In her first collection, The Best Place to Be, Lesley Dormen creates a narrator who's run the bases in life, work and love, and finds, at age 50, she's arrived at last.
How did you come to find Grace?
I'm fascinated by female dividedness. One of the things about Grace is she's a character I don't think we see that much of in fiction—she's finding and losing love, she's searching for the lost father. I'm fascinated by how women re-create themselves for each relationship. There's something so grandiose about a first-person narrator who says, "Let me tell you my side of it, I want to explain it, I want to give you the story." Grace insists that her story is important. I love the unreliable reliability of her. And then I have to find her again every time I sit down at the computer. Sometimes I can't find her for days at a time.
You published several humor books in the 1980s. How did you end up writing stories?
I first began to write fiction in workshops, then became happily diverted. I lost the thread of my fiction aspirations—and just at the point of getting really good rejection letters, I had to find a job! Like Grace, I worked for women's magazines in New York; my beat was sex and dating. Then I turned 50, my mother died, and I took some classes at the Writer's Studio near where I live. I made an end run against all my defenses, and I wrote a short piece that my instructor read. He looked at me and asked, 'Oh, so you're angry?' I tapped into that and found Grace.
You grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and came to New York on the cusp of the '70s. Were you involved in the women's movement and politics?
No, I tied a silk scarf to my purse and went off to work every day—women seemed so Amazonian in those days. They had all this power. Now I'm 60 and finally doing what I most wanted to do. I got a dog. How long do I have to read Alice Munro to see the lives of women my age represented? I hope there's more. I'm looking for them.