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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova is the author of the novels “Still Alice” and “Every Note Played.”

Where do you come up with your best ideas? 
When driving or walking alone, when I’m moving and not engaged in conversation. They also appear upon waking in the morning or when I’m coming out of a meditation.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
My friend Sarah wrote a song for me. And Joe.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
Forgiveness.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Getting out of an abusive relationship.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
The practical answer: Run a biotech company. The real answer: Become an actor.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made? 
Every mistake has led me to exactly who and where I am, so they’re all useful. There are always great lessons and gifts that come with every mistake, even the doozies.

I give myself permission to write something horrible. You can edit something. You can’t edit nothing.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
There are times when I’m writing and something happens that I don’t see coming. I’ll stop typing, completely stunned that what I wrote just happened. Or even stranger, the characters do things I don’t want them to do. I’ll delete and write the scene again, assuming I’ll be able to steer them in the direction I want, but they insist on something else. Which begs the question: Who is writing this novel?

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
I took Latin in high school. I regret not learning another language that’s actually spoken.

How do you relax?
Yoga puts me back together. Reading, whether under a cozy blanket on my couch or at an airport gate, always feels decadent. Laugh-out-loud dinners with my girlfriends.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
Wherever Joe is. Or Italy.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
Walking to Bunny’s Market to buy sour cream all by myself when I was four years old. I’m guessing, but I think the store was at least a half mile away, definitely out of sight of my house. Maybe, unaware to me, my mother followed me the entire way, but this was 1974, so I probably made the journey solo. I passed barking (killer) dogs, crossed a busy road, purchased the sour cream, and made it home alive. All by myself! I still remember the thrill of it.

Describe a perfect day.
Every day above ground. And I love waking up with Joe, a hot chai tea, summer weather, happy children, writing 1,500 words, a sunset kayak, and a delicious dinner with best friends and family.

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
I use what I’ve learned from yoga to stay in the seat. Breathe and let the wave of panic pass. Don’t run away. Maybe switch from computer to pen and paper; that often loosens things up. I give myself permission to write something horrible. You can edit something. You can’t edit nothing.

What is your proudest moment?
When Julianne Moore won the Oscar for Still Alice.

What would you like to experience before you die? 
A woman president. And a cure for Alzheimer’s.

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Photo by Associated Press

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