Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Sharon Bially Interview
11/22/2010 10:26:43 PM
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LTS: For today’s guest blog, I’d like to introduce you to a fascinating author and a woman of many talents, Sharon Bially. We first became acquainted through Twitter, and then through our affiliation with the award-winning website, Writer Unboxed.
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Sharon.
I know you were originally from Brooklyn, NY and you’ve lived in such exotic places as Micronesia and Paris. What else would you like our readers to know about you?
SB: I have two extraordinary sons, ages 7 and 11, and a Franco-Italian husband. After living in France for twelve years and spending more than half my life traveling there and back, I’m still in denial about having settled in the Boston area.
On top of writing, blogging and family life, I work as a vice president of the PR firm Farrell Kramer Communications. Much as I daydream about no longer needing a day job, I don’t know if I’d ever really want to leave! The work fits perfectly with creativity and the writing life. I’m grateful to have found that.
LTS: Where most writers I know have studied Language Arts or creative writing to hone their skills, I understand you studied French and international relations at Tufts University, and then international economic policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. When did you start writing fiction, or has writing stories always been a part of your life?
SB: Studying French and learning to speak other languages like Italian and Spanish was my own version of a language-arts track. Foreign language study is very much about literature and reading, and – more importantly – about listening, which is my favorite muse.
Like many writers, I’ve been scribbling stories since early childhood. But my parents kept me focused on very traditional career expectations, so for decades I kept trying NOT to write. That didn’t go very well!
LTS: Was becoming a published author a life long dream?
SB: With all the focus on a traditional career like law or medicine or academia, writing simply never entered the equation as an option back when I was dreaming about the future. I settled on the international affairs track because it seemed like the most logical combination of my interests in foreign languages and cultures. Still, I couldn’t seem to shake the fuzzy vision of myself alone at a desk somewhere, writing. At one point I considered getting a Ph.D. in French and becoming a professor so I could spend my days reading and writing about other people’s books. But decades went by before I connected the dots and allowed myself to imagine writing books of my own.
For a while I actually worried that I had a concentration problem or ADD, because while working in an exciting policy job in Paris, I would constantly tune out during meetings and start outlining stories or writing poems. Only after these scribblings morphed into my first attempt at a novel did I acknowledge that in fact, all along I’d wanted to write.
LTS: You had agents for the first two novels you have written, but they were never published. What made you to decide to publish your third novel, ‘Veronica’s Nap’ directly on your blog?
SB: As you can imagine, after two incredibly close calls that took place over a period of many very difficult years, I’d become practically inured to the idea of breaking into publishing. Yet I also knew that no matter what, I’d continue to write and that it was time to share my work more broadly.
At the same time, as a publicist, I’m reminded every day of how important it is to “be your own media.” I’m fascinated by how social media has transformed the way stories from news to fiction reach – and are endorsed by – the public. It also amazes me the way blogs have blurred the lines around a stalwart institution: the press. Why not books too? I thought.
I was all the more compelled because of blogs’ interactive dimension, which makes them a great tool for community-building. I wrote Veronica’s Nap because I wanted to share it and connect with readers about it. A blog just seemed like the most natural choice for me. In the two months since it launched, Veronica’s Nap has had over 1,300 unique visitors, and over 2,400 visits. I’ve also gotten many thoughtful comments on each post, which is exciting and incredibly gratifying.
LTS: I’ve known some agents who seek out indie authors that have proven sales of their self-published novels, creating an audience/market for their books. Why not prove sales to the agents/publishers by creating and selling ebooks or print books than to offer it for free on your blog site?
SB: I’m considering doing that at some point. But honestly, I’m enjoying the blogging experience right now and want to stay focused on it. There are only so many hours in a day!
LTS: Let’s talk about your novel, ‘Veronica’s Nap’. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Veronica Berg?
SB: Veronica is a young mother and an aspiring artist from New Jersey living in the south of France who’s stuck in the habit of procrastinating and indulging in naps while a nanny watches her two-year-old twins. Faced with an ultimatum from her Moroccan-born, Separdic husband, who’s grown impatient with her aimlessness, she has to find a way to break out of this rut. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Her quest triggers a journey that reveals the pitfalls – and the dark side – of having a secure, relatively privileged life.
The inspiration for the story is multifaceted, but above all, I think many young mothers experience struggles similar to Veronica’s, though maybe without the nap! I felt compelled to explore these struggles, as well as their roots and potential outcome.
I was also compelled by a curiosity about what it would feel like to be in Veronica’s shoes. Slipping into a languid, dreamy routine is something I could never do even if I wanted to, and truthfully, at times I have wanted to. But I’ve never had a strong enough sense of safety and or “being taken care of” to let that happen. My own crazy path has been filled with insecurity about big-picture issues like how to keep a roof over my family’s head. My longing to taste enough security to just “fall asleep,” so to speak, drove me to create Veronica and spend a few years inside her head.
Finally, there’s something about the south of France, where I lived for four years (following eight years in Paris), that I find symbolic of this sort of struggle. Provence is so beautiful, yet the beauty is deceptive in so many ways, and often, only skin deep. This notion of “skin deep” resonated with my perception of the happiness of women living with struggles like Veronica’s, yet denying their own pain. The mistral wind, which constantly rips apart Provence’s beauty, plays an important role in the book as a metaphor for this contrast.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘Veronica’s Nap’?
SB: Readers are drawn right into the outer layer of Veronica’s struggles: her husband, Didier, challenges her to help solve a minor, but high-stake financial problem by creating and selling a painting. As the story progresses, Veronica is confronted with increasingly deepening layers of her conflict, juxtaposed with her own denial of it. She also has to deal with culture clashes between herself and her husband – as well as his boisterous, Moroccan family – and finds herself embroiled in the anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiment that spread through France at the onset of the Iraq war.
LTS: You know as well as I do that the road to publication is difficult at the best of times, and your particular experience included two unwieldy agency relationships. What insights have you gained from this that you’d like to share?
SB: Two things:
First, humility. No matter how great it feels to create something, that greatness is just a momentary sensation. It’s insignificant – perhaps non-existent – in the general scope of things.
Second, entrepreneurship. With no backing of any sort and no institution standing behind me, I have to take full responsibility for all aspects of my project, from conception to marketing and financing. This level of absolute accountability has made me more attentive and, I think, more responsible than I might have been if I’d had the comfort of an agent or a publisher. I can’t afford to drift off and…”take a nap”… even for a second. And at some level, I believe that no one really can.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
SB: If only I had the luxury of defining the time I spend writing or the number of words I produce! With a busy day job and a family, I write as much as I can, whenever I can. Ideally, that’s every weekday, first thing in the morning after my kids have left for school and before the work-related phone calls and e-mails begin. (I’m lucky enough to work remotely from home, which is how I manage to fit in writing.) Since launching Veronica’s Nap, however, the blogging has taken up those small time windows. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’d really like to start writing again soon.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
SB: Pantser, for sure. Characters come to me first, then their stories unfold in my mind. Because I don’t have a lot of time for actually sitting down and writing, I do a lot of the work mentally while doing dishes, folding laundry or driving my kids to soccer and gymnastics. I’m very physically active, and do a lot of fantastic mental writing while running or swimming laps, for example. When I do sit down, I tend to sketch out a rough outline and timeline, then let the story take over from there.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
SB: Coffee! Kids out of the house! And above all, silence and a quiet mind. I also thrive on structure and routine. If the rest of my life feels unstructured, or if my daily routine is off kilter due to travel or some other unusual event, I have a very difficult time focusing on writing. And if I don’t get to squeeze in some writing time first thing in the morning before work gets going, it won’t happen at all that day. Once my mind gets busy with more practical matters, the writing energy is gone.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
SB: Depending on how bad it is, I just keep working at it anyway for however much time I have available, or stop and shift into work gear. Just shifting to another type of task really helps. But I still try again as soon as I have a chance, consistently, until my muse returns.
Since I’m extremely physically active, I also find there’s a high correlation between movement, and my creativity. If I hit a wall writing one morning, a run or a dance class later in the day usually gets the ideas flowing again. I started taking ballet and modern dance classes seven years ago, having never danced as a kid. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing. Dance is an extremely powerful way of getting the adrenaline going while heightening focus.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
SB: Marguerite Duras, Isabel Allene and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love Duras’ use of language, and the magical realism in Allende and Marquez’ writing, the brilliant tapestry they weave with words.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
SB: The writing experience has transformed me as a mother and a wife, giving me the faith to stand behind my husband, who’s a small business owner, and to encourage him to continue down that equally difficult path. It’s also given me the ability to see my children for who they really are. It’s too early, though, for me to have a sense of how Veronica’s Nap – or future stories – might touch the lives of strangers. I’m eager to know.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
SB: Here, too, the lesson is humility. Having abandoned that traditional career path and all its perks for a path that has not led where I hoped it would is a constant reminder of how little we really control, how subjective the notions of talent and success are, and how much hard work and sacrifice goes into trying to realize a dream.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
SB: The Noble Pirates, by Rima Jean. I met Rima online, at the blog Writer Unboxed where I’m a guest contributor. Rima is also an independent author, and, like me, has serialized her novel on a blog. I was intrigued, so I began reading it. I’m not usually the pirate type, but I have completely fallen in love with this book!
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out into other genres?
SB: My entire next novel is stored in my mind, though I haven’t written down a single word yet. (Sigh.) I’ll be leaving behind the “young moms” genre but will be staying with France and looking more intensely at the lives of French Jews. The novel is about a woman who’s the victim of a bizarre and fiery form of terrorism targeting a synagogue in Paris, and the unfair fate of the Muslim man who tries to help. After that, I’d like to write stories inspired by the extraordinary experiences of members of my husband’s family who were deported from Paris during World War II. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have the time to write it all!
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your novel as well as your writing experiences, Sharon! I’ll catch you on Twitter!
SB: Thank you, Lorna!
For more information about Sharon Bially and to read her novel ‘Veronica’s Nap’, check out:
Follow Sharon on Twitter: .SharonBially
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