The Heroine’s Journey of Tova Mirvis

What is the best thing that I love about my work?  I love the feeling of immense concentration when I am writing – of being able to shut out the noise of the world and be deeply inside a sentence or a scene. It’s a rare and cherished feeling, to inhabit words without the distracting pull of the everyday world around me.

What is my idea of perfect happiness?  I don’t know if I believe in perfect happiness – I’m more of the mindset that things are always complicated, but even with that caveat, I would say that watching my children laugh  or try something new or greet something in the world with wonder comes pretty close.

What is my greatest fear?  I am fearful by nature – and in many ways, my new memoir The Book of Separation is about wrestling with fear – a fear of driving, a fear of being alone. One of the things I have learned along the way is that you can do those things that you are afraid of – the fear doesn’t go away, but is there alongside you.

What is the trait that I most deplore in myself?   I am someone whose mind always churns, often in the negative direction. I wish (often)  that I could let go of that internal critical castigating voice.

Which living persons in my profession do I most admire? The novelists who write large – who are not afraid to tackle great themes in history, who are not afraid of the scope of the work before them.

What is my greatest extravagance?  I buy books for myself and my kids. Also, as a gift, my husband joined me to a gym, and at first I thought I could never go there – it seemed too fancy and only for the truly athletic — but I go, almost every day and run before going home to write.

On what occasion would I lie?  I would lie to protect people I care about, and sometimes even those I don’t; and also when the truth feels too complicated or impossible to explain it exactly as it happened.

What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work? The self-doubt. The loneliness of writing. The uncertainty. The feeling of being lost for a very long time.

When and where was I the happiest, in my work?  I love those days – I can never predict when I will have one – when the focus is so deep, when I feel like the words are contained in my fingers, not in my head and my fingers sprint across the keyboard.

If I could, what would I change about myself? Oh, lots of things. I would like to be a little more even-keeled, less emotional. I have a tremendous capacity for guilt. That would be nice to shed.

What is my greatest achievement in work? I feel like in my memoir, I worked my way to being very honest and was willing to write about what is hard to talk about. This, I think, is my main job as  writer – to be willing to say. I think this is what people have connected to most in my memoir.

Where would I most like to live? By the water? In a forest? On top of a mountain? Any of those.

What is my most treasured possession? I would have to say my laptop – I know that’s a very workmanlike answer but it’s my external brain and I am terrible at backing up, so it’s all I have of my writing.

What is my most marked characteristic? My long curls – they are sometimes unwieldy and unruly, but I feel like they are me, for better or worse.

What is my most inspirational location, in my city?  I love the Chestnut Hill reservoir near my house where in the nice weather I like to run. In Boston, I love the walkway along the Charles River. As a transplant, it took me years to come to love Boston, but now am constantly struck by the beauty of my city.

What is my favourite place to eat and drink, in my city? Soon after I left the Orthodox Jewish world and stopped keeping strictly kosher (this is one of the changes my memoir chronicles), I discovered a restaurant called Shabu Zen, a hot pot place where you can cook mounds of veggies and tofu in spicy broth. As a vegetarian, it’s the  perfect meal for me.

What books influenced my life and how? A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley made me want to be a writer in the first place – the achingly beautiful way she articulates the longing for and attachment to a specific place. It made me want to write about the small Memphis Jewish community in which I grew up.

Who are my favorite writers? David Grossman. Ann Patchett. Jeffrey Eugenides. Phillip Roth. Eudora Welty. Toni Morrison. Rebecca Solnit.

You Only Die Once. What music would I listen on my last day? My very last day? I think I would have to go with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.

Who is my hero or heroine in fiction?  Can I answer for non-fiction? Because I’ve just come off a few years of reading mostly memoir and the writers who tell their stories in this way are close to my heart right now. In particular the memoirists Cheryl Strayed, Alice Sebold, Mary Karr, Vivian Gornick, Dani Shapiro, Elizabeth Gilbert – women who’ve told their story fiercely and honestly.

Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? People who are not afraid to speak their truth; people who do not live imprisoned by what other people expect of them.

What role plays art in my life and work? Art is at the center of it all – I have always kept a little card with this quote from Francis Bacon on my desk: “the job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”

Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime?  My parents, my husband, my children.

Which people in my profession would I love to meet in 2017? I would love to meet Brene Brown whose writing  has moved me immensely. When I was starting to write my memoir, I returned again and again to her advice about  the importance of owning your own story and the need to make yourself vulnerable if you are to grow.

What project, in 2017, am I looking forward to work on?   I am about to start another novel. I have been away from fiction for the past few years and am excited to return to the fictional world where I get to make up characters and invent a world.

Where can you see me or my work in 2017? My memoir The Book of Separation was published in September 2017, about leaving my marriage and the Orthodox Jewish world in which I was raised. I am also in the midst of a long book tour, so you can check my website if you want to hear me speak about my book in person.

Here you can find my book.

How can you contact me?

Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story? I have a wonderful writing group of Boston area women writers: Emily Franklin, Rachel Kadish, Heidi Pitlor, Joanna Rakoff, and Jessica Shattuck.


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