Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

Jeanette Walls On Writing About A Difficult Childhood

February 26, 2014 1:26 p.m.


Jeanette Walls is author of "The Silver Star"

Related Story: Jeanette Walls On Writing About A Difficult Childhood


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. From gossip and memoirist Jeannette walls knows how to tell a story, she has explored the lure of gossip and poor job as a skilled columnist for her job and she focused on the her pneumatic eccentric childhood had been the glass Castle. The latest work is a novel about two girls trust In another dysfunctional childhood called the Silver Star, Jeannette is in San Diego at the annual writers symposium by the sea, welcome to the show. What did writing gossip teaching about beating being a writer?

JEANETTE WALLS: Among other things that are always more to the story than meets the eye, I've been drawn to journalism because I am a storyteller and in the very busy person and I love to find out what is really going on in the world is supposed with the recent so strong to gossip is hearing people assume to have all? Gorgeous and wealthy and famous and yet there's more to the story.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there a connection between telling secrets like that in time the secrets of others and then thinking about the anger and telling your secrets?

JEANETTE WALLS: Some of the hypocrisy of telling other secrets while that will not celebrate on his hypocrisy and I thought that people knew this about me they would hold me in contempt and critical and she might be on somebody else with things that I'm due to other people that I did want to divide myself but to the degree that and invested peeping underestimated people to be capacity as I was willing to be on honest and open.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're talking about the Glass Castle, and the story is told compassionately, but it is a disparate disturbing story and it seemed like your parents cannot get a hold on life tells a little bit about this.

JEANETTE WALLS: I opened while he still had my job as a gossip columnist those going to a party in New York City and they saw a woman going to the garbage out the window and he realizes my mother and my reaction was fear and I was worried that my mom would see my name and I asked my mom what the hell is with the top people and asked and she said I asked her what to tell people about you and she said tell the truth than a sentimental novella childhood that was dramatically lit cars and slept cardboard boxes and never did run the garbage for food but with the limited because they give me the love of education and that's what put me out and become you enter this background that would of consumers of the other people.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you know that when you became a journalist you would have to write this someday?

JEANETTE WALLS: I try to write this up as a how to tell the story in a terrified and a couple of times I've tried to fictionalize it one time and it was already so weird I cannot begin am I supposed to make it weirder or less weird and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to change and is really my second husband who uses this high WASP intellectual journalists and I told the story a couple of times that he didn't quite get it and he said now I get it this is really can't located your canis around as a bird and you must help us with the story ends of a set of F and a couple of weeks I said a could do this, I could live this being outside it is too embarrassing to weird, we're party spent the advance, I was completely unprepared for the conception of it and it never dawned on me that people would not only understand my story but it always understand it a little bit more than I did.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why did you wait twenty years to tell the story? What does that give you?

JEANETTE WALLS: It gives you a little explicit perspective, young terrified and ambitious and ambitious and superficial and narrow and I set out to try to write this when I was in my teens and it wasn't until I was around forty and so I could tell the story and I needed the perspective and the necessary compassion and because I was not out to get my mom or dad, they are not bad people they are complicated and I didn't put perspective on it yet.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In your US work the Silver Star you revisit the themes of children were abandoned by their parents can you give us an idea of this story and read us an excerpt from it?

JEANETTE WALLS: Is about to people with an irresponsible mom food waste and of write what you know and I've always been fascinated particularly since reading the Glass Castle of people tell me their stories and it's this incredible people were different people apologize and I tell my story people or feel free to open up about this for some of the people of similar stories to mine and you often see stories were in a troubled family the oldest sibling takes on the responsibility of the parents of the waiving of his two banks can have a childhood and there are some wishing sacrifices and sometimes the siblings and up to be politicians or something like that or sometimes it is too great and it breaks them in a such a sacrifice that these children make so that the younger one can have a symbol for the childhood I was inspired to write a story is about it this is the first paragraph and the sisters save my life what is just a baby, here is what happened and mom decided to leave home in the middle of the night taking us with arrows only a few months old and she took the meaning of it. She put some things of the hood of the car and station things the child and she said the Liz mom was going through a rough period of time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is from the Silver Star is the newest work right Jeannette walls and well, that is quite a way to start a novel. School, you are talking about how this book is so much about these two children who grow up with his mother who simply cannot. Carry them and him and his them and how the older child takes care of the younger child but school is an anchoring for us for the younger child whose name is being, it was a true in your own life?

JEANETTE WALLS: Absolutely I was a little bit of a rejected school because we dress so badly and I grew up without indoor plumbing is a little funky and I was the lowest of the outcasts but there are a couple of teachers who not just took pity on me and the concept of pity they respect me because I was a very diligent student and they singled me out and encouraged me as always in a great force in that other members every single feature that I had those that treated me well does that did she do so well but the ones where kids they see you look at your teachers eyes and you see the ones who respect you don't look down at you and the other ones who give the other children permission to not treat you well but the ones who treat you like the other students and you are the one who's going to make it a woman who encouraged me to write for a newspaper wanted me to work on the school album, it was not only angry it was a little bit of a godsend, I think a child can make it through anything if there is at least one adult in their life that it believes them and ideally it's the parents but all too often it is a teacher who singles them and says that there is something special in you. And if you get that from an adult that he get that from a lot of education I think you can make it through just about anything.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So far your writing is been true to the adage of what you know, and in your novels you to write what you know, but in the other hand do you feel comfortable making stuff up?

JEANETTE WALLS: Now I actually counted for years but I've been saying that I will wait fiction and able to be squeezed leave understood that the fiction that I'm drawn to his request the nonfiction and John Steinbeck went out to interview people to write the grapes of wrath he did not do this up and ethically take great hubris for someone who did the experience what life was like to understand what that was like and imagine that and with a background in journalism and with celebrity gerbil journals like very much creek to the truth it is not just stranger than fiction it is still more complicated and people and situations constantly surprise me then you look at it and of course it makes sense now to make up things that are believable and it's a real challenge enable the recently began to understand that the silver star but sometimes you just take a piece for the situation and put them together and in the challenge becomes that it doesn't look like some sort of Frankenstein monster that the pieces actually have to fit but go back and imagine that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm also thinking about the movie that is going to be made of your memoirs Glass Castle is going to be directed by San Diego filmmaker and start Jennifer Lawrence, how much will you be involved in that?

JEANETTE WALLS: I have to say my experiences have been exposing I think this man is a genius and I am just blown away by his intelligence and sensitivity and his adherence to not just truthfulness but authenticity and I am over the moon that she is working on it, he is an extraordinary human being and the fact that General Lawrence is attached to it I can't even get my head around it is a little bit of something that someone asked me if it is agreed. A true and I would have to be a little bit insane dream that will Jennifer Lawrence one day stars me if it happens it would one day be spectacular and you never know until it is on the screen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you writing the screenplay?

JEANETTE WALLS: I'm not writing the screenplay I have been in constant contact with them is to be so true to the book and it was written by another what women and he is going over it and discussing a number of things and wants to make sure that nothing is phony or nothing feels Hollywood eyes city spent some time working at one point in the foster home, and he did a wonderful movie about it where he just magically combined the pain in the beauty and the fever and the pathos of how all of these simply contradictory things can exist in the same situation he's bringing that this book so to his movie brother and I am just being open about it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But for that to come out and looking at your success and will hope for the same for themselves, what you think about the prospects for writers?

JEANETTE WALLS: Think your with your writing you can't worry about the readers and whether or not it will be successful to let you can't say maybe some people to write the bestseller and I think that for the mine says that the heart speaks the heartless and to come to believe that the future sort of second guess what people want to hear you go to misfire it if you write what you care about and what it means to you than it comes across as he you are my cold for what he working on now? The truth after this I said after the summer size and that nobody does it is again this is too hard too hard to horrible and one reference to the right is a lot like having children in it the result of soap grab gratifying that you forget how excruciating the processes of this undertaking is again is another work of fiction.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And people who got to know you as you as a gossip columnist, what do they think of you now?

JEANETTE WALLS: They are stunned, they had no idea and a couple of them say what you keep this a secret for so long you could've typed out on it but it just goes to show you how naÔve I was because I think that I didn't talk about myself and I'm trying to pass this up as a Rockefellers and the like that and I did just talk about these and there is a workaround silly well-to-do people who went to private schools and privileged backgrounds and there's one woman I thought which you find that a member that she is good to be so much ridicule and she came from such a book you family and after the book she came up towards me and I bolded by this thinking is good because of fisticuffs with her and she ran up to me I thought I was getting in fisticuffs with her. [ [ CHECK AUDIO ] ] It is such an eye opener for me because I think we're protecting yourselves by insulating ourselves by the setting yourselves and like my background is astonishingly different but some people have something in common.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with Jeannette Walls and her newest book is called the Silver Star she will speak speaking at the Symposium by the Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University tonight at seven, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.