My Review: **** stars
I received this book in a giveaway and my thanks to the publisher and author for it.
Interview with Stephane Gerson
twogalsandabook: Upon looking at your bio, I see you have written many books, and have won some coveted awards as well. Did you always want to be an author?
Stephane Gerson: The answer would have to be yes although author can mean many things. As a teenager, I tried my hand at fiction, short stories, and poetry — and then gravitated toward history. As a historian, this is what I write most of the time. Disaster Falls is a memoir — something new, which I had not expected to write.
twogalsandabook: At what age did you start writing?
Stephane Gerson: I began writing poems at the age of seven or eight.
twogalsandabook: Do you read a lot? If so, who are some of your favorite authors?
Stephane Gerson: I have always been a voracious reader. A list of favorite authors would run many pages, but were I to choose one, it might be Nietzsche, whose epigrammatic, discontinuous style is perfectly adapted to what he has to say.
twogalsandabook: Is there anything you are working on now?
Stephane Gerson: I am working on a family history involving my maternal grandparents (Jews who went into hiding in World War Two France), the French couple who befriended them, and the other ordinary individuals my grandparents encountered while seeking to survive. I want to write a history from within, with rigor as emotion and as much attention to what might have happened during the war as to the ways in which these people and their descendants remembered or forgot these events.
twogalsandabook: Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have any favorite writing rituals or atmosphere?
Stephane Gerson: I used to be rigid about writing times (mornings) and places (absolute quiet). In recent years, this has relaxed a bit. Every project requires its own space. I could not write Disaster Falls, which is personal rather than professional, in my office. Most of it was written in my late son’s room.
twogalsandabook: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Stephane Gerson: I am not certain what writer’s block means. Sometimes, I am afraid to write something; sometimes I don’t know what I want to say; sometimes, my heart is not in it. In each case, there is an appropriate solution. The trick is to pay attention and understand why I am choosing not to write.
twogalsandabook: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Stephane Gerson: Many years ago, I went through all of the Paris Review Writers at Work volumes. I still enjoy reading the odd interview although I could not name one piece of advice that has stuck with me. The basic advice remains the best: read good books.
twogalsandabook: I can imagine that writing Disaster Falls was incredibly painful due to the tragedy of your son’s death, but also, in a sense healing, just to write about it and share your story with the world. Was there anything in the book you felt necessary to delete or alter?
Stephane Gerson: There is no point writing a memoir if one leaves things out, if one censors oneself. Before writing the first draft of Disaster Falls, I wrote myself a list of principles. The first was to be as honest as I could, to have the courage to make my own life a specimen (as John Updike put it). I collected a few relevant quotes. Melville: “Woe to him who seeks to please rather than appall.” Montaigne: “The worst of my actions and conditions seem to be not so ugly as I find it ugly and cowardly not to acknowledge them.”
While I did not tell everything in this book, I did not either leave anything out that seemed important out —except for a few things involving living friends or relatives. I did not want to hurt anyone, or settle any scores.
Still, things escaped me. When I turned in the manuscript, my editor noticed that something important was missing. I ended up writing another chapter during the final editing stage. I discuss this in the book: what I left out and how I later wrote about it.
twogalsandabook: Have you been able to make it back to Cooperstown yet, as you said in your book, “The trip would have provided a fitting coda to this story, especially if I could sit in the bleachers in which Owen and I had sat….”?
Stephane Gerson: I had intended to return to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a trip I had taken with Owen shortly before he died, but I have not done so yet. For a long time, fear kept me away — fear of pain, of suffering, of feeling Owen’s absence even more viscerally than I did every day. I am no longer afraid. I just need to ask Julian whether he’d like to accompany me, or whether this is something I should do alone.
twogalsandabook: Have any laws or regulations been implemented to prevent any further such tragedies, as Owen’s, in the Disaster Falls area?
Stephane Gerson: Not that I know. The whitewater rafting industry represents vested economic interests. Western states are also slow to introduce regulation in the natural environment. I sometimes wish I had done more in this regard. I chose to write a book rather than lobby politicians. The time may have come to adopt a different strategy.
twogalsandabook: What advice would you give other parents in dealing with the grief of a loss of a child? Has the birth of another son helped in the grief?
Stephane Gerson: Each experience is so specific that I am loath to give general advice. I found solace in writing and reading about grief, in chronicling my grief and my family’s in talking with my wife and making weekly visits to a couples therapist, in remaining open to the world rather than closing in upon my pain. Is this advice? Probably not.
The birth of another child has added another dimension to my life. The grief, the sadness remains, but there is also newfound wonder before life. Everything is mixed.
twogalsandabook: Are there any social media platforms where readers could connect with you that you would like to share?
Stephane Gerson: Readers can find me on Facebook and Twitter, but I post little. Emails are good mode of communication (email@example.com).
Trailers and Video About Disaster Falls and Stephane Gerson
The following video is the actual Disaster Falls location where so many tragedies have happened:
Stephane Gerson Bio:
Stéphane Gerson is a cultural historian of modern France and a Professor of French Studies at NYU. He has won several awards, including the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History and the Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies. Gerson lives in Manhattan and Woodstock, NY, with his family.
Other Books by Stephane Gerson: