Zena Livingston - Exemplifying Art Imitating Life At Its Finest
By Carin Chea
In the same breath and casual tonality she uses to describe her daily routine, Zena Livingston also uses to express some of the deepest, most personal, and arguably most painful moments of her life.
Livingston has been able to successfully take heartache and tragedy and transform it into art that is humorous and charming (in the very least) and (most importantly) uplifting.
A professional administer of over 40 years, Livingston has written three novels that have tickled audiences everywhere. Her newest book, Now You Have It, is available on Amazon and ready to entertain.
You wear many hats - you majored in literature, were an educator, a full-time mother, and currently an administrator at Livingston Food Care Specialists. When did the "author" hat come into the picture?
The author hat came into play maybe 10 years ago. I started to write to try to figure out my relationship with my mother after she died. She was an extremely abusive parent and I wanted to see if I could look at her life and find some quality in it that would make me understand her actions better.
I started to write a journal, and it was halfway done and I realized it was turning into a novel. That was The Money God, and it was written from her perspective. It was a lot of fun. It was sold out and was published by Vanguard Press. When I received the first book, I felt like I had my newborn in my arms again.
The second book, The Psychotic Skank, was an exercise in delivering a message.
What inspires you as a writer?
I'm a people-watcher. I observe people around me and their actions. People write what they know; they write from their life experiences. Tough experiences sharpen us as writers.
For example, [the protagonist] Donna in Now You Have It. There are many Donnas in the world. She's ambitious to the point where she sacrifices life in the quest to ambition. I think we've all met a Donna like that. I started the book thinking I was going to paint her in a negative light. I don't use an outline when I write.
Halfway through, I had sympathy for her because she develops breast cancer and it was a wakeup call for her. I really empathize with her because I'm going through that too. I have metastatic breast cancer.
Wow. Thank you for sharing that, for sharing your past and your present in such a vulnerable way.
I'm an open book. I discuss my health issues in the hopes that other women will learn and benefit from it. I'm not someone who hides it. I don't wear it, if you know what I mean, but if it comes up, I will be open about it. I think I wrote a very interesting explanation of how it feels to get the diagnosis.
Everyone who has read Now You Have It has come back to say that it was a powerful and easy-to-read novel. This would be a nice novel for people to read during this time of home imprisonment [due to the COVID-19 outbreak].
Tell us about Now You Have It and how did it come about?
It came about because Donna is a character that I knew. I watched her destroy multiple lives as she traveled the road of life. That's how that book came about.
I tried to portray her as she really was: An ambitious, avaricious person who didn't care whom she hurt as long as she got what she wanted.
What do you want your readers to take away from Now You Have It?
I want the readers to know that it's more important to enjoy every day and enjoy life than it is to be so grasping and avaricious that you miss out on it. You miss out on your children, you create unnecessary strife. Donna has to deal with issues surrounding her children. She destroys her marriage.
She then marries again just for social and financial security, only to find out that the person she married is really not giving her what she really wants, and he's a very selfish person.
I've been married 58 years to the same person, so obviously my life does not parallel Donna's. When I married Leon, I was very young. He was 21 and I was 18. His parents really became my parents. My mother was extremely abusive. She would beat me until I couldn't go to school because the welts would show.
My mother and father-in-law were the two most loving and unusual human beings I ever met in my whole life. Like Leon, they were extremely kind.
I ended up taking care of my mother-in-law for 35 years. She lived until she was 105. It was my honor to care for her. She taught me to love and accept love that didn't have a price tag on it. It was love for love's sake, as opposed to, "I'll love you if you do this for me."
My husband is the kindest man you'd ever meet and we've had a very wonderful life together. And, it took me a while to accept that because I was so guarded.
Your books seem to have something in common - a very strong female hero. Is this intentional?
I think so. I'm a very strong female presence in my family. I am the administrator for my husband and son's medical practice. I kind of run the office as well as the house. I am a very strong female personality. But, I'm not bitchy like my characters.
If it were put on film or onstage, which female actor would play the protagonist in Now You Have It?
I would like to say someone like Meryl Streep, because she's strong enough. Her character in The Devil Wears Prada fits Donna's personality.
Are there any upcoming projects you'd like our readers to know about?
I have started a book based on my life, and it's being written from my point of view rather from my mother's point of view. It's a difficult book for me to write because it's so personal.
To keep up to date on Zena Livingston's latest projects, please visit ZenaLivingston.com.
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