Interview with Author and molecular biologist , Joram Piatigorsky

Joram Piatigorsky penned his first novel, Jellyfish Have Eyes, following a distinguished career in scientific research at the National Eye Institute. He went on to author an autobiography, The Speed of Dark, in which he describes the influence and expectations of his exceptional parents – world-renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who had escaped the pogroms in Russia, and Jacqueline de Rothschild, a Parisian heiress.

Joram’s parents fled France just days before the outbreak of World War II and weeks ahead of his birth. As the family’s first American citizen, he set out to find his own identity and voice while honoring his heritage, pursuing a career in science and as a writer.

His newest collection of short stories, Notes Going Underground  and an earlier collection, The Open Door, and Other Tales of Love & Yearning  are published by Adelaide Books. Both were illustrated by award-winning Spanish artist Ismael Carrillo.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

JP. I write in my study downstairs surrounded by my Inuit art collection, which energizes me, but also can be distracting. Large windows let the outside in, so to speak, and look out on the lawn, flowering trees (depends on the season) and woods; I see deer roaming, several foxes coming and going, squirrels galore and many types of birds. I don’t need blank space for my imagination to roam and concentrate. My space is what I’m writing.

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

JP. I don’t have any special rituals that I follow before or while I write. I do try to keep my desk and surroundings somewhat neat. A messy place tends to make my mind messy too. As for dress: Sometimes I’m in regular clothes, sometimes exercise garb, but not pajamas. I leave those upstairs in my bedroom. Physical discipline helps me, as uninspiring as that sounds. When I start to write I typically go over what I wrote the last few days. The problem is that when I start looking over what I wrote yesterday I can’t help rewriting. That slows my progress, of course, but I can’t help it. I’m always rewriting, even in my mind once it’s published!

Before I quit writing for the day, I often remember what I read Hemingway did: Stop when I have an idea to explore. If I follow that advice, I can play with whatever my ideas are overnight, let them expand or shrink, mature, and I’m not stuck on how to start the next day. It doesn’t always work! Nothing always works.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

JP. Readers of my memoir, The Speed of Dark, know, I never feel fully at home in one world or another. I live in two mental universes. I was conceived in France with my mother Jacqueline de Rothschild, the daughter of the Rothschild French banking dynasty famous for their art collections among other things, and my father Gregor Piatigorsky, the renowned Russian 20th century cellist who lived through pogroms and escaped the Bolshevik Revolution as a teenager. My parents and 2-year-old sister eluded Hitler on September 3, 1939, the day France and England declared war on Germany, and made it to America. Whew, just in time! I was born the first American citizen in my family six months later in upstate New York and raised speaking French before English, with a European outlook. So, to some extent, I feel American in Europe and European in America. It’s not by fluke that my publisher, Stevan Nikolic of AdelaideBooks is Serbian married to a Portuguese woman, lives in New York and Lisbon, and publishes in both places.

My family and lineage were entrenched in art and knew nothing of science, yet I became a research scientist studying evolution and gene expression. Thus, I have always felt split between being a scientist by profession and an artist by temperament and family roots. After 50 years of science I switched to writing fiction, memoir and essays, another world to inhabit where I can express my artistic bent.

Inuit art

So, what else might you not know? Thirty years ago, I fell in love with Inuit art and have amassed a major collection of Inuit sculptures, so add that to my several worlds. And, oh yes, I played tournament tennis in Los Angeles growing up and took that very seriously, so there’s another world I experienced. … As I said: I’m a chimeric person, so to speak.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

JP. I prefer to write in the mornings when I’m fresh and my mind works better. Later in the afternoon is less productive for me, but I still often trudge on anyway.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

A. I hesitate to advise writers about procrastination or anything else, since, when I give advice, I’m really telling what has worked for me, not what they should do. And what do I do about procrastination? I force myself to write. Procrastination for me usually means I let other things interfere with my writing, so I do my best to put writing first and procrastinate the other stuff. I believe that procrastination often reflects that I don’t know what to write, not that I don’t want to write, so I’ll start and let the work bring the muse rather than have the muse stimulate the work. When I’m stuck in front of a blank screen, I’ll write something, almost anything, to get going and often keep at it even when I know it’s not quite right.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

Join us for part 2 of this Interview on May 21th

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky
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