How do you choose what to write about?
I’ve written a biography of the controversial biography Robert Mapplethorpe, a book on sleep, and now a memoir about shoes. On the surface, they would seem to have nothing in common, but each subject was very topical. Mapplethorpe would soon become notorious as the man whose work resulted in the famous censorship trial in Cincinnati – the first time a gallery in the United States faced prosecution for the art it displayed. From that standpoint alone, it was an important story, but Mapplethorpe’s life, from his early beginnings as a Catholic schoolboy in Floral Park, Queens, to reaching the top of the art world as he was dying of AIDS, was a powerful narrative.
I decided to write about sleep because I’ve long suffered from insomnia, and after spending a crazy night in a sleep clinic, I thought, “This is too good to waste.” At the time, there was a lot about sleep in the news, focusing on the bizarre side-effects of sleeping pills, such as “sleep eating, sleep driving,” etc. So again, it was a topical subject that in this case touched me personally.
9 ½ Narrow: My Life In Shoes came out of a conversation I had with an editor who wanted to see if I was interested in doing a book on Alexander McQueen. When you write about someone’s life, you really have to be willing to walk in his or her shoes, and among the last shoes McQueen designed were his 12-inch crustacean-clawed Armadillo booties. They were terrifying, but it started me thinking about women and shoes, and how they provided a marker for the important events in our lives.
What does a typical writing day look for you?
I’m a very regimented person, so after drinking a cup of tea, eating Greek yogurt with fruit, and reading the New York Times on my iPad, I usually start to work around 9:30 am. I take a break around 1pm to pick up something for dinner and my all-important latte, and then I’m back writing around 2:15 or so. I usually work until about 5:30. I’m someone who can’t write after dinner because if I did my head would be spinning all night long, which it often does anyway, but then I’d never fall asleep, and since I’ve already written that book, it wouldn’t be productive.
You’ve also written for New York magazine and Vogue. How does writing a book differ from journalism?
The obvious answer is that writing a book takes much longer and represents a huge emotional investment. There isn’t the immediate gratification of seeing your name in print and getting quick feedback from editors and readers. With a book, you have to be sure that you’re fascinated enough in the subject that it will keep you going for at least several years. With magazines, even if you’re not completely in love with the topic, you know it’s not forever, and with some books, it can seem like forever. But of course in the end, you have a book. They may not be forever, but they’re usually around longer than a magazine piece.
What surprised you most about writing 9 ½ Narrow?
My mother died two months before I signed the book contract, and my father died two months before my publication date. They acted as bookends, as it were. I’d started out writing a humorous memoir about shoes. I knew it wouldn’t be without its poignant parts. Friends died along the way, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the death of a parent. Throughout the book, my mother acts as my sparring partner and foil. She’s both hilarious and frustrating, but her voice helped move the book along. Shoes, as everyone who’s ever read a fairy tale knows, provide the perfect metaphor for life’s journey. I didn’t know where 9 ½ Narrow would take me, or how I’d end it, but my mother got me there, and in doing so, provided the book with an added depth, for which I am grateful.
What do you hope readers will gain from the book?
I hope they will laugh and cry and recognize a little bit of themselves in my story. For me, writing this book was enormously fun and at times very sad. Some weeks I’d find myself smiling, other weeks, I’d be writing with tears rolling down my cheeks. In a way, this book saved me during a difficult time in my life. So I’d love for readers to enjoy the full scope of my story, and then, with my blessing, go out and celebrate their own lives with a new pair of shoes.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Don’t do it unless you really love it, because it’s a difficult profession, and getting more difficult. I could say don’t get discouraged by rejections, but everyone gets discouraged. Moving on after the rejections is the important thing. Set up a schedule and stick to it. I once interviewed Raymond Carver and I remember him telling me that he used to get up early in the morning to write in his car. Don’t try to mimic another writer’s voice. Find your own. It will take time, but once you do, you’ll realize it was there all along. Pay attention to the way you talk and bring that distinct rhythm into your writing. And, as clichéd as it sounds, it’s really all about the pleasure of the process.
A funny, poignant coming-of-age memoir told through the shoes that she wore.
Morrisroe’s “coming-of-age” is, at its heart, the story of a generation of women who’ve enjoyed a world of freedom and opportunity that was unthinkable to their mothers. Spanning five decades and countless footwear trends, 9 ½ Narrow is, like Love, Loss and What I Wore, about how we remember important events through a coat, or a dress, or in this case, a Beatle boot or Confirmation “wedgie.”