A woman of genius
An interview with author Lynn Rosen
The product of nine years of writing, Rosen describes her new book is "More than just a whodunit."
In a bright room, surrounded by art and shelves of books, jazz playing in the background, author Lynn Rosen sits to write her daily musings. Her first book, A Man of Genius (reviewed on the next page), is now out, and she’s working on her next big project, but she still frequently posts new content for her fans online. At the age of eighty-four, Rosen finds herself nestled close to family back in Rochester but is equally at home—and often in residence—in New York City, the place where she spent the bulk of her memorable career.
How long did A Man of Genius take you to complete?
I worked on this book for many years. I worked with an editor who had won a lot of awards. So I was in awe of her. She really insisted that I had to resolve who was killed and what happened afterwards. So I wrote it that way, and it took me years to finally turn around. [Years later] a friend of mine read one of the drafts [and disagreed about the ending]. This friend…had won a lot of Emmys and was a documentary film maker who wrote scripts, so I said, “she must know something.” I went back and did it the way I wanted to with the very first draft. This story is more than just a whodunit.
It took a span of fifteen years and nine years of actually writing. When I returned [to Rochester] I spent a year of really working on it.
Catherine was willing to give up her life, essentially, and certainly any chance of the recognition she deserved, to ride the coattails of her husband. What’s that say about her character?
That she had a talent, the talent to interpret his work. Without her it would all be a visionary thought, but it would not be executed. How many visionary thoughts are not executed? Most of them. And so he would have been nothing without her.
You go into a lot of details about the scenery of each of the homes in the book. How important is that element of the story to you?
The scenes are very important to me. I’ve seen houses like I describe. I’m very into architecture. It happens that I have a nephew that is the dean at the school of architecture at Tulane. And his wife is a very accomplished architect. And I admire it—I could never do it, but I love beautiful homes.
Did you find it difficult to write the story in a way that didn’t consist of typical chapters and instead more character analysis?
There was a question of if it was going to be linear, or wasn’t it. There is a point where it generally is, but there is a point where it isn’t. You know Carlyle, and then you come back and you have this gap, of the codicil, which was introduced in the beginning, and then it doesn’t come back for a while. You’ll see that every once in a while I’ll drop a hint, a remembrance note, to think back to Carlyle and the codicil. So that was a little confusing at the beginning. Outside of that it didn’t give me much trouble at all, because it’s kind of linear beside that introduction by Carlyle. Dolinger did not have the role [narrator] in most of the drafts that he came up with at the end, but he carries the story. He never claims to know the whole story. He’s quite honest with you. He says “I’m quite curious about the whole story myself. I know more of the story than anybody, and I think I can imagine knowing these characters better than anyone else.”
Did you learn anything about the fictional character Samuel Grafton-Hall while writing this?
Not really. I’ve always been angry with him. Being a professional woman I’ve faced a lot of what Catherine faced. Yet I understand his talent—his talent is awesome. To be that kind of a visionary, and I think this book relates to present time, which is important to me, and it’s a question of idolatry, and a question of who our idols are.
So many times we talk about what’s going on in the world today, and I always discuss with my friends who our narrators are. If you’re talking politics, current events, where do you get your news from? Some of my friends are Fox news people and some are MSNBC news people, and they’re absolutely different. So we all have our idols, and how we select them is based on the criteria of the good person, the good life, whatever it is. Most of them fall along the way. What are you willing to forgive them for? Based upon what you answer to that that tells you something about your own system of moral obligation. It tells you who you set up as the idols and who you listen to. In politics today people are listening to so many different voices. Every time I go to a supermarket for food, in the check-out line, I see these things, the Enquirer, the this-and-that, whatever, I realize I’m among people who take this as a gospel. And that’s okay, that’s absolutely their right, but it tells me something about how they’re going to conduct their lives.
Forgiveness is a statement about ourselves, not about the person we forgive, and that’s part of this book, in fact it’s the core of this book.
Where did the cover image come from?
It’s interesting because some people, more mature people, are turned off by it and scared of the book. And younger people have no problem—they’re drawn to it.
It’s death. It has an interesting background to it. It’s called “Fame,” and it’s currently in the Memorial Art Gallery’s collection. [It was in my] collection, but they wanted it quickly to do a little show about it, and I said, “just take it.” You really have to honor your artwork and put it where it can be seen. It’s too bad, but that was my dad’s favorite painting, and it’s a skull with dried laurel leaves and smile. The whole piece—it talks about life and the comedy of life. It’s threatening to older people.
Do you write every day?
No, because I get interrupted. My best time for writing is on the weekend when nobody bothers anybody. I have other commitments, even though I don’t work at the community project I had started here [RocCity Scholars], which was very time consuming.
How many other works are you currently involved in, book related?
Well, I have short stories; I have one other full novel. I’ve had some stuff that I’ve even been paid for. I’ve always been writing. I wrote when I was a child in the Second World War and I used to get published in the New York Times on the op-ed page, as a child’s view of the war. My dad was gone for about four-and-a-half years, so I decided to write to them about what I thought of the whole bloody mess.
I think it [A Man of Genius] would make the greatest movie. It has a substantial ranking on Amazon, but what are we talking about—we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of self-published books now. I did work in the industry. I worked in public relations in New York for many years in the fifties, and one of my clients was Rod Serling, from The Twilight Zone, so I was at the filming of Patterns, and I worked on Beat the Devil, which became a very camp movie for United Artists, another of my clients. At the beginning of television I worked with these people.
I’ll tell you what I do, and other writers do it too. I write musings, and my website carries my musings, and I get responses to them. That is a good way to get out to the public and kind of purge yourself. I just did a new posting, and I archive the old ones. The site is unapublications.com. Una…stands for the fairy queen, and she stands for truth. I keep it close to my own home—and to me.
Dan Leicht is a freelance and fiction writer from Rochester. Find new work on his website, danleicht.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @Deeliopunk.