DEAD END GENE POOL Discussion with author Wendy Burden!

Hello, readers!

Tonight we are privileged to welcome Wendy Burden, author of DEAD END GENE POOL, to our Spring Reading Series discussion.  She will be here “live” participating in our discussion and answering questions for one hour beginning at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) in the comments section of this post.

The conversation got going in this post, where I posed some discussion questions for everyone and asked for questions for Wendy.

I’ve been gathering your questions for Wendy and of course would welcome more.  Here’s what we have so far:

Here’s a comment from Lisa at Lit and Life, followed by a question from me:

One thing I found really interesting was how Wendy’s grandmother just threw money away in some ways (like buying prescription eyeglasses and then just tucking them away in a drawer) but was so tight with money in other ways (like stiffing the cabbies).    Any idea why she was that way?

From Nancy at Bookfoolery and Babble:

I’m curious who is on the cover of the book. Wendy’s mother or grandmother?

From Gaby at Starting Fresh:

Wendy comes across as so witty, intelligent, and spirited in the book.  Is she willing to tell us more about her life after the book ended?  We know that she’s owned and been a chef at Chez Wendy, but who did she marry?  Why did she decide to live in Oregon?  How is she raising her children?  How does she fill her days (aside from writing and touring)?

So many of us dream of money to become financially independent, have the mortgages paid off, take any job that we want, etc.  How has she chosen to shape her life and what makes her happy?  What would a perfect day for her be like?

Who does she like to read?  What is she reading now?

From Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza:

Is your irreverant, and often hilarious sense of humour, a way of covering up any pain you experienced in your unconventional upbringing?

From reader Vance Lancaster:

1. How much wealth was left when your grandparents died and how was it distributed? Did the fact that your brother was a co-executor of the estate affect the distribution or cause any problems?

2. What happened to each of the homes owned by your grandparents? Are they still standing? If so, do you know who owns them now and have you ever re-visited them?

3. I assume that most of your grandparent’s art collection went to MOMA. Was any great art left to you or your brothers or to your uncle? If so can you tell us who got what?

4. What is your most cherished item left to you by your grandparents? Is there anything that you coveted that went to someone else?

5. I understand that one of your uncles is alive and living in CT. Are you in contact with him? Can you describe his life today? Do you know if he has read the book and, if so, what was his reaction?

She'll be here for our discussion-ask her anything!

6. At the end of the book, you discover that Charles Thomas, your mom’s lover, contrary to what your mother told you is still alive. Have you made any attempt to contact him or has he reached out to you since the book was published? Have others that knew your mother or grandparents reacted strongly to the book?

7. Are your mother’s ex-husbands alive and are you in contact with them?

8. I understand that you have two daughters. Are their lives, in any way, similar to yours with your siblings. Do you recognize any of the traits of your relatives in them?

Edited to add:

From Ash at English Major Junkfood:

Did you write these as individual essays and then pull them together for a book, or did you know when you were writing that you wanted this to be a cohesive memoir?

Come by tonight at 5 pm PST (8 pm EST) to say hi to Wendy and see how she answers our questions!  Hope to see you then!

197 Responses

  1. I’m still reading the book, but I’m enjoying it so far. I amazed at Wendy’s memory – I can’t remember things from such a young age. I do wish there were pictures included in the book and I love Lisa’s question.

    • My memory isn’t the greatest either. Being from a famous family, I bet her childhood is pretty well documented photographically- I wonder if that helped to jog some memories.

  2. I’m also still reading the book and enjoying it as well. I’m curious about the writing process of this book. Did you write these as individual essays and then pull them together for a book, or did you know when you were writing that you wanted this to be a cohesive memoir?

  3. I knew your grandparents in the mid-fifties when I spent a lot of time with Hamilton at Uplands, as well as in passing your dad and other uncles.

    I spent a summer at Northeast Harbor driving Ordway to his lessons. I drove your grandmother’s mother, Mrs Partridge around every Sunday that summer of 1955.

    May we correspond about our different takes on it all? Or talk by phone?

  4. I’m still reading the book and can’t wait for the discussion!

  5. Hey everybody! Wendy will be here at 5 pm PST and we’ll get started then.. looking forward to it!! I have a burning need to know about that picture on the cover! LOL

  6. FYI as the chat gets going, be sure to refresh your screen every few minutes in order to see the new comments. Please ask if you have any questions!

    • how do I refresh screen, please?

      • on your browser there should be a refresh button.. mine looks like a circular arrow (I’m on a Mac) not sure what it would look like on a PC

      • Just hit the refresh button at the top of your screen. S/B two little green arrows, unless you have a Mac and then . . . no idea what’s used for the refresh button.

      • I’m on a PC and the arrow is blue. You can also subscribe to the comments and watch them come in one at a time and then respond to the ones you want to.

  7. I also am really curious about that photo!!

  8. Hi, Everyone

    I’m looking forward to the discussion. I loved the witty memoir. I thought it was disturbing at times, but the writing was great.

  9. I think we all want to know about that photo!

  10. I am reposting a comment from Angela at The Budding Librarian here- she left it on the last post with the discussion questions:

    I actually love that we get to see the “aftermath” of such success, generations later. Maybe because I’ve always been so fascinated by “old money,” since it is so far from what I grew up with.

    http://thebuddinglibrarian.wordpress.com/

  11. Is Wendy here yet?!?!

  12. I’m here!

  13. While we’re waiting for Wendy to arrive.. what did you guys think of the book, overall? Do you generally read memoirs, and if so, how does this one compare to others you’ve read?

  14. Welcome, Wendy! Please jump in anywhere! We’re thrilled to have you with us. You can start by responding to comments that are here or to questions in the post.. whatever works~

  15. Hi, I think the person on the left is Peggy, and that’s got to be Bill on the right.

    Jim Wallace

  16. Hi Wendy. It’s Suddie’s dad.

  17. I’m here from Kauai. Hi Lisa and Wendy! It’s been years since I thought of Creepy Crawlers.

  18. Welcome Wendy!

  19. Lets all give a round of applause to the awesome author…WENDY!!

  20. Wendy, we have someone here who knew your Uncle Hamilton.. he’s identifying people on the cover for us🙂

  21. You know the Tibetan Terrier. We loved your book. Can’t wait for the movie. When is it going into Production?

    • It’s still with CAA inLA and I hope they sell it soon ’cause college tuition is coming up next month.

  22. Welcome, Wendy! I finished your very funny book yesterday.🙂

    • I love it when people say its funny…that is the greatest compliment to me, so thank you.

  23. Hi Wendy and Lisa and anyone else! I’ve read a lot of memoirs and I don’t know that you can compare them because everyone seems to have such dramatically different stories, but Dead End Gene Pool reminds me of *something* – maybe the Gloria Vanderbilt memoir with the pink cover? It seems like shuffling the children off to the help was pretty common, back in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

    • You are correct; it was very common. I don’t read memoirs so I can’t comment, but I will tell yiu that this book started out as a cookbook…so it was never my intention to pen a memoir.

  24. What makes memoirs so engaging is that they are REAL.

  25. I’m not sure if Wendy is experiencing some technical difficulties.. I’m emailing her now

  26. Did Wendy pop off?

  27. Shuffling the kids ( and dogs) off to the help is still pretty common.

  28. For those that can afford it.

  29. Not sure if everyone caught this about the picture.. Wendy’s explanation: “The woman is my grandmother and she is The Spirit of Aviation; the Sea Monster is my Grandfather. I actually still have the costumes…they were at a fancy dress ball. I LOVE this picture!”

  30. those are great costumes

  31. It looks like my earlier comment is in moderation so I may only be able to observe…

  32. i will be a sea monster if Wendy will be the spirit beneath my wings

  33. This is off topic, but I like your name, Vance, since it’s my son’s name too. You don’t hear it very often.

  34. really thanks. my dad is Vance also. Vance lancaster. Very soap opera or soft porn

  35. Memoirs can be pretty “unbelievable” at times–but truth is stranger than fiction very often. And fiction stems from truth. . . .

    Is Wendy able to connect w/us online?🙂

  36. I thought I was…am I doing this wrong? Help!

    • NO!! You are fine! But if they don’t refresh they don’t see new comments! You’re doing great! Do you want to address any questions that are in the body of the post?

  37. Now we all know it. Wendy is technically deficient. Someone call Mike Wallace

  38. Wendy had risen

  39. This is an incredibly minor point in your whole fascinating memoir, but I was so glad to know that you named the lipstick and perfume your Grandmother wore. So many authors say, “She put her lipstick on,” or “Her perfume was lovely,” and I’m dying to know what the specifics were. I, too, wore Revlon’s Cherries in The Snow, and there can only be one Chanel No. 5, so thanks for the ‘petty’ details that add immensely to a story.

    • I am obsessed with detail (in case you couldn’t tell) so that kind of thing is very impoprtant to me.

      • I liked that too.. it would have been so easy to say ‘red lipstick’ but was so much better to know the details

    • Haha. You and your bright red lipstick. I got a kick out of this comment, B.

      • Hey, how many people do you know that could tell the difference between Revlon’s Cherries in The Snow, Certainly Red, or Mulled Wine? And that’s only one brand! Cherries in the Snow, by the way, is a very blue-red, as opposed to Certainly Red which tends to go orange.😉

    • I loved this detail also. In fact I was reading another book this morning, where Cherries in the Snow were mentioned and I thought : “That’s in Dead End Gene Pool!”

    • I’m not usually one to like the specific brand to be given in a book; I often feel like it’s the lazy way to describe a color or style. But in this case it was perfect to give a better picture of Wendy’s grand mother.

  40. I’m wondering about Lisa’s question – if Wendy has any explanation of her grandmother’s odd ways with money.

    • I think it was an older generation thing…I also think stuff like clothing or glasses were ordered, and she never paid the bills or saw cash with transactions like that so it was meaningless to her…whereas a quarter in her hand meant something.

      • Reminds me of one of the politicians who didn’t know about grocery scanners (was it Pres. Ford??) He was that far removed from everyday American life!

  41. I must admit, I own a beagle and I loved the details about Obediah…Hilarious!

  42. LOL – My son is really named Vance and he loves his name.

  43. Did Wendy ever keep a journal?

  44. Vance, you need to settle down🙂

    Wendy is having a hard time finding the refresh button.. I’m trying to help her through email so she can see all your comments

  45. Wendy HATES us!

  46. im just trying to entertain the troops during intermission. im all settled now

  47. r u there Wendy? it’s me Margaret!

  48. Wendy, I didn’t mean to repeat what you said. I just read your comment!

    What inspired you to write your book–was there a “last straw”, so to speak?

    • What inspired me to write the book was everyone in my family dying, believe it or not. It started as a cookbook, got anecdotal, and then with each funeral morphed further into a memoir.

  49. The first sentence of your book sets a humorous tone for the entire book–and drew me in immediately!

  50. Comments seem to be out of order–they need to “take numbers” . LOL😀

  51. Was there ever a time you confronted your grandparents about the differences in their treatment amongst the grandchildren?

    • Not really, it wasn’t worth it. Honestly, they were drunk most of the time when I was mature enough to have confronted them.

  52. I loved your turn of phrase.. very witty. One scene that really stuck out for me was when you discovered the housekeeper buying your Christmas gifts. I thought, poor thing! What a disappointment that must have been.

    • The funny thing is it wasn’t like I was dissapointed it wasn’t Santa, just that it wasn’t a blood relative I guess.
      I of course go nuts with my (grown) kids’ stockings at Christmas in order to compensate.

  53. I was wondering about that too…

  54. Do you have children, Wendy?

    • I have two girls, one is 21 the other 24. I worship them.

    • whoops.. just saw your answer to that one! I love that you go nuts with the stockings!! I find I overcompensate with my kids for the *only mildy* affectionate way my parents were with us..

  55. What I want to know is if you are going to look up your mother’s lover or if you have heard from him. The one you googled and found he is still alive despite what your mother told you.

  56. I am selfish and the same age as Uncle Ham Uncle Ham, so I’m jumping into the line up again.

    Wendy,I knew your grandparents in the mid-fifties when I spent a lot of time with Hamilton at Uplands, as well as in passing your dad and other uncles.

    I spent a summer at Northeast Harbor driving Ordway to his lessons. I drove your grandmother’s mother, Mrs Partridge around every Sunday that summer of 1955.

    May we correspond about our different takes on it all? Or talk by phone?

    • Sure…I would love to hear about it. Hope you don’t mind that I said Mrs. Partridge looked like a chimpanzee, but honestly she did.

      • I can email you with Jim’s email address if that would make it easier!

      • well, she didn’t look that great in 55 when i drove her around in WAMB’s Fordilac, but she was obsessed with her dead husband’s sculpture but I did like her correcting my pronunciation of “perfume.” It’s PERfume she told me.
        Jim

  57. I can’t find the guy. All the info I got on him, using all KINDS of resources, stopped around 1980 location-wise. I would love to talk to him…are you kidding?

  58. Wendy, I find that I also overcompensate with my kids due to how I was raised. What do you think your mother would make of the way you raised your girls?

  59. So a cookbook? What is your favorite thing to cook?

    • I’m making coq au vin as we e-speak. It’s in the slow cooker…a big chicken with leeks and fennel and wine and I can’t wait!

      • yum sounds great. even to a vegetarian

      • yummy! I have never made coq au vin but I use my slow cooker all the time, including tonight! Chicken noodle soup.. and the house smells amazing..

  60. I’m copying Bellezza’s question here:

    Is your irreverant, and often hilarious sense of humour, a way of covering up any pain you experienced in your unconventional upbringing?

  61. Yeah, I guess so…whistling past the graveyard. But I’m someone who never looks back (except to write a memoir) and so I get upset, then I get over it and move on.

    • I think that you have a lot of courage, and of course, it never helps anyone to look back over her life and see only misery. We have to remember the joys as well as the sorrows; we have to move on what hurts us. I think humour is a wonderful way of dealing with wounds, one I use myself, and I don’t expect you to bare your soul here. I just wondered if there was a level of hurt you didn’t dwell on in your memoir.

  62. What’s next for you? Are you working on another book? Or thinking about it?

    • Working on another book. This one was the first third of the original manuscript. Book 2 is about a New Yorker moving to Portland (That would be me) to marry, and learning to fly airplanes and manage a “Blended” family. It is a love story, but is also tragically sad, while (hopefully) being very funny at the same time.

  63. How is your current relationship with your brother?

    • I’m trying to convince him to go on the road with me to do a brother/sister act. You know, like David and Amy Sedaris.
      (He’s totally into it.)

    • I was curious about this too. I am always curious how children raised in similar circumstances end up – similar, different? And also whether your family might argue a different perspective of the book.

  64. you know the guy across the creek from you in England? the bi-guy. Do u know if he ended up with a woman or a man or a beagle?

  65. I was wondering how your family has reacted to the book.

  66. Wendy, forgive me if this information is on your website, or elsewhere, but is there another book in the works, and if so, what kind?

    • She answered a minute ago.. I’ll copy here:

      Working on another book. This one was the first third of the original manuscript. Book 2 is about a New Yorker moving to Portland (That would be me) to marry, and learning to fly airplanes and manage a “Blended” family. It is a love story, but is also tragically sad, while (hopefully) being very funny at the same time.

  67. Wendy, if you could be a flower what flower would you be?

  68. I hat to admit it, but I haven’t finished the book yet do to working a lot of extra hours. I have to say, I was very impressed on how much you remembered from way back when.

    • Everyone says that in a kind of doubting way! Actually, there must be a tousand photo albums in my possession, and all the diaries of my grandmother, grandfather, secretaries etc as well as my own. Plus, my grandmother saved everything we did…like fake newspapers we created when we were six, stuff like that. I also use music, smell, food to trigger memory.

  69. Do you talk to your uncle who lives in Greenwich?

    • Yeah, sometimes. He is pretty out there, meaning he is autistic, and difficult to really have a conversation with, but we speak maybe every two months or so.

  70. Wendy, I need to go in a couple of minutes. Thank you for this live chat! I will return later and read all the comments. (I finally get the hang of this refresh thing and it’s time for me to go.)

  71. To reply to the Meg Ryan playin me comment, I want Kate Hudson to play me!
    And I threaten my brother Edward that Philip Seymour Hoffman will play him cause he looks like him.

  72. This is from Gaby at Starting Fresh, who couldn’t be here tonight:

    Wendy comes across as so witty, intelligent, and spirited in the book. Is she willing to tell us more about her life after the book ended? We know that she’s owned and been a chef at Chez Wendy, but who did she marry? Why did she decide to live in Oregon? How is she raising her children? How does she fill her days (aside from writing and touring)?

    So many of us dream of money to become financially independent, have the mortgages paid off, take any job that we want, etc. How has she chosen to shape her life and what makes her happy? What would a perfect day for her be like?

    Who does she like to read? What is she reading now?

    • Ok…long answer..I moved to OR to marry a man, and then he died a few years later in a plane crash. I moved back to the east coast, but found that my family here, inlaws, friends etc, were so vital to my well being and that of my children, that I wanted to be in Portland permanently…as did my two girls.

      A good working day for me is (after a hike in the am) going to my local library and writing, and then coming home and painting. I am a painter by education, very very realistic to the point of being anal! Bet you couldn’t have guessed that.

  73. Oh Vance…you rogue.

  74. she’s be great. and so would he. he does look like him

  75. Jim, I love that you remember the Chevrolac.

    • I love that you’ll get to talk to him about his memories of your family.. did you talk to many people from that ‘era’ when you were writing the book, to pick their brains and see what they remembered?

      • Lisa I didn’t really talk to that many people because I had so much visual stuff to refer to, and so much had been recorded about my family…like my grandfather wrote his autobiography and my grandmother kept really good, interesting diaries. There aren’t too many people alive from my gp’s era.
        But Millie Pou, my gf’s secretary was really great about telling me things. A little too great; I think she regrets some of it!

  76. I’m going to go too. Hope we can email about my takes on Burdenland as a young fellow, I like your wit and spirit, and all the work of putting your book together.

    Thanks Lisa for making this all happen today.

  77. Wendy, what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you since this book came out?

  78. Looks like time is about up, so I just want to toss in my thanks to Wendy for the replies and Lisa for hosting. I loved the book – am currently about 8 book reviews behind, but I hope to catch up & get a review of it written soon, at my blog. Will be looking forward to the next book, also! Thanks for sharing with us, Wendy!

  79. This was a lot of fun! Thanks, Wendy!

  80. I’m going to be leaving as well.

    Thank you Wendy for participating, I really enjoyed the discussion.

    Thank you Lisa for putting this together.

    Wendy, I’ll be looking out for your next book!

  81. Yes, thanks Wendy for being here with us and sharing your thoughts. It’s been fun, and I wish you great success with your book! Goodnight everyone!!

  82. Wendy you are the best!

  83. THANKS!!!!!!!!
    And especially to Lisa…

  84. THANKS everybody for coming! Wendy, thank you so much for spending time with us!

  85. What about me Wendy? i asked some pretty darn good questions!

  86. All the best of success to you with Dead End Gene Pool and all future endeavors!

  87. Thanks for taking the time with us Wendy and to you Lisa for organizing. I’ve only been able to lurk during the discussion since I am still at the office and supposed to be “working”. I’ll look forward to reading all of the comments later and to finishing the book!

  88. Thanks Lisa for putting up with (sort of) my school boy highjinks

  89. Thanks so much Wendy. Thanks to Lisa too for organizing the discussion!

  90. I’m glad you were all able to participate! This was fun.. thanks so much!

  91. Thanks for a wonderful discussion, Lisa and Wendy, and all those who read the book. It was a great book club night!

  92. I’m reading over this the day after and really regretting that I couldn’t join all of you last night–looks like you all had fun! Thanks, Lisa and Wendy. I’m looking forward to her next book!

  93. Hi, Everyone

    I’m looking forward to the discussion. I loved the witty memoir. I thought it was disturbing at times, but the writing was great.

  94. […] been fascinated by the Vanderbilts;   Wendy Burden is a descendant of the Commodore.      Lisa at Books on the Brain was having an online discussion with the author last week, so I signed up.   Thanks Lisa!      I loved the cover, too.   I […]

  95. I am sure this paragraph has touched all the internet viewers,
    its really really nice paragraph on building up new website.

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