photo by Luba G
Question & Answer
Why the initials and what are they for?
Right to the core of things, huh? Okay. MM is short for Milda Motekaitis, my maiden name. When I met Lawrence (now my husband) he felt self conscious over his illegible signature. He didn’t believe me when I told him I thought his was way cooler than mine (still horribly grade-school), so I started signing my own name in a more interesting manner. We married, my name changed, and still, I kept the signature. So when I had to decide what name to write under, I thought it would be nice to actually use the name that I sign. You may call me M. or MM or Milda. As you please.
That’s not a question. But okay. Yeah. I’m weird. What do you expect from a girl who was born in a small Aggie town in Texas to Lithuanian parents, wore folk-costumes to International day in the local mall, spent two teenage years living in a boarding school in then “West” Germany, visited the Soviet Union, came back for a year to College Station, studied Music in a Catholic women’s college in Baltimore, ran away to Longmeadow with a bunch of jugglers, moved to New York at 21 to be an actress, met her husband in a furniture store, married him on Columbia’s campus because it was the only nondenominational chapel except the one in the UN, decided temp work was no way to spend valuable days, applied to Columbia because “it was so academic-looking when I got married there,” bought a house a block from the World Trade Center in May of 2001, woke up September 11 because the bed was shaking, walked with said husband to mother in law’s house seven miles away, threw annual Halloween costume party as per usual in October of that year back in Ground Zero apartment (sagely changing the theme from Graveyard to Masquerade), realized she was pregnant over broccoli with a costumed priest, got nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a story published alongside Margaret Atwood's in a collection of erotica, got pregnant again, wrote and published literary fiction, poetry, horror, sci-fi, urban fantasy, lost one agent, got another, founded a nonprofit, co-wrote a sci-fi dance musical, saw it produced at Tisch School of the Arts, lost the second agent, helped her 90 yr old grandmother set up her first art opening in a gallery in NYC, published a memoir which is more how-to than memoir, and more other people's stories than her own...
Can’t even follow up on that one. Too much information.
So, are you still married?
Last time I checked! Lawrence and I met in September 1991 and married in October of 1992. Still married. Still happy. We have a son who is probably smarter than both of us put together. His precocious sister was born in 2006, she's preposterously capable and funny. Life can be crazy. I started a nonprofit to help other parents keep writing. Let’s get back to the writing.
Okay. How do you write?
On a computer. I type in NYC and publish internationally. Okay, okay, don't throw that. I sit down around 10pm to a blank screen, and by bedtime (which varies from 11pm to 3am depending on how well the writing is going) I hope to have something going. If I am not in the throes of a long work, usually, I start from an unfinished project or an old story I’m trying to salvage. New things begin by inspiration, most often resulting in my leaping from bed sometime after midnight and crashing into a desk or bookcase, yelping, reaching blindly for a pen, and scribbling down some illegible half-dream idea that, in the morning, I struggle to comprehend.
Is that how your very first paid story, "Overheard," got started? As a dream?
Actually, no. "Overheard" originated as a writing exercise. I was simply attempting to distinguish between two characters using only small details. After I wrote up the dialogue between the two women, my good friend Julian Bernick (a poet and novelist) suggested I bump up the narrative voice--which became the stalker POV. I fell in love with the resulting dark little story, and it lolled around my desktop for quite a while. When my then-agent suggested I send a story to Marilyn Jaye Lewis for an erotica anthology, I hedged around before mailing it--I was worried it wasn't sexual enough! I was utterly surprised at her wonderful response. Then, when it was nominated for a Pushcart, well, I have to say I owe Julian a drink.
What about novels? Do you outline?
Never. And not by choice. I start novels with a broad idea and character in action. Generally by the time I’ve written through to the end of the novel, I end up cutting the original “beginning.” A lot of my work consists of cutting. Most of it, actually.
Do you have a favorite editor?
Not yet! My husband is my best editor, but he’s usually too busy to actually read anything truly lengthy (my loss!). I tend to send stories and novels to friends of mine from graduate school—I am always delighted and shocked by their comments. I also have four “secret” readers who are always incredibly helpful: my next door neighbor who is a phenomenal visual artist, an old friend from high school who is now a famous opera singer, another old friend from the same high school who lives in Nashville and reports on the fine arts, and a woman I met as a new barista in a coffee shop who now runs a corporate business department with over 25 juniors. I love people who work hard and still make time to read!
Do you read?
You might as well ask if I eat.
Do you eat?
Very funny. I read voraciously. When I was in the eighth grade, I told everyone I wanted to grow up and be a book critic, though I hardly knew what that was. All I knew was that it was a job that allowed a person to read nonstop all day every day. To me it sounded like heaven.
Do you still want to be a book critic?
I’d rather starve.
What do you read?
EVERYTHING. I love great authors, and often go back and read classics I missed in school. (I figure if it survived 100 years, it probably has at least some entertainment value.) I also avidly read contemporary fiction, silly beach books, and the best mystery, horror, fantasy and science-fiction!
Who are your favorite authors?
In no order of importance: Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami, Herman Koch, W.B. Yeats, John Irving, Michael Cunningham, Robert Jordan, Don DeLillo, Jeffrey Eugenides, Orson Scott Card, Richard Powers….
For now. Weirdly? I think my favorite writing seems to come from Sweden. What's that about?
What are you reading right now?
I'm waiting for Jennifer Egan to finish her next novel. I just finished The 100-year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared. I loved it! Also just finished Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan (who happens to be a friend in addition to being one of the top writers out there) she nails American humanity. Next on my list is Tim Winton's The Turning. I’m saving it—I know I’m going to adore it from the first sentence.
From the first sentence?
I know it sounds weird, but I judge books by their first sentence. I can tell everything about the book from that sentence; but most particularly, whether it will be to my taste or not. If I get past the first page of a book, I force myself to finish it, no matter how dreadful or dull. I’ve only been wrong a handful of times.
Can you give an example?
Of being wrong? Sure. I read Nabokov’s Ada cover-to-cover. I have never been so bored. I felt like I was eating broccoli for a month. On the other hand, I don’t think it was a waste of time. There are some sentences in there that would knock your socks off. (or your sister’s socks. ha.)
Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wrote. I didn’t “want” to be a writer. I’m from a fairly big family, and there never seemed to be anyone to talk to about serious or troubling things. I wrote everything in my journals. I think my mother burned them.
What about fiction? When did that start?
Well, I was raised bilingual, so my love of language began early on. The humor in my family was nearly always word-based. My dad was king of puns, and we used to create our own jokes around the dinner table. Actually, to see what my homelife was like, just read Prisoner’s Dilemma by Richard Powers and add a layer of Lithuanian culture and language on the top. I just love that book. So real.
But your first story?
You won’t believe this. I wrote poetry all through college. I never even thought about stories until AFTER my acting career was going nowhere and I was sitting in a temp job in the executive offices of a Japanese bank. In order to “look busy,” between making and serving green tea for the General Manager for North America, I started a serial novel, and wrote ten pages or so per day to give to the receptionist, who was equally bored. After a month of her compliments, I decided to send the pages off in Graduate School applications.
Did you get in?
I only applied to three schools. Both NYU and some tiny college in southern Vermont rejected me as having not enough experience—but Columbia, then the second-ranked writing school in the country, took me in and gave me a fellowship! I hold an MFA. I studied under Helen Schulman (the realist), Maureen Howard (the novelist), Michael Scammel (the translator), Richard Howard (the poet), and Michael Cunningham (the genius). Cunningham was working on a novel at the time. He came into class unusually late one day, disheveled and distraught instead of his usual cheerful curious self. "Guys?" he said to the waiting workshop, "I'm writing a novel about Virginia Woolf and my mother. Is that stupid?" -- Let me tell you, this one moment in my writing life is what keeps me going every single day. Michael's novel was going to win a Pulitzer Prize, and he was having second thoughts. The only stupid thing is NOT putting your ideas on the page. Write it and send it out into the world. Let the market decide.