Interview with Carla Malden, author of memoir ‘AfterImage’
Carla Malden grew up in Los Angeles, California. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from U.C.L.A. with a Bachelor of Arts in English and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society for her academic achievement. She worked extensively in the film business, both in production and development.
With her husband, filmmaker Laurence Starkman, she wrote twelve feature screenplays; they also served as rewrite guns-for-hire. The team of Malden & Starkman wrote and produced the short romantic comedy Whit & Charm, which screened at eight major film festivals, including The Hamptons, and won several awards. They also wrote and created a series of Cine Golden Eagle Award-winning Art History films produced in association with The Detroit Institute of Art and The National Gallery.
Along with her father, Academy Award-winning actor Karl Malden, Carla co-authored his critically acclaimed memoir, When Do I Start?, published by Simon & Schuster.
AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life delivers a fiercely personal account of her battling the before and surviving the after of losing her husband to cancer. It offers an alert for an entire generation: this is not your mother’s widowhood.
Carla Malden lives in Brentwood, California where she is currently completing her first novel as well as a children’s book illustrated by her daughter, Cami Starkman.
Visit her website at www.carlamalden.com.
Thank you for this interview, Carla. Your book, Afterimage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life, is about your transition into widowhood. What happened to your husband and was it an all of a sudden thing or did you have time to prepare yourself (if that can even be done)?
Carla: My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer and lived for a little under a year after that. That may not sound sudden, but it felt head-spinningly sudden. Aside from the fact that I was in great pools of denial, I don’t think you can prepare yourself. It’s like childbirth. You think you’ve learned all the exercises and the breathing techniques, but nothing can prepare you for that wallop of pain. Grief is like that, especially since I had no firsthand experience with major loss and found myself plunged into the deep end of grief without even knowing how to dog paddle.
I remember one day after my mother died, someone was joking around with me and I thought that was so brutal. How can I laugh right now? What do you say to those people? Leave me alone and let me grieve?
Carla: I think everyone grieves differently. I didn’t mind joking and did quite a bit of joking myself. There were other triggers for me, other hot buttons that made me bristle. I think the best that other people can do is just to listen and to try to be sensitive to how the bereaved is reacting in any given situation. I’m not an authority on this subject; I just told my personal story. It just helped me to know that people loved me and, far more importantly, that people loved Laurence, my husband, and were never going to forget him.
So how did you begin to pick up the pieces?
Carla: There is no secret, no trick. You just get up each day and try to choose to live in some way. Gradually, you begin choosing bigger and bigger ways to live until you discover you have built a life that is productive and fulfilling and even joyful. Also, I had a daughter; I had no choice but to keep going for her and to try to be an example of carrying on.
Looking back, what advice did you get that had such an impact on you? Good or bad?
Carla: There was no single piece of advice. In fact, I can’t even remember anyone offering advice per se. People just rallied around me and kept me propped up. That first year, there was a barrage of invitations. I felt so supported and cared for. That’s far more meaningful than advice.
Afterimage is essentially not a “cancer story” but a “love story.” I’d love to hear how you and your husband met for the first time?
Carla: We met our senior year in high school. It was a tiny, progressive school to which I had just transferred for my senior year. I was the only new girl in a class of forty-five students.
What do you believe were his best qualities and that’s what makes him unforgettable?
Carla: Laurence was the most talented person I’ve ever known. He could do so many things well, largely because he had a passion for so many different things. Aside from his professional life as a filmmaker and writer, he was also a chef, a drummer, and an artist. He also had a gift for design of any kind. There was a remarkably fluid communication between right brain and left brain in him; he could dream something up, but then he could devise the ideal way to execute it as well. He was a perfectionist but only because it gave him such enormous pleasure to do things perfectly. For all his gifts, he was also humble — and not falsely so. He just didn’t care about what other people thought about him; consequently, everyone loved him. But his sweetest gift and, I’m sure, the gift of which he was most proud was as a father. He was a sweet and gentle man who also had a wry sense of humor. He radiated joy.
I’m sure your husband was sitting beside you in spirit the whole time you were writing your book. Did you ever feel his presence?
Carla: I felt his presence then. I feel it now. I’ll feel it always.
Thank you so much for this interview, Carla. Do you have any final words?
Carla: Thank you for asking about Laurence and about letting me tell you about “AfterImage.” In many ways, I wrote it to bear witness to a life — his and ours together — and it is rewarding to know that people are less daunted by the grief than they are touched by the love.