Interview with Pamela Jane about her memoir

My special guest today is Pamela Jane. We’re focused on her memoir, An
Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story
, but also touch on
travels, humor, and more.
Jane is the author of over twenty-five children’s books with Houghton Mifflin,
Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, and Harper. Her books
include Noelle of the Nutcracker illustrated by Jan
Brett, Little Goblins Ten illustrated by NY Times best-selling
illustrator, Jane Manning, and Little Elfie One (Harper
2015). Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane
Austen’s Classic
 (Skyhorse) was featured in The Wall Street
BBC AmericaThe Huffington PostThe
New York Times Sunday Book Review 
and The Daily Dot, and
has just come out in paper. She has published short stories and essays
with The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Antigonish Review, Literary Mama,
and The Writer. She is a writer and editor for,
and her memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story has
just been released.
Welcome, Pamela. Please tell us about your current
It is 1965, the era of love, light—and revolution. While the
romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with
children running through the dappled sunlight, her husband plots to organize a
revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills.
fantasies are on a collision course.
The clash of
visions turns into an inner war of identities when the author embraces radical
feminism; she and her husband are comrades in revolution but combatants in
marriage; she is a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses
reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of her isn’t speaking to the other
And then,
just when it seems that things cannot possibly get more explosive, her
wilderness cabin burns down and Pamela finds herself left with only the clothes
on her back.
From her
vividly evoked existential childhood (“the only way I would know for sure that
I existed was if others—lots of others—acknowledged it”) to writing her first
children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, Pamela Jane
takes the reader along on a highly entertaining personal, political, and
psychological adventure.
What inspired you to write this book?
I saw my story visually,
like scenes of a film flashing by, and I was determined to find the theme and
tie the scenes together into a whole, especially the sharp conflicts and
startling contrasts of the period I wrote about. For instance, as a young
woman, I got into deep psychological trouble while working in a beautiful
Victorian hotel on the crest of a mountain overlooking the Catskills in upstate
New York. I eventually fled because I could not stand the contrast between
inner and outer worlds – the outside world of beauty and civility and the inner
prison-like world of fear and despair.
Although I lost all my
writing in an explosive fire, I was fortunate because I had tried in my
twenties (after the events) to write the story as a novel. I had no idea what I
was doing and it must have been the most terrible novel ever written, but it
was valuable because all the dialogue and descriptions were still fresh and
immediate in my mind. Many years later, I was able to use these bad drafts to
help me write the memoir, as well as dozens of letters returned by friends that
were written in “real time” while the events were unfolding.
You can read an excerpt published in The Writer:

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on a
travelogue about living in Florence, Italy, with my family for several years
where my husband taught at NYU’s estate in Florence. The subtitle of the book
is “No One Feels Sorry for You When You’re Living in Tuscany” which is true! But
everything was always going wrong in wacky, unexpected ways; it was not exactly
the Tuscan idyll people envision!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It began as a small child even
before I could write and I write about this in a section of my memoir called
“An Existential Childhood” :
“I couldn’t shape my life
into a narrative yet, at least on paper. But I strived to leave mental notes to
myself—a record of my own awareness as a living, observing intelligence.
Crouching behind a tree clutching a pine cone, I vowed never to forget it. Of
all the hundreds of pine cones in the world, this was the one that would live
forever. I would make it live forever by remembering.”
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
I do write fulltime and I
joke that I’m a strict boss, but it’s true. I give myself very little slack.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My whole writing process
is kind of quirky. I expressed the formula for writing my memoir like this:
agony + (obsession x
conflict) + panic + 10,000 drafts – total crap = finished memoir
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Mostly I just wanted to be
famous, because I felt invisible. I was horribly jealous of the Mouseketeers, especially
Karen and Cubby, who were my age and got to sing and dance their way across the
TV screen every day for millions of Americans.
Anything additional you want to share with the

What I wrote about in An Incredible Talent for Existing was a
raw chaotic mess when it happened, but I managed to roll it into what I hope is
a fluffy omelet of a story. I also hope my book is an inspiration for others to
pursue their own dreams and stories as well.


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