WORD Bookstore’s Jersey City location hosted Dagmara Dominczyk and her husband, the actor Patrick Wilson, to discuss her novel, The Lullaby of Polish Girls (June 2013). The book was recently released in paperback, and as of today, a translated version has been released in Dominczyk’s native Poland.
The Lullaby of Polish Girls draws some obvious inspiration from Dominczyk’s life. Both she and her protagonist, Anna, immigrated from Poland in the 1980s and then would return on summer vacations. Dominczyk, like Anna, began a career as an actor in Hollywood films. Now, fifteen years on, Domincyzk continues to act occasionally, but also at last considers herself a writer.
She always wanted to write. “I’m a huge bookworm,” she says, “I always get speechless around authors.” She flutters at the mention of the time she had the opportunity to meet Zadie Smith.
Dominczyk, who is also a mother, says that people often compare writing a book to having a child. But, “its a really nice baby; once its out, it doesn’t want anything from you.”
Having arrived in the United States at age seven, Dominczyk says that reading and writing were pastimes she found helpful and comforting. “Education is what saved me in this country,” she says.
In college, she mostly wrote poetry. She reads a poem she recently found from the era entitled “Polacks,” naming characteristics of Polish people, then reminds everyone it was a poem from college.
In the years after college, she wrote a lot of what she described as short character sketches. She never thought she would write a book. Of course, she adds, she never thought she would have been in a movie either.
Traveling back to Poland for summer vacations meant Dominczyk possessed a kind of perception of the country as a utopian ideal, a kind of unspoiled paradise. That vision began to crumble when the husband of a girl she knew as a child ended up murdered. The people she knew from then were beginning to fall apart just as her own career had been successful.
That death though served as a springboard for the novel. The idea of these two contradictory notions–her success, and the tragedies befalling the people she knew from Poland–inspired her to begin the book.
As an immigrant, she says, she struggled to feel comfortable in the United States, and always felt an outsider when she returned to Poland. “I was always drawn to books about The Other,” she said.
Dominczyk exposes herself through writing both in the novel as well as on the internet. By contrast, her husband is a very private person, she says.
“I like the mystery of acting,” Wilson says, but adds, “You [Dominczyk] have no problem saying how you feel and I don’t like to do that.”
Dominczyk agrees that she has no qualms about stating her feelings.
“When I write, its a break from the acting world,” she adds. She enjoys writing because of the solitary nature of the creation act. And, in writing, no one is judging her for her body, as they do in the acting world. She much prefers talking sentence structure to cheekbone structure.
Last year, Wilson appeared in the television show GIRLS. The internet exploded with criticism that Lena Dunham’s character would never have stood a chance with a man as attractive as Wilson. A particularly nasty Tweet claiming Wilson was too handsome to ever “do” a girl like Lena Dunham elicited a response from Dominczyk: “his wife is a size 10, muffin top & all, & he does her just fine.”
Both she and Wilson agree that Hollywood can be particularly unkind to women.
Dominczyk says writing books is a way to have a creative outlet while escaping the acting world. She would write in the mornings and at night read the pages to Wilson. Most of the novel was written in two summers. She writes in spurts, with periods of productivity followed by lulls.
The inspiration for her writing “always comes from a person,” she says. The plot and the action come after that. For instance, Dominczyk looked to her own father when crafting Anna’s.
Her father had been a labor leader in Soviet controlled Poland. He had been arrested before the family was asked to leave on one way passports. Later, when Poland formed a democratic government, her father was offered a chance to return, but stayed in the United States rather than uproot his family. Dominczyk saw her father’s dreams collapse just as she began finding success in film, and this contrast was something she wanted to capture.
“For a long time I had a hard time calling myself a writer,” she says. But now she has finished a second book she finally feels that she can. The new book doesn’t even mention Poland.