pianist who receives standing ovations from audiences all over the world, and his wife Karina, a woman stuck in an unfulfilling life as an after-school piano teacher. A diagnosis of ALS forces them to deal with their failed marriage.
Having read Lisa’s previous novels, I’m looking forward to reading this latest installment.