I grew up in a family that gave advice. My mother, Dr. Rose N. Franzblau, wrote a psychology column for the New York Post, long before Dear Abby and Ann Landers got their start. My mother lived a heroic life. She had been orphaned in the 'flu epidemic of 1918 and raised her four sisters all by herself. You can read about her in a section entitled “Rosie and Her Sisters,” in Mom Still Likes You Best. My father was a teacher of rabbis and a psychiatrist. You can imagine how easy it was for him to know what was best for everybody. I wisely went into publishing, where the only advice I could give was about improving books, not lives!
I loved being an editor. I spent the first fifteen years at the Yale University Press, publishing professors who wrote in areas that interested me: psychology, child development, psychiatry, archaeology and law. When I left Yale to come to New York publishing, I continued working with experts, but began to help them write for a general audience. At Basic Books I had the honor of working with Robert J. Lifton on his landmark Nazi Doctors, with Howard Gardner on his path breaking Frames of Mind, and with Alice Miller, whose The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self changed so many lives. At Addison-Wesley, I participated in the birth of “narrative nonfiction,” working with Melissa Fay Greene on Praying for Sheetrock and with Buzz Bissinger on Friday Night Lights. My years at Putnam brought me to Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia, Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error and Patricia O’Conner’s Woe Is I. My life at Harcourt included publication of Rachel Simmons’s Odd Girl Out.
When my sons, born in New Haven and raised in New York, were in their late 20s, I found myself searching for someone to write a book about the complex relationships between parents and their grown children. I couldn’t find anybody to do it, and I knew there was a big audience for the book (me included). By this time the publishing world was growing more difficult, so I decided to take a chance and “jump the desk,” to write Walking on Eggshells.
After the pleasure—and success—of Walking on Eggshells, I realized that I loved writing books even more than editing them. My next subject, siblings—in love and at war—had already been brewing in the back of my mind before my first book had even hit the press. So once again I headed out across the country, in person and on the phone, to hear the stories of brothers and sisters. Mom Still Likes You Best: The Unfinished Business between Siblings is the result. I hope that it will bring solace and optimism to people who struggle with their sibling relationships, and a sense of joy to those who are already close.
Interviews are exhilarating. I love meeting people and hearing their stories. Because I am a good listener, people open up to me. I have met people who are different from me in the way they live, and in what they believe, and we still have become lifelong friends.
When I have completed somewhere between 70 and 100 interviews, I start the hard work of turning my research into a book. First comes the job of integrating these interviews. I think it’s like the process of marinating. You read, and you think, and you take a walk, and you work the story over and over until it makes sense.
My process begins with empathy toward the person who has told the story. Then I try to imagine the setting of his or her life. That’s how I begin to give the story a context. Finally, I try to put myself in the place of the other people in the story, especially the ones who are the source of complaints or anger. I can’t interview everybody in a family, so I try to imagine what the mean mother-in-law was going through when she criticized her daughter-in-law’s mothering skills, or what the cruel older sister’s experience of her childhood was really like.
Writing is also a process of discovery. After I have sketched the stories and found the patterns, I realize that it’s time for me to tell the reader what I think. It takes courage to put your ideas out for strangers to read. After all, people who don’t know you might not take so kindly to you! But for me, so far it’s been OK. Readers of my books find relief when they realize that they are not alone in facing the complex issues that come up in the marvelous institution we call the family. After reading the book, one person who appeared in Walking on Eggshells told me:, “Either you’re a nice lady, or our family isn’t so bad.” That still makes me chuckle—I hope he was right on both counts.
I live in New York City, with my husband, Jonathan, and Roscoe, our shelter terrier. We are a block away from Central Park and a short bus ride from my Manhattan family, my son Josh and his wife and two children, and a subway ride away from my son David and his wife and son. It’s a good life, one I love and hope to experience for a long time. My oldest grandson expects that I’ll live to 100, or 1,000, depending on his mood. I hope to reach one of those ages.