A Q&A with Meryl Davids Landau, Author of Downward Dog, Upward Fog

It’s no wonder why yoga is so popular, especially among the ladies. It relaxes the mind, replenishes the soul – and HELLO! – have you seen what it’s done to Jennifer Aniston’s perfectly toned thighs? That all in itself has got me sold on “the power of om.”  

In all seriousness, I really didn’t have any interest in yoga until I read Meryl Davids Landau’s debut novel Downward Dog, Upward Fog. In this mesmerizing tale of self-discovery, Lorna Crawford sets forth on a quest for life’s deeper meaning.  On the road to enlightenment, she meets new friends, confronts her demons, and learns how to see her adversaries (even her diabolical mother!) in a whole new light. 

Even if you’re not interested in yoga, I recommend checking this book out. The wisdom Lorna gains along her journey will strike a chord with most women, such as myself, who need to find some inner peace in this crazy, fast-paced, technology-obsessed world.

This talented new author was kind enough to chat with Chick Lit Café about her own spiritual connection with yoga, inspiring writers and the transformative power of self-reflection.

What made you decide to write a novel about a woman finding herself through yoga?

I’ve been doing yoga and studying various spiritual teachings for more than 20 years, but the idea for Downward Dog, Upward Fog came to me suddenly one morning when I was half-listening to an author being interviewed on a morning TV show. She said she’d asked herself, “Where are the novels for women like me?” That question really spoke to me, since I felt there were so many great yoga and spiritual nonfiction books out there, but very little fiction that combines spiritual teachings with a lighthearted, fun plotline. So from the start my twin goals were to entertain and to uplift. One reviewer said my novel is perfect for “introspective, evolving women.” I love that description!

How has yoga helped you get through difficult times?

Yoga is much more than just movements; it’s about staying focused during the poses, and getting in touch with that still, centered place inside of us during the deep relaxation and meditation that are also parts of the practice. Having a steady yoga practice has definitely helped me access that stillness when things are hectic or difficult around me. It’s not so much that I run to do yoga during those times, but rather that I know that inner peace is always there–even though I confess it sometimes takes me a while to remember.

Which authors inspire you?

My novel is filled with quotes from nonfiction spiritual authors that I love and who my main character, Lorna, discovers throughout her spiritual quest. I think Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, who did that webinar with Oprah a few years ago, is especially brilliant, as are Neale Donald Walsch and Marianne Williamson. Since my book is women’s fiction, of course I also like many of those authors, especially Alison Winn Scotch and Sarah Pekkanen. And then I just love authors who are great writers; my newest affection is for YA author John Green, who tells such deep stories in an entertaining way.

Downward Dog, Upward Fog is full of secondary characters.  Which of your characters would you like to spend an afternoon with and why?

Of course I love all of my characters. But probably Lorna’s 10-year-old niece Radha would be my go-to gal for a day. Lorna loves being with her because she’s pretty spiritually aware, since her mother is an interfaith minister. But I also love her 10-year-old sweetness. She’s not worried about censoring herself or what others think of her the way so many of us adults are.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I love what you wrote in your review that you took away from it–that changing how you think about things can change your life! That happens to Lorna in a number of ways. First, as you observed, she comes to visualize good outcomes and not dwell on the what-might-go-wrong negatives. And second, and this is something I’m constantly reminding myself in my own life, she changes how she sees problematic people and situations. She realizes she can view her crazy coworkers and really mean mother in a different way, which alters her entire experience of them, rather than waiting (forever) for them to change. I believe that we have so much power to transform our lives just by changing our thinking, if only we remember to use it.

Can you describe your writing process?

I assume you mean in terms of writing a novel, because I also write magazine articles (for More, Whole Living, Prevention and many others) and blogs (for Huffington Post and others). Before I started Downward Dog, Upward Fog, I knew the overall narrative arc of the story: that Lorna was going to start out frazzled and out of sorts and discover yoga and other spiritual teachings, and then face the challenge of not just knowing these teachings but–the harder part–figuring out how to put them into play in her life. After that it was just a question of letting the details fill themselves in, which, when you get into the flow of writing a book, it feels like that’s what’s happening. Of course, since this was my first novel, I had to rewrite and edit quite a number of times, shifting things around and adding new characters and boosting the dialogue and whatnot. Long ago I heard someone say “writing is rewriting,” and I wholeheartedly agree. There’s nothing that isn’t improved substantially by constant revision.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring novelist?

Not to get discouraged during the writing process. A novel is long, and it’s hard to get all the characters and the plotline to where you ultimately want it to be. I also think it’s important to get objective feedback from professional writers and an expert editor about whether they’re seeing what you want them to see. We get too close to the process to be able to tell that ourselves.

Do you have another book in the works? 

I have started working on the sequel to Downward Dog, Upward Fog, because when I finished writing this I wanted to see for myself what Lorna does next, now that she’s more deeply into these spiritual teachings. It’s been exciting for me to work on it, and to hear from readers that they’re eager to know what happens to Lorna, too. I’m having great fun with it, but it will be a while before it’s finished.

About the author: Meryl Davids Landau is a freelance writer, editor and fiction author. For more than 20 years, she has written engaging, informative and entertaining articles for numerous national consumer publications, especially on the topics of health and holistic health, the environment, family issues, and business. She is also a former editor. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, U.S. News & World Report, Whole Living, Glamour, More, O–the Oprah magazine, Huffington Post, Self, Parents, and many others. For more about her work, check out her website.

Review: Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau

I have to confess, I have very little interest in yoga.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a downward dog and an upward cat, but all my friends love this alternate form of exercise, so it must be somewhat effective. They all try to get me to join in on the fun, but I’d so much rather hit the trails at Town Lake than pretzel myself into uncomfortable poses in a sweaty room full of strangers.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out what all the hype is about. Why would you rather do the splits on a little rubber mat than go for a nice little jog in the great outdoors? Can you really get a real workout by staying in one place? And what’s the deal with all the mind, body and soul mumbo jumbo? 

When the author contacted me about this book, I figured this would be a good opportunity to broaden my spiritual – and cardiovascular – horizons.  I’m so glad she did because I now have a whole new perspective on yoga and the people who love it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not signing up for a yoga class just yet, but I do have some newfound appreciation for the people who love the art of deep breathing and downward dogging.  

The story begins when 33-year-old Lorna Crawford is struck by a spiritual crisis while sipping cosmos at the local bar with her gossipy gal pals.  Suddenly she loses her desire to toss back drinks and play the “let’s make fun of the people around us” game.  You know the type, right? The group of girls who snicker at unfortunate “fashion victims” at trendy bars. The ones who whisper rude remarks just loud enough for their targeted victims to hear.  Who could blame Lorna for wanting to bail?

Fortunately Lorna’s sister, Anna (aka Angelica), is a minister who can help her find a new spiritual path. With Anna’s guidance, she stocks up on new age books and dabbles into the mysterious realm of yoga. Just before she can master the sitting lotus, she signs up for a silent yoga retreat with her new best friend and yoga aficionado, Janelle.  Sure, a yoga retreat sounds like a nice break from the trappings of modern-day life, but this one requires no caffeine, no meat, no boozy drinks and no electronics…did I mention NO CAFFEINE?!?! Ouch, my head hurts just thinking about it.

Along the way, she gains a posse of yoga friends who just love, love, love organic salads, green tea, and meditating.  Pretty hardcore, right? Well hey, to each their own. When all of life’s stressors come to a head, Lorna gains strength from her friends and the healing powers of yoga. From a high stress corporate job, to calculating coworkers, to a workaholic boyfriend to a nightmare of a mom, this girl has a lot on her plate. But through yoga and “sujaling” she gradually learns how to look at her adversaries in a whole new light.

Now here’s where the book gets really interesting. I’m not sure if I’m a believer in yoga or rhythmic chanting, but I am a HUGE believer in positive psychology. Right after college I read the Divine Wisdom of Florence Doval Shin to gain confidence before entering the “real world” and it all made perfect sense. Just like Lorna, I was able to get through some tough situations by visualizing good outcomes and blocking negative thinking.  If your motto is “expect the worst, hope for the best,” you may think differently after reading up on positive psychology.  Trust me, I’m no Pollyanna, but I do know negative thinking leads to self-sabotage. 

Overall this book is worth checking out – even if you’re not interested in yoga or religion.  Part women’s fiction, part self-help, this book is both entertaining and enlightening.  I can’t say that Lorna’s spiritual journey inspired me to sign up for yoga, but I did learn a few things about myself that I’d like to change. I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s underlying messages: Be compassionate toward others, abandon judgments and kill your enemies with kindness.  At the risk of sounding corny, I have to say that if everyone read this book with an open mind, the world would be a better place.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Get it, read it, share it!