An EXCLUSIVE AUTHORLINK interview with Melissa Gould
Widowish: A Memoir
by Melissa Gould
(Little A, 1 February 2021)
When her beloved husband died unexpectedly of Multiple Sclerosis and West Nile Virus, writer Melissa Gould started chronicling her grief journey through her personal essays and speaking engagements. Telling her story has been a crucial part of her healing and she has found meaningful connection in sharing it with others – especially those who are facing grief, loss, and unexpected life changes.
Early on Melissa realized she did not fit the idea of widowhood. She didn’t look like a widow (too young), or act like a widow (she found love again) but she felt like a widow… which is how she came up with widow...ish.
AUTHORLINK: Hello Ms Gould and welcome to Authorlink. You decided to write Widowish, A Memoir, as a way to keep your late husband’s memory alive. It was also a way to record your life and love together; his unexpected passing, and to record the day-to-day minutiae of grief. This line really resonated with us, “I looked around. My house was packed. There were so many familiar faces! It made me so happy to see everyone. But I kept looking for the one face that wasn’t there. Joel’s.”
You said once, that you wanted readers, specifically those affected by loss, “to know that grief is survivable. It’s painful, excruciating at times, but somehow, we all miraculously get through it. You don’t know that in the beginning but it’s true.”
Has it been helpful to write about this traumatic event?
“I had no idea when I started writing about losing my husband how healing it would be.”
GOULD: I had no idea when I started writing about losing my husband how healing it would be. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! I had so much to say about loss and grief… being the town widow… being, what I refer to, as an “only parent.” Once I realized that I could write about myself, and what I was going through in losing my husband and having my world completely turned upside down, I found that it was by far the most healing thing I could have done for myself. …and yes, in writing Widowish, it keeps my husband close and alive and that is everything.
AUTHORLINK: What were your fears about writing this memoir, if any? How did you convince your agent to continue to represent you in this endeavour?
“The proposal is what every writer of non-fiction has to submit (as opposed to the manuscript itself) to get representation and later, a publishing deal.”
GOULD: I have always trusted myself as a writer. Meaning, I have always made my living as one so I wasn’t daunted by the idea of writing down my whole story. What was daunting was writing a proposal which is what I sent first to my agent, and then once I had an agent, what she sent out to publishers. The proposal is what every writer of non-fiction has to submit (as opposed to the manuscript itself) to get representation and later, a publishing deal. The proposal is really more of a marketing tool. It took me months to write it! In it, you have to answer questions like “why am I the one to tell this story?” and “why my story?” and “where on the bookshelf will your book sit? Next to what other books?” So you do that in a clever way and include sample chapters and a chapter breakdown and bio, etc. but it’s a huge task. Mine was around 60 pages!
AUTHORLINK: Wow. That’s interesting. Everyone was encouraging you to ‘make time’ for yourself. Happy mom, happy kid, they’d say. How did you manage this, and how long did it take? Did finding a new love interest speed the process and help you ‘rest’ on them, so to speak?
GOULD: One of the misconceptions about finding love again is that people assumed I was fine and “over” the death of my husband. But the thing about grief is that you don’t get over it, or move ON. You move forward. So finding love again with Marcos was very much a part of my healing but it wasn’t everything. I did a lot of grief work and writing which helped tremendously. I found community with other young widows which was also essential. Of course, I was also always thinking about my daughter and putting her first with everything. So Marcos was and continues to be part of my support system but he’s that – a piece of my healing, not the only thing.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, we can understand that. Did you have any roadblocks writing this memoir or did it simply flow? How did they overcome obstacles, if any? Did you have any rejections when your publisher pitched it out? Did you ever feel it would never happen? Ultimately, what would you say made you land a publishing deal?
“Of course, there were rejections! Plenty!…I also think that my background as a screenwriter prepared me for so much of this.”
GOULD: I found the entire process of bringing my book to the world fairly smooth. I just just trusted that it would happen. Of course, there were rejections! Plenty! But the rejections I got from publishers were so kind. I really felt like they passed for reasons that were legitimate to their process and some of the rejection letters were beautiful – frame worthy! – so thoughtful and generous. I also think that my background as a screenwriter prepared me for so much of this. I don’t take no personally, and even though this is obviously a very personal story, I also look at this as my job. I made changes to my proposal along the way, kept editing it. I also thought that if I couldn’t find a deal through a traditional publisher, that I could always find a hybrid publisher. There are so many different options now when it comes to publishing so I just took things day by day.
AUTHORLINK: You started out as a staff writer on Bill Nye the Science Guy. What was that like? How did you get that job? Run us through your day.
You then went on to write for shows like Party of Five, Beverly Hills 90210, Providence, and Lizzie McGuire. In between all of those staff jobs, you pitched, sold, and wrote a variety of TV movies for networks such as NBC, Lifetime, and Disney Channel. What kind of shows were those?
And, what are the differences with writing a memoir?
“Getting my job as a staff writer on Bill Nye was really a thrill.”
GOULD: Getting my job as a staff writer on Bill Nye was really a thrill. I had moved out to Los Angeles (where I grew up but I was living in New York City when I decided to go back) with the hopes that I could land a job as a writer on a TV show. I had so many spec scripts which is what you need when you’re trying to land a staff job. I knew someone at Disney who was putting together a writing staff for this new show, that was kind of a reality show (long before we even knew what reality TV was or would become!) but set in the world of science. At the time (early 1990s) MTV was huge. I loved a show called MTV Sports so when I met with Bill and his producers and got a sense of the kind of show they wanted to make it hit me, and I said in the interview, “Oh, so you want to do MTV Sports, but with science!” They hired me on the spot. It was one of the best jobs I ever had in television. Very low pressure, everyone involved was so respectful of the writers.
When I left Bill Nye, most of the other offers I got were for teen shows or even younger. I got type-cast very quickly as someone who writes for kids but I really didn’t mind. I have a youthful spirit and it worked to my advantage on all of the shows you mentioned. Even the movies I wrote were teenage based, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever written for a straight up show about adults. Oh, wait, I did but it was short-lived and not worth mentioning!
“…when writing a book, it’s just you. When you’re part of a TV show and a writing staff, so much of it is writing by committee…”
The biggest difference between working as part of a writing staff and writing my memoir – and even the essays I wrote for a few years which lead to me writing Widowish – is that when writing a book, it’s just you. When you’re part of a TV show and a writing staff, so much of it is writing by committee which I never really enjoyed. I never liked the writer’s room which is a funny thing to say as that’s what so many writers enjoy – that kind of community. But I always preferred being off by myself, writing my script, etc.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, of course. Understandable. Explain, ‘choose easy’? Which we love. And how long ‘should’ that last? What else is it other than, alleviating meal planning stress by accepting that eating more “frozen pizzas and ready-made salads” is okay? Or not feeling compelled to answer every email and text the minute you received them?
GOULD: I was hiking with a friend one day and she was really pushing me – move faster, go harder. I told her I needed a break and that I had to do the easy route that day instead of the harder path she wanted to go to. It struck her in that moment and she realized how hard my life had become as a widow and only parent. So she acknowledged that and said that everything in my life was so hard, and that I should “choose easy” with everything moving forward. I think it made an impact because firstly, she was validating my experience that EVERYTHING in my life became difficult. I was a widow. I was an only parent. I missed my husband terribly and was having a hard time finding my footing in the world without him. Secondly, when she said to choose easy, it was as if someone was giving me permission, or offering up some advice that I hadn’t heard or thought of before. The idea that easy was a choice was illuminating. I think it applies to everyone in any situation. We’re always in such a rush, trying to accomplish so many things in a day and sometimes, it’s harder to just say no. It’s like we’re conditioned to push ourselves all the time and it’s nice to just kind of slow down. Easy is actually harder than people think!
AUTHORLINK: We can relate. You once said, “…there’s a three-mile mountain trail near my house in Los Angeles that my friends and I call the Clooney Hike. Clooney as in George. He has a home that you walk past no matter if you’re starting on his street or ending there…’Want to do Clooney?’, we’ll text each other.” Has he ever reached out? Or any other celebrity, for that matter, that your bereft brain could handle in one form or another in your grieving process? (The Hollywood Reporter, 13 February 2021).
GOULD: Ha! It’s funny, I have not heard from George or Joel Osteen (who I sent a copy of the book to) or any celebrities, really. I mean, on occasion I’ll tweet or post something about any of the Real Housewives on my social media and sometimes they reply or like it. That’s always fun for me!
AUTHORLINK: True! And in relation to falling into celebrity escapism…we found this rather moving, “The “unscripted” drama soothed my real-life drama, which wasn’t actually that dramatic. It was just that my husband had died. That’s all.” How do you feel about this line/feeling, now that you look back at it?
GOULD: I still think that line applies! It’s kind of like what I said earlier about “choose easy.” Life is hard enough – I mean, listen, life is also very good. I am blessed in so many ways and very fortunate overall. But life is hard. There are challenges all the time in our every day lives so becoming a widow added to that. In saying “that’s all” though, it’s kind of my sense of humor, too. Sort of dry and self-deprecating. I’m glad people get that – ha!
AUTHORLINK: “I was searching for my husband everywhere.” You said once. Do you (still) believe in ‘signs’ from our dearest, most recently departed?
GOULD: Yes, I still look for signs, see signs of my husband, and look for him all the time. I talk out loud to him everyday. Really, one of the best parts of writing Widowish is that I get to talk about Joel all the time. It’s a gift, really, that all of these readers now know about him and our life together.
AUTHORINK: Beautiful. Your husband passed ultimately, from West Nile Virus in 2013, when conversations about viruses were rare. Three weeks after he was first admitted to the ICU, he died. You say, “It was and continues to be shocking, although sitting here now, seven years later, dying of West Nile Virus – a mosquito bite! – almost feels quaint in the age of coronavirus.” How do you make sense of it now?
GOULD: It’s very strange that my husband died of a virus that a lot of people knew about but was still extremely rare. By the time coronavirus came around, I felt like I understood it. I mean, viruses are similar in the way they kind of “take over” a person’s central nervous system so I wasn’t surprised by a lot of the devastation I saw. I feel like I “speak” virus though, so I knew what it meant when people were really suffering. It’s so sad, tragic really, how many lives were lost and how many more young widows and widowers are out in the world. Plus, there are so many more kids whose families have been hit, it’s really terrible. As for dying of a mosquito bite, though, I mean, it’s crazy, isn’t it? In this day and age? But Joel was always unique and one of a kind so…
AUTHORLINK: Yes. How difficult was to adjust to the idea that you were an only parent; responsible for everything? Like you said, “I walked the dogs, took the trash bins in and out, changed the lightbulbs. I did all the driving, and shopping, and laundry. I found tutors and doctors and attended parent-teacher conferences alone because I had no choice…I cancelled subscriptions, made sure we had health coverage, tried to get some writing jobs…And every thought, feeling, emotional outburst, and mood, both mine and Sophie’s, were mine to manage.”
You succinctly put into words what it is like to be unexpectedly, a single parent.
GOULD: Thank you and yes, I have found being the only parent very stressful. Even now and our daughter is 21! I’m so happy that Joel made an impression on her – she had him for 13 years which is a gift… But when I think about how I managed all of her teenage years without him… it’s a lot. I’m a worrier, anyway, but when I lost my husband, the worry became exacerbated. Our daughter is a good kid, though, really, in her core she is so kind and thoughtful and funny. But every choice I made, everything I did for her, everything a person does as a parent felt amplified. I mean, think about all of the decisions people make with their partners – from the easy and mundane (should we order pizza) to should I let her go to that party? It’s a lot to do on your own. Of course, I have friends and family who listen and advise but it’s just not the same as if it were my husband I was consulting with.
AUTHORLINK: Of course. Did you have to go through many edits even after the sale to a publisher? What is the relationship between you and your agent? Your editor?
“I love my agent and am so glad we found each other!”
GOULD: I love my agent and am so glad we found each other! She really gets me as a person and certainly as a writer and I feel like I have her support which is wonderful. My editor was great, too. She also, really understood my writing and gave me plenty of space to go through my process. She was so encouraging and supportive from the beginning and I’m so appreciative of that!
AUTHORLINK: Ms Gould, thank you so much for your time today and helping us and our readers understand your writing process. We wish you all the best in all of your future writing endeavors!
GOULD: Thanks so much for this, it’s been my pleasure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Melissa Gould’s essays have been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Buzzfeed and more. She is an award-winning screenwriter who has worked on shows such as Bill Nye the Science Guy, Beverly Hills 90210, Party of Five, and Lizzie McGuire. Her memoir, Widowish, debuted at #1 on Amazon in several categories including grief, memoir, and Jewish biographies. It is an Amazon Editors Pick & @goodreads Top 48 Book of 2021. Widowish is available wherever books are sold. Find Melissa at www.widowish.com and on Instagram at MelissaGould_Author.