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A Brief But Spectacular take on finding your voice

Transcript

Geoff Bennett: Writer Mary Otis' work grapples with issues of addiction, artistic purpose and mother-daughter relationships.

She recently performed excerpts from her debut novel, "Burst," at Lincoln center in New York City.

Tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on finding her voice.

Mary Otis, Author, "Burst": I basically became a writer by accident. When I first moved to Los Angeles and I was at a bit of a crossroads in my life, I only had one friend, and I would call this one friend every day.

And, at a certain point he said, why don't you take a writing class? So, that's how I ended up completely changing the course of my life.

Tonight, we're going to be hearing the opening pages of my novel "Burst."

"Burst" is about Viva and her mother, Charlotte, and their untraditional, complex, sometimes fractious relationship, but one that could also be considered a kind of a love story.

"Her mother had two speeds, drunk or driven. Here she is on an August afternoon in 1979 at the helm of their V.W. van, laughing and waving her hands, alternating one and then the other on the steering wheel. Momentarily, no hands on the wheel. Then Charlotte's left hand flies out the window, slices the air carelessly, her fingers stretched wide as if she'd flung a fistful of pearls at passing cars."

Artistic purpose and addiction are two central themes in my book. I think those themes can sometimes be intertwined because of the ability for art to take you out of yourself, no matter what the art form is. When people are deep in addiction, I think they're in the throes of also trying to reach that place, but with a faulty method.

"'People used to drink wine for breakfast. Did you know that?' said Charlotte. She was worldly and once toured with a band called Yesterday's Horoscope. 'What people?' asked Viva. 'Renaissance people,' said Charlotte. That past year, in the fifth grade melody makers, Viva had learned a madrigal, a fussy overwrought song that circled round and round. A renaissance person wrote it, and it did make perfect sense to her that they might have been drunk when they did."

Writing from a child's point of view gives me access to a kind of clear consciousness radio where there's no filter, where there is no obstruction to the truth, because kids can often say whatever they think. So I think it's wonderful to have kids come in and have their perceptions running counter to the adult perceptions.

"When Viva learned the planets in science class, Mrs. Kenmore said that when the Earth is closest to the sun, that point is called perihelion. And that was how she thought of herself and her mother. She was the closest anyone could get to Charlotte, maybe until the end of time."

Thank you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

Mary Otis: I'm Mary Otis, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on finding your voice.

Geoff Bennett: And you can find more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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