Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Interview with Dori Ostermiller author of Outside the Ordinary World

Starting Monday January 10th the Fiction General Discussion book club at B&N.com will be featuring Ms. Ostermiller's novel Outside the Ordinary World, please join us. And spend a few minutes now to get a little better acquainted with her right now.

Deb-Dori, I read that as a child in the hospital and bored is when you first discovered fiction by telling tall tales about your life to the nurses and you mentioned it’s “redemptive possibilities of stories”. Was it redemptive because they believed you or because it was your escape from your situation, or perhaps a combination.

Dori- I think what I meant by the “redemptive possibilities of stories” is the power that stories have to transport and transform us. Stories give us the ability to enter another’s skin, to explore the world from a completely different perspective. In the hospital, when I was bored, scared, and actually quite sick, my imagination allowed me to become someone else, and in doing so, to view my own circumstances through a new lens. So I guess it was a combination of the possibility of escape, combined with the ability to see myself and the world through a new lens. The sweet, gullible nurses helped me by providing an attentive audience, suspending my own disbelief!

Deb-You stated that you dropped out of pre-med to pursue writing. Did you have encouragement for that, or was it something you took a stand for?

Dori- A bit of both, I think. Everything in my background and in my family/social structure said that becoming a writer was not really a viable or worthwhile choice. People in my world were not artists! They were doctors, dentists, real estate tycoons… And my father really did want me to follow in his heart surgeon’s footsteps. So to become a writer was an enormous departure from expectation. But when push came to shove, my parents actually did support my choice: they wanted me to be happy. It took my nervous breakdown first, though. I think they had to see that it really was literally impossible for me not to follow my own path.

Deb- You have been teaching for a long time and you’ve also founded a writing workshop where you live in Massachusetts where you work with local artists. Tell us a little about that, how did that come about and what part does it play in your community?

Dori- I started Writers in Progress in 1992, as a sort of antidote to my competitive and product-oriented MFA program. I wanted to offer workshops that offered real, nuts and bolts advice about the craft and business of writing but in a supportive, non-competitive environment. I also wanted to create a space where writers could gather in an informal way, give readings and trade ideas. We now have a space in a big arts & industry building—a refurbished factory in Northampton—and the workshops have become a prominent part of the local writing community.

Deb- You have former students who have gone on to become award winning authors in their own right like, Kris Holloway and Alison Smith do you feel any ownership in their success, how big a part do teachers play and how big a part is it natural talent.

Dori- I’m sure these writers would have found their way to success without me! But I love the fact that I was able to facilitate their process at a crucial point. I think finding the right support at the right time can make a big difference in a writer’s skill and confidence.

Deb- You’ve been a published author for a long time but Outside The Ordinary World is your first novel. Was authoring a novel something that just came to you suddenly or has it been a long time coming?

Dori- Honestly, the story started percolating in my mid-twenties and has gone through several different incarnations. In between drafts, I took long breaks, got married, had babies, started my business… so it’s certainly not like I was writing full-time for fifteen years. But it was, in fact, about fifteen years, in fits and starts!

Deb- As you know I loved your novel even though it was a hard book to read, it deals with very real and very emotional subjects. Does this novel stem from somewhere personal for you?

Dori- I started the book as an autobiographical exploration of my own family’s dissolution in the mid-70’s, and over time, the story became more and more fictionalized—it took on a life of it’s own. But yes, the seed of the book was from my very personal and somewhat painful childhood experience.

Deb- Dori, is it hard to balance your career as a teacher and an author with being a mom and wife? How does your family feel about having a celebrity in the family?

Dori- Yes, Deb, it’s the hardest thing for me, balancing a writing life with a family life. I’m always in awe of women who do it well. While I was writing OTOW, I literally had to get away in order to write: every six weeks or so, I’d go off to a writing retreat center in Ashfield, a nearby town, and spend three or four days. I did this for the two years that I was finally putting the current version of the book together. It was hard on my family, but without those weekends, I couldn’t have finished it. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’ve got kids playing on the floor beside me and my 12-year old coming in and asking for things… This is just how it is a lot of the time. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Deb- I see you’re working on your next novel, can you tell us what it will be about?

Dori- My next book is about a woman whose husband is shot by his favorite student—a boy whose mother the teacher’s widow once worked with in a battered women’s shelter; the tragedy propels the widow into a world that she never would have imagined having access to, and she discovers things about herself and her husband that she never understood before. The story is very loosely based on a case I read about in the news. It asks the question of whether or not we can ever really know the ‘other,’ and under what circumstances true forgiveness and compassion can exist. It’s due out in the fall of 2012.

Be sure and visit Dori at her website.


  1. Outside the Ordinary World is an amazing literary experience. It is a beautifully written story of a very painful and not uncommon life situation. The author's use of descriptive language is phenominal. She transported me to places in time and made me believe I was really there in that moment. I'm glad to see that Barnes and Noble is taking notice of this great book and recommending it to their readers. They will not be disappointed!

  2. Renee, thank you for your comment. Please feel free to join us in January at the Fiction club to talk about the novel and with Dori.