Friday, December 30, 2011

Interview with Erica Bauermeister Author of Joy For Beginners

Erica Bauermeister’s Interview
for January featured novel

Debbie - Erica thank you so much for agreeing to spend time with us here at the General Fiction forum for B& it’s our pleasure to have you with us for the month of January.
Since it’s the first month of a new year I have to ask
Do you make resolutions?

Erica - Absolutely – I’m one of those people who requires motivation to take risks, and New Year’s resolutions are a perfect excuse (writing a book about fear and challenges is another sneaky way to do that).

D - From reading your bio (I loved it by the way) I see that you wanted to write for a long time before you did and you’ve alerted us to the fact that it’s because you’re a mother that gives you a certain way of looking at things and you’ve been married to the same man for three decades ( me too and he isn’t buried in my backyard either J)
You say that your process is organic, can you explain that to those of us who don’t understand it.

E - I call it the mental hopper – something we started when the children were little and full of ideas and plans, too many for the average day.  I got tired of always saying “no,” so I’d say “let’s put it in the mental hopper.”  When I was given time I could put all the pieces together and often I would see a way to make it all work.
It’s the similar thing with a book.  I tend to think in images – a moment in a story, the essence of a character, a philosophical thought about how people think or act.  I spend about six months before I ever start writing real chapters simply jotting down scenes and descriptions, and taking notes from research about topics that are in the book (I do a lot of research, as a general rule).  All those ideas go in the mental hopper and talk to each other, and in the end they sort themselves out into something that resembles a book.

D - Are there people you know personally in the faces of your characters?

E - People ask that question a lot.  I really enjoy writing characters who aren’t based on anyone I know.  If I don’t have a personal basis for the character, then I have the liberty to follow the characters wherever they want to go.  I learn a lot more that way, and I think my readers do, too.
That said, my characters often start with a question that comes from my personal experience.  For example, Isabelle in School of Essential Ingredients came out of a desire to understand what it would be like to have Alzheimer’s.  My father died of a condition that included frontal lobe dementia, and I wanted to try and feel what it was like to lose the brain you had loved throughout your life.  In the end, Isabelle’s personality and life experience were nothing like my father’s, but she was born, in many ways, out of a desire to understand him.
Kate’s character in Joy For Beginners came from a similar desire for understanding.  I had written a character who had died of cancer in School of Essential Ingredients and I had several friends who had passed away. This time, I wanted to understand what it was like to survive.  I knew it couldn’t be as easy as the doctor saying “you’re clean!”  I knew there would be so much more to it.  Kate’s character was a chance to delve into the complicated world of a survivor.

D - Joy For Beginners is hard to put into a specific genre, yes it’s women’s fiction but it’s also so much more.
Do you feel that being placed in a particular genre keeps you away from a broader audience?

E - I do worry about that – as I worry any time we label things.  I also realize that categories and labels are often necessary; they save time and help us navigate a big and complicated world, so I am not naïve enough to think we can get rid of them entirely.  One of my life goals, however, is to come up with a new set of labels for literature. Rather than stereotyping by gender, wouldn’t it be more informative to use labels that actually describe a book’s style or content?  “Character fiction” or “plot fiction” or “lyrical fiction.”  Personally, I would find that much more helpful.

D - You also say you were thankful that you weren’t published before you thought you were ready and yet you have a PHD and taught writing.
Do you still teach?

E - Getting the PhD, teaching, and writing 500 Great Books by Women and Let’s Hear It For the Girls (both reader’s guides I co-authored in the 1990s) were all part of my learning and growing process.  I knew when I was younger that I wasn’t grown up enough yet to write the kind of books I wanted to write.  I needed more life experience and I needed to understand more about the inner workings of these beautiful, intricate machines we call books.  All of those parts of my education – along with being a mother, living in Seattle and Italy, and being married for almost thirty years – have been crucial steps in my path to being a writer.
As for teaching – these days I am a full-time writer, but I enjoy teaching too much to give it up entirely, so I often teach workshops at writing conferences.

You’ve been published in 21 countries, that’s amazing.
Did you ever picture that and does it give you goose bumps to think about?
That’s the kind of thing that happens to other people – at least that is what I always thought.  So no, I never pictured it.  And yes, it gives me goose bumps, all the time.  I spent ten years NOT getting published (and I have boxes of rejections to prove it).  I know how lucky I am and I never forget that.

D - Give us a typical day in the life of Erica Bauermeister.

E - The ideal Erica Bauermeister day:  I wake up early (5 am or so) and lie in bed for an hour or more, letting the ideas come to me.  When I get a good one I can feel it (I almost hear a sound), and then I get up and follow it.  I’ll write for as long as the ideas are there.  When they stop, I’ll do something that involves repetitive motion (walking, swimming, cooking), and usually that jump-starts the process again.  I always try to stop writing before I am completely tapped out, though – it makes starting the next day easier.
The typical Erica Bauermeister day:  The dog needs to go outside.  My husband starts snoring gently, the sound chasing away each idea as it comes.  I remember there is laundry to do.  I focus on my story.  I remember the trash needs to go out.  I get up, make coffee, shut myself in a room and write for as long as I can, getting up to change the laundry from the washer to the dryer and bring in the trashcan from the curb.  Etc.  Etc.
Either way, the book gets written, though.  That’s the amazing thing about being a writer.  If you truly want to write, you will – because you have to, because there is no way you can NOT do it.  Even when I had a full-time job and two kids, I still wrote.  What I wrote during those incredibly busy years might not always have been wonderful and much of it wasn’t published, but it was all part of learning to be a writer, and I am grateful for every word that made it to the page.

D - Now tell us something about you that might surprise us.

E - While I have both rafted down the Grand Canyon and completed the breast cancer 3-Day walk, I am a horrible bread maker and gardener.  Those two chapters in Joy For Beginners took a LOT of research.

Thank you again Erica for being a part of this forum for the month of January and I know I speak not just for myself but for all of the participants when I say we really appreciate your graciousness and giving to spend this time with us.
Please visit Erica’s website here.
And please join us at The General Fiction forum starting January 9th when the discussion begins, come chat with Erica and all of us as we talk about her wonderful novel Joy For Beginners.

If you missed my review of the novel you can see it here.

And it also made my best of 2011 list here.

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