Friday, June 29, 2012

Q & A: Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Pictures of You, plus eight other novels. Pictures of You was on the Best of 2011 Lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and was one of the Top Five Books on the Family and Love from Kirkus Reviews. She is a book critic for People Magazine and the Boston Globe and a book columnist for and Dame Magazine. She teaches novel writing at UCLA Writer's Program online and mentors writers privately. She lives with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their son Max, in Hoboken, NJ. She can be reached at

What are some elements of your background that led you to pursue a career as a writer?

I grew up sickly with asthma and bullied in my small town of Waltham (near Boston). I had a lot of time to myself to read, which I loved because I didn’t have to be a little girl struggling to breathe—I could be a dancer in Paris!  But I didn’t want to just read books, I wanted to write stories and I began to do that. The first time I read a story in front of my class and they liked it (instead of mocking me or throwing spitballs, the way they usually did), I knew this was what I wanted to do.

Who are some of your favorite writers and artists?

Cindy Sherman’s photographs, Mark Rothko’s paintings, F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby is a perfect book.)

What is your process and schedule when creating a new book?

I’m always haunted by an idea and a character, some question that I want to answer. I do outline but the outline is rewritten every day that I sit down to write.

Can you share with readers a bit about your love of movies and how it influenced your bestseller, Pictures of You?

I’m a total movieholic. As a little girl, I spent a lot of time in the movies, and I never stopped loving them.  I began to want to write them years ago and I took a few classes, Robert McKee, which I didn’t like, and John Truby story structure which changed my life. I won a Nickelodeon Finalist for a script I wrote for Doug, a cartoon my son adored. Knowing how to write scripts helped me in my novel to visualize the scenes more, to get the rhythm of them faster and tighter and to make sure there was lots of subtext in the dialogue. I’ve just written the script for Pictures of You and sent it off to Sundance Screenwriting Lab (really competitive—I can’t imagine I will get in, but you never know), and to a producer who said she’d give me notes.

Are there autobiographical characteristics between you and Isabelle, the main character in Pictures of You?

The only similarity we share is that we both are phobic about driving! Like all 16-year-olds I got my license but all they made me do was drive around the block and I still couldn’t drive! I was too terrified that I would get in an accident and kill someone. I took these refresher courses and the instructor finally pulled me over to the side of the road, sighed, and said, “You know, Caroline, some people just aren’t meant to drive. You may be one of them.”

Unlike Isabelle, I still don’t drive. I don’t even like to be a passenger in a car. Lucky for me, I live in the NYC area where you don’t have to drive.

How did you land the coveted position as a reviewer at People Magazine?

Luck and timing. I had been a book columnist at the Boston Globe for a few years already and a friend told me that they were hiring a new books editor and they were looking for new reviewers. I applied INSTANTLY. I love working for them. They send me books I might never have picked up, so I’ve gotten to read really widely.

When I pick up new books, you are always giving praise. Why are you such a strong advocate for new authors?

Because the business is so, so hard. I’ve had successful authors help me as I came up the ladder, and I never forgot their incredible kindness, and I was determined to pay it forward. But I’ve also had writers hurt me—one even denigrated me by name in print!  This shocked me, and that made me vow that I was always going to do the opposite.

What inspires you?

I would use the word haunt instead of inspire. I write because I have to. I have to explore the things that obsess me, to try and figure out answers to the things that haunt me.

In your opinion, is social media a benefit or hindrance to authors?

Definitely a benefit. I’ve gotten research help in seconds just by posting a query. I’m actually putting FB and Twitter in the dedication of my new book because I’ve felt that so many people supported me during the writing of the novel by responding to my postings about how it was going. They cheered me on!

What are your current projects and dreams for the  future?

My new novel, tentatively titled Is This Tomorrow, will come out from my beloved publisher Algonquin Books in 2013. It’s set in the 1950s and 60s, during the cold war, and is about a seemingly unsolvable crime in a supposedly safe suburban neighborhood (a child vanishes), and how the one different family—a divorced Jewish woman and her son—are somehow targeted for the crime.

Q & A: Filmmaker: Chris Chong Chan Fui

       Q & A:  Chris Chong Chan Fui

1.       In an online interview, I read that you were originally a student of business and are a self-taught filmmaker.   How were you able to make this transition?

CCCF:  The transition from business to film was made blindly. In business, decisions are made with historical data so as to graph a direction of what the future holds.  I took the opposite, and more naïve approach, and believed that the unknown future ahead would lead me to answers of the past.  Moving into manipulating film was out of pure wide-eyed curiosity.  A curiosity much like opening a book of fantasy that leads to a more entertaining and unpredictable realm.

2.       As a child, what were some experiences in your background that cultivated your artistic pursuits?

CCCF:  My childhood was in a fishbowl, as it is now. 

3.       In Block B, your internationally award winning short-film, the setting is a Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) apartment complex.  Please describe the demographics and background of this site.

CCCF: The area, called Brickfields, is a major local transportation hub (mono-rails, trains, and buses), but also an area of red-light prostitution, blind massage parlors, Indian cafés, temples, churches and mosques alike. This is a place where the overriding sounds of the azan (Muslim call to prayer) coming from the mosque compete with the chimes rising from the pooja (Hindu prayers). In effect, this mélange of sounds mimic the disparate voices that comprise the country’s own religious complexities and insecurities. Brickfields is also known as the ‘Indian’ part of town because of the large population of expatriate Indians working in Kuala Lumpur (KL) in IT, engineering, architecture, etc. for 2-4 year contracts. The husbands, who are hired to work in KL, bring their families along. Their wives are usually highly educated, but become housewives in an effort to support the husband’s careers. It was common that the wives rarely left the apartment compound. Only venturing outside with their husbands, and sometimes with their neighbors. Usually  they visit others within the same floor, or from the floors above/below. But they rarely venture far. In a country that highly discriminates against Indian-Malaysians, these residents fall between the cracks because they are expatriate, middle-upper class, highly educated, brought to KL to work. They are self-contained within their own compound, looking at the troubles of Malaysia and the Indian-Malaysians from a distance even though they live in the same area. It’s a community within a community. A detail within a detail. Connected, but distant.

4.       Why did you choose this specific place for the film?

CCCF:  I had lived in this building for two years.  This was my community for that period of time.  This was my sightline.   

5.       What was the artistic process of Block B from start to finish?

Block B is a moving painting.  The project started from a canvas of the monolithic cement building which neither had a personality nor unique features.  The challenge was to allow the different personalities of the building and their stories seep out.  What this meant was to partially choreograph or paint the singular unmoving image of the building into a vibrant ‘moving-image’ using physical movement and varying light sources.

6.       How can individuals in the United States and abroad see more of your innovative work and other international short films?

CCCF:  That’s tough question as it depends on festivals / exhibitors.  Perhaps the website.  

7.       Where do your artistic inspirations come from and how do you hone your creativity?

CCCF:  Normally, I am provoked to create a work.  It is not necessarily an idea because I feel an idea is too casual.  I am provoked like a nagging voice.  A clear nagging voice with no source. 

8.       Who are some of your favorite filmmakers, artists, and authors?

CCCF:  Francis Bacon. 

9.       What are your current projects and how can people outside of Malaysia see more of your amazing work?

CCCF:  I’m sorting that out at the moment.  Hoping to be provoked very shortly. 

The Story of Beautiful Girl: Rachel Simon

The Story of Beautiful Girl is a 2011 New York Times bestselling fictional novel by Rachel Simon. The story begins in 1968 on a treacherous, rainy November night at the Pennsylvania farmhouse of a semi-reclusive widow, Martha. Her lonely solitude is abruptly interrupted by the sudden appearance of two disheveled and desperate strangers, Homan, a deaf African American man and his companion, Laynie. As Martha bravely accepts the stricken travelers into her home she realizes that Laynie may be mentally disabled and that she carries a tiny newborn under her rain soaked blanket. Commotion erupts as the police arrive and take Laynie into custody. Homan is able to escape into the stormy night while the baby remains hidden in Martha’s attic. This cataclysmic night propels the conflict of the story and we follow the characters through four decades of its ramifications. Simon eloquently chronicles these events and the aftermath of the the characters’ attempted escape this night from the nearby Pennsylvania School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. The school provides an element of historical realism to the novel, as it is loosely based on actual mental health facilities of this time period. This was an era in American history when mentally challenged children or those with misdiagnosed disabilities where locked away from society and their families, many times for life.

The Story of Beautiful Girl paints a realistic depiction into the minds of its characters who may appear externally disabled but internally live the same human condition as the rest of us. Simon writes from the unique perspectives of Homan and Laynie and readers observe a vivid internal dialogue. Martha also lends her voice to the narrative as her life has been irrevocably changed by her chance encounter with Laynie and Homan.

Being inquisitive, I was compelled to do a bit of outside research into historical accounts of state institutions for the mentally disabled. In Q & A at the end of the book, Simon mentions a young Geraldo Rivera’s Peabody Award winning television reports on the Willowbrook State School located in Staten Island, New York in the early 1970’s. Rivera documented the deplorable and atrocious conditions at Willowbrook School and brought awareness to the plight of its residents. Also, there are two current documentary films,Cropsey (2009) and Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook (1996), which reference the chilling conditions at Willowbrook and the aftermath of its closing.

In the opening reviews of the novel, author John Grogan (Marley and Me), writes, “I dare you to read the first twenty pages and not keep going.” Fortunately, I took his challenge and was pleasantly surprised with an amazing work of fiction most worthy of reading.

Girl Unmoored: Jennifer Gooch Hummer

Girl Unmoored:

What it means to me 

I started writing Girl Unmoored when I was ten years old. I know because I still have the original notebook on which I sketched her face and wrote: A Girl Named Apron. I don’t know where the name, Apron, came from but my mother maintains that her name started out as “April.” It didn’t. But I don’t make a big deal about it; I have the notebook.

I never finished the book. Probably because there was no plot. All Apron did was pack up to go live with her grandmother, with no particular reason as to why. That’s the problem with not having a plot; the characters don’t do much.

It wasn’t until after I met my friend Mike that Apron showed up again.  My Mike isn’t the same as the Mike in the book, but he too, was a dead ringer for Jesus. My Mike was an actor, although the closest he got to playing Jesus Christ was Rocky Horror, who also had long blond hair that he whipped around a lot. These hair-whipping days were in the early 80’s. Just when AIDS showed up. I didn’t know Mike then, and I barely knew about AIDS.

Girl Unmoored is the story of a girl lost in a sea of grief after losing her mother. When she meets Mike, she’s met her mooring. Although Mike and his cantankerous boyfriend, Chad, don’t know what to do with her at first-Apron just seems to keep showing up, usually with a fat lip-they eventually offer her a summer job in their flower store. And then its smooth sailing for Apron--until she uncovers Chad’s secret. He’s sick and there’s nothing anyone can do to save him. It’s also 1985, when no one really knows how AIDS is transmitted, or who might be at risk.

Suddenly Apron is forced to leave behind the safe harbor of childhood and navigate the stormy seas of a young adult. She knows what her real job is now, and it has nothing to do with flowers. Mike needs her to show him how to let Chad go.

There’s a whole lot of other stuff that happens, with a whole lot of other people—there’s Grandma Bramhall, too busy shopping for the perfect bikini to help Apron; and M, the deluded future stepmother; and Rennie and Mr. Perry, both of whom are about to be exposed for their betrayals—but mostly Girl Unmoored is about friendship. Deep, loyal friendship. The kind that supersedes family.  The kind that keeps you anchored when everything else is falling apart. The kind that can save you.

Watching Mike and Chad endure in a world that despises them, Apron begins to understand that sometimes you don’t have to do anything for some people to hate you. Mean is just the way they came out.

This is what Apron learns.

This is what saves her.

I wish my friend Mike was here to read the book. He would have liked it, I think. Especially the part about how well he sang.

--Jennifer Gooch Hummer

December, 2011

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012) Katherine Boo

February 7, 2012 Random House Publishing Group

In her author’s note, Katherine Boo writes, “Ten years ago I fell in love with an Indian man and gained a country.  He urged me not to take it at face value” (Boo, 245).  Ms. Boo, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, writes a non-fiction account of life in the slums of Annawadi, India called Behind the Beautiful Forevers.  Annawadi borders the international airport in Mumbai and the major trade of its inhabitants is trash collection and resale.  From the beginning of the narrative, readers follow a sixteen year old Muslim named Abdul Husain, who is a veteran and adept trash collector.  Abdul has helped his family survive amongst the 90,000 residents of Annawadi and they are able to build a small business from his industrious endeavors.  Unfortunately, there is dissention among the residents of the slum who are packed so closely together and the Husain family has an altercation with their neighbor, Fatima or “One Leg,” a crippled woman who neglects her children and whose sole pleasures in life are the extramarital affairs she partakes in when her husband is at work.  Boo also chronicles the difficult lives of other young people in the slum including:  scrappy Sunil, charismatic Kapa, and Meena, a young girl of a poor caste who is regularly beaten.  Machu, the only girl going to college attempts to teach the young children of the slum who lack any education.  The books focuses on the effects of modern day globalization on the residents of Annawadi and depicts some of the corrupt elements of the police and politicians.  Educated Manchu’s mother, Asha, is the powerful female slum lord who tries to rise above her caste and succeed in a patriarchal society.  Hunger, poverty, and a daily struggle for survival pervade the piece and readers will become more aware of life in one of the most populated cities in the world. Boo states that she had previously been writing about the poorest residents of the U.S. but observed, “A lack of nonfiction on India” (Boo, 248).  Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a story that will remain with readers long after the book is finished and will bring awareness to the affects of capitalism and globalization into one of the poorest regions of the globe.

Lunch a favorite author, Dr. Samuel Park

Lunch with a favorite author:  Dr. Samuel Park

A few weeks ago, I received news that Dr. Samuel Park, English professor and acclaimed author of This Burns My Heart would be presenting at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in MD.  We have been friends on social media and via this blog for some time so this was exciting for me.  I easily found him at Kramerbooks  in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC. Is it ironic that I learned about a cool restaurant with books from a visitor to my area of abode? The two of us got on like two old chums and noted that when you meet someone you already know from interacting through technology; it can be interesting. We concluded that we were both just like the online presence we projected.  Finally, I decided we might have come up with an interesting sociological study.

We chatted on writing, teaching, and life in general. It’s a wonderful day when you find that rare person with whom you have so much in common. I was beyond excited to hear a few details about the incredible new novel he has in the works. I appreciated this gifted author telling me his tales!  Make sure to read This Burns My Heart and make him giant on rankings!

Heaven is Here: Stephanie Nielson

Heaven is Here:   Stephanie Nielson

I always look forward to the Parade Magazine insert in my Sunday Washington Post and usually put it aside for later reading.  On April 8, 2012, I was riveted by the cover of a young couple and their story. I immediately devoured the article about Stephanie Nielson and her monumental journey. I was thrilled to learn that Mrs. Nielson had written a memoir of her experiences and proceeded to read her book in about two days. Here is my review:

In August 2008, Stephanie Nielson was a loving wife and devoted mother of four children. She happily chronicled her life journey on a successful blog: which became a very successful endeavor. The blog stood out for its authenticity and Nielson’s inherent love of motherhood and her devout Mormon family. On one fateful August day, Stephanie and her husband, Christian, embarked with flight instructor, Doug Kinneard, on a daytime flight to her in-laws retreat in New Mexico in a small Cessna airplane.  On the return flight, the plane crashed and was consumed with fire.  Mr. Kinneard perished and Stephanie and her husband were severely burned. Mrs. Nielson was burned over 83% of her body and was not expected to survive her injuries. She was in an induced coma for six months and her loving sisters, Courtney and Lucy, took her children in as their own, embracing them in the large Clark family fold in Provo, Utah. In this tale of resilience, Mrs. Nielson describes her harrowing journey out of her coma and back to a new normal of motherhood. She picks herself up through inexplicable pain, depression, and disfiguring burns to triumphantly return to her one true calling of motherhood. One of the most painful portions of the book involves her difficulty reuniting with her small children as a severely burned person. Yet, she overcomes these obstacles with an unmatched bravery and determination.

I shared the YouTube video of Heaven is Here with my college English students and they were moved beyond expectation. This book is why I share what I read; to connect others to the written word and the brilliant messages they contain. Please read this amazing story of human survival and love. Readers will be changed in their outlook of the life and will garner understanding of the true meaning of perseverance.

*Update: On April 3, 2012, Stephanie Nielson gave birth to baby Charlotte Nielson and her book is now on the New York Times Bestseller list!

Please follow her blog:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sarah's Key: Tatiana De Rosnay

Sarah’s Key is a novel of historical fiction originally published in June 2007 by St. Martin’s Press which has sold millions of copies worldwide. A film of the same name premiered in July 2011 starring Kirsten Scott Thomas. The beginning of the story is set in Paris during the Nazi Occupation of World War II and events revolve around the Vel d’Hiv Roundup of French people of Jewish descent by the French government in July 1942. Sarah Starzynski is a ten year native Parisian girl of Jewish heritage who is taken with her parents to the Velodrome d’Hiver, an indoor stadium used for sporting events. Before Sarah is captured, she locks her four year old brother, Michel, in a hidden cabinet and promises to return later that day. As the plot unfolds, the reader is taken to the present day where investigative journalist, Julia Jormand is given an assignment to write a story on the anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. Julia is an American woman married to a Frenchman and ironically, they are to move into a family flat with ties to the plight of Sarah and her incarceration. Ms. Jormand becomes immersed in the story of the horrific conditions suffered by the Jewish families at Vel d’Hiv. Suspense builds as she begins to dig deeper into this relatively unknown historical event and its relationship to the family of her husband, Bertrand Tezac. She is appalled to learn that the families were kept in the stadium for days without water, food, or proper sanitary conditions and most ended up in the death grip of Auschwitz. As the graphic scenes of 1942 unfold, young Sarah is desperate to return to her apartment at Rue de Saintonge and rescue her younger brother. The two story lines evolve into one as Julie Jormand and her family become involved with searching for what became of young Sarah Starzynski. The author takes readers through Paris, New York, and Italy with vivid the descriptions of a native. The storytelling is haunting and gripping. I was unable to stop reading and felt at one with the emotions of protagonist, Julia. This book is one that readers will find difficult to put down until they have found the final clues to the mystery of Sarah’s key. Finally, this book will leave you with a need to search for more books on this difficult subject so that we may never forget the atrocities of this time dark time in history.

Charles Bukowski: Ham on Rye

Ham on Rye (1982): Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was an American author of poetry, short stories, and six fictional novels.  A resident of Los Angeles, Mr. Bukowski was a notable writer who was also known for his hard partying lifestyle and sometimes graphic prose.  Many readers of this blog will remember the film, Barfly (1987), starring Mickey Rourke as Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, and Faye Dunaway as his girlfriend.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the HBO documentary, Born Into This (2003), depicting the life of Charles Bukowski and featuring commentary by Sean Penn, Bono, Tom Waits, and Linda Lee Bukowski (the author’s wife and final muse). I had seen Barfly many years ago and perused Bukowski’s work at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.  The documentary ignited a new curiosity of the author and I headed to my local bookstore to fine Ham on Rye, a semi-autobiographical novel depicting the character, Henry Chinaski.

Many people write Mr. Bukowski off as an alcoholic misogynist but in Ham on Rye, readers will see the seeds of his foundation.  Growing up as a young boy in the 1930’s, the author’s father was a strict disciplinarian who beat his son on a weekly basis with a leather shaving strop. Young Henry/Charles was not permitted to interact with other neighborhood children and the family was estranged from most of their extended relatives.  The prison of his home life coupled with the hardships of the Great Depression, created a bleak childhood for Henry.  In his adolescent years, he began to grow stronger and make friends. Unfortunately, Henry developed a vicious case of acne.  “I was the worst case in town. I had pimples and boils all over my back, face, and neck, and some of my chest. I had to withdraw.” (Bukowski, 122) This is a turning point in the novel and Henry spends many days hiding from the world in his bedroom. Ultimately, he has to leave high school for treatment in the primitive medical world of the Great Depression.  He dreams of women but lives like a hermit, unable to connect to anyone.  Books become his only refuge and sow the seeds for his future as a writer.

The novel progresses into Henry’s return to high school and unsuccessful journey into college. For this young man, life is never easy or blissful but he will not choose suicide and forages ahead.  The novel ends during his early adult years as he is becoming more immersed in his heavy drinking escapades.  Ham on Rye is one of the best books I have read in a while. The storytelling, humor, and historical details make this book a wonderful novel.  It is an important book and readers will become immersed in this authors’ colorful life and resilience. Those who are not enamored with his later works or lifestyle will gain a better understanding of Charles Bukowski by reading the novel, Ham on Rye.

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

-- by Charles Bukowski

Interview: Author Robert Bausch

Q & A:  Author, Robert Bausch
1.       What inspired you to become a writer?
                Mostly reading. And storytelling. My family was big into storytelling. IN fact, all of my brothers and sisters are wonderful storytellers. Our gatherings are a blast because we sit around and tell and re-tell funny stories. My father was the best storyteller I ever saw. He acted out all the parts, remembered whole conversations and just kept everybody laughing.
                        I wrote my first novel--one I never published--when I was 14. I was in the eighth grade. It was a novel about the Civil War. That's all I read about. I read no fiction at all to speak of. I  remember the Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, The Bobbsie Twins. I loved a book called The Wahoo Bobcat, and one about a cougar called "Yellow Eyes." I read "The Call of the Wild," and "White Fang." But mostly I read nonfiction: Douglas Southall Freeman's four volume biography R. E. Lee, Henry Steele Commager's History of the Civil War, Shelby Foote's The Civil War: a Narrative. I read all of Bruce Caton's books: Glory Road, Mr. Lincoln's Army, A Stillness at Appomatox. The list is longer than I can include in this e-mail. If it was about the Civil War, and it was published between 1957 and 1963, I read it. My grades went deeper and deeper into the alphabet, but my parents didn't overreact to that--as long as I was passionate about something, and devoting my time to it, they let me fail in school. Not failure that made it so I'd have to repeat a year or anything, but they didn't make a big fuss when I brought home 'D's instead of 'A's. In the 9th grade, my English teachers convinced me pretty quickly that I had nothing of any value whatever to say, and I didn't start writing again (except for a few long letters to my mother) until I was 26 years old and just out of the military. My English teachers meant well, but they did not respond to anything I had to say. They simply corrected what I wrote, graded it and gave it back. I'd get a 'C' because I didn't use commas' correctly (I still don't) or because I had one sentence paragraphs.
                        I thought that was tone of voice. I thought it was clever to say something that everybody believed, then have a one sentence paragraph that identified clearly how I felt about that idea, and then a new paragraph presenting an alternate idea. I remember my teacher telling me it was both a sentence fragment, and a one sentence paragraph and taking off twenty points. I   had read enough by then--remember I loved reading and I'd read lots of histories and such--that I KNEW she was wrong, but I didn't argue with her. I just stopped listening. My grades, all the way through school were bad. I barely made it. I like to tell my students that my report card read like a guy who stutters trying to say Dog. 
2.       What is your process for beginning a new novel?  Can you explain your writing habits?
                I write, or try to, every day. When I begin a novel, I start with a character—somebody I have a vague notion about, and I put her or him in a situation and see what happens. Sometimes it develops nicely and I keep at it. Other times I go back and change the situation. Or tweak the character. Whatever happens in the book I am writing should happen because of something in my character’s make up—in who she is, or who he is. What kind of person have I created? I don’t want anything happening in the plot to serve the story or my attitudes or my spleen or any of my appetites. I want what happens to happen because of the character. If the writing isn’t going well, and  I can’t think of the next thing I want to say, I’ll turn off the monitor and write blindly, looking at my reflection in the monitor. If I’m using a laptop, I’ll put a piece of cardboard between me and the screen. If I can’t SEE what I’m writing, I can’t judge it, or edit it, or in any way let the critical side of things interfere with creation. I have to let the creation take place first. I need that critical side though, because one of the worst things you can develop as a writer is allegiance to earlier drafts. You have to be willing to let go, to have the critic come back and with a savage pen, DO something with the dross produced in the creation. I believe ANY day I write, whether or not it goes well, is a GOOD day. And days when I DON’T write are anxious and frightful and not very much fun, unless I have planned and chosen a day off. I like those. I do not like any day I plan to write and don’t. It is always five o’clock on a damp November day in my soul when that happens.
3.       How do you balance being a full-time college English professor with your writing career?
                I don’t get a lot of sleep. I work on Saturdays, Sundays, Fridays—Monday afternoons, Wednesday mornings; almost never on Tuesday or Thursday because I teach all day, both days and Tuesday nights. I think I’m a better teacher of writing when I’m writing. I don’t often borrow from one to pay the other, but it has happened. I’ve had to stall things in a class because of where I am in a novel—near the end, comes to mind; or editing for publication. Those things can take away from the teaching, but I really do work hard not to let that happen. When I have grading to do, late in the semester, I almost never work on Wednesdays, Saturdays or Sundays. Those days are reserved for grading. Sometimes I’ll do both. I’m never, ever bored, or sitting around wondering what to do. I live every day as though sleep is the wrong thing to do; I never go to sleep until I can’t possibly stay awake any longer. I get up, usually, with the sun. I like mornings for the fresh coffee and the Washington Post. I am a champion napper. I can lay down on the couch, close my eyes and be sound asleep in seconds. Sleep for an hour or so and then I’m ready to go late into the night and early morning.
4.       Can you discuss a few projects that you are currently working on?
                I’m in the last stages of a novel called As Far as the Eye Can See. That is to say, I’m polishing the third draft and will read it one more time and tweak it one more time before I send it anywhere. Last summer I finished a novel called The Legend of Jesse Smoke. It is with my agent now, and he’s trying to place it with a publisher. I have another book I wrote two years ago called, The Strange Case of the Silent Girl. Or, In The Fall They Come Back. I haven’t made up my mind about its title. I have not been able to place it, so I’m waiting to sell one of the others so I can then perhaps get that book into print. Right now I’m in the worst place a writer can be: My last book, Out of Season, did not do well. In fact, it sold so poorly, they cancelled the paperback on it. Those numbers are what publishers look at. So, the reality is, I may have published my last novel while I’m alive. It is heartbreaking sometimes to think about it, but that’s where I am. The first thing a prospective publisher does these days is go on his computer banks and he can find out how many books I have sold; if they don’t like what they see, they don’t really care how good the book is. They won’t buy it. But I am going to keep writing them, by God. It’s who I am.
5.       What would you consider to be your best work and why?
                That’s really a hard question to answer. It’s like trying to decide who your favorite child is. I don’t really have a favorite child. I’m proud of all of them, and I guess I have to say I’m proud of all my books and stories. There’s not much I’d do differently, to tell the truth. What’s out there is out there, and has to stand on its own. I can tell you that A Hole in the Earth really surprised me for how well it did. And I think The Gypsy Man was perhaps the most intricately engineered work I’ve ever done. But as I said, I can’t pick a best work.
6.       Explain how you create your characters.  Are they mostly imagined or do they come from personal interactions?
                I am proud to imagine and create characters. Perhaps they are composites of folks I have known, I don’t know; I’ve been as keen an observer of people as my limited insight and intelligence will allow. But mostly I like to invent. Create people from images and dreams and just thinking when I first see them, or when they first come into a work. I’ll change sometimes later in the drafting, but usually the characters I create remain who they are all the way through the work.
7.       What is your most valuable piece of advice for someone about to embark on a writing career?
                Read. Read as much and as often as possible. Read poetry, lots of poetry—it helps with descriptive metaphor, figurative language, economy, precision. Read history, biography; read the history of ideas; philosophy. Read the great novels, short stories and plays of the Russians, the French, the English, the Americans, the Latin Americans, the Spanish. You have to know the world; the more you know, the more you will have at your disposal when you’re trying to write. Read more than one book at a time. I read six or seven. Sometimes even more. I read IN each book, each day. Reading all those different voices will keep you from sounding like other writers; you’ll sound like yourself and only yourself. And it’s not hard to do—after all, we know many different people and if we see them everyday, we don’t have to be reminded about what is going on in their lives. It’s the same thing with reading several different books at once. If you do it every day, you have no trouble keeping up with what’s going on in each of them. If you want to be a writer, you have to read more than you write, more than you watch TV, more than you do almost anything. The more you see the language in print, the more you can navigate its extraordinary mixture of sounds and the beauty of its ideas in your own writing.
8.       How do you get touch with your creative self?
                I lower my standards and just produce a text. That’s what happens when I turn off the monitor or cover the screen. Other times, when it’s going well, I don’t need to do anything but show up at the keyboard, with a hot cup of coffee.
9.       What was the inspiration behind a few of your novels?
                Almighty Me was inspired by a conversation with my brother in law. We used to go to a fishing camp in Canada every year, and one night, sitting by the fire, smoking my pipe and drinking whiskey, I wondered out loud if Christ trimmed his beard. In all the likenesses of him his beard is perfectly quaffed. He was GOD. Certainly he knew about air conditioning, and plaque, and how to avoid ever having a tooth ache. In fact, couldn’t he insure that he would suffer none of the horrific inconveniences of the Middle East in 30 A. D.? My brother in law wrote a poem called “Christ Trims his Beard,” and I went home and started thinking about what would happen if a man got God’s power now—if we had another go at a Christ. Would HE trim his beard? I had a ball writing that book. It was originally titled Spanking the World. At first I had Christ himself coming back. He was terrified when he saw all the folks wearing crucifixes, the churches with crosses. He thought he’d come to a place that hated him completely—sort of like what it would do to Abraham Lincoln if he came back and everybody was wearing a small derringer around their necks, and churches had big pistols on top of them; or if John Kennedy came back and all the churches had high powered rifles on their roofs and folks wore little symbols of that around their necks. But eventually it worked out that it was a man, and automobile salesman no less, who is GIVEN god’s power.
                My first novel, On the Way Home was inspired by a student of mine who had been captured by the Viet Cong during the Viet Nam War. They kept him underground and tortured him mercilessly. He asked me what he could possibly do with his hate. I wrote a short story about his experiences and when Harpers magazine rejected it, the editor there told me that I had not dealt with my “veteran’s pain” in the story. So I used that story as chapter one, put a piece of paper in the typewriter and began chapter two. That became my first novel and what it developed into was the problems my character has adjusting to new life with his mother and father in Florida. It becomes about love and not hate at all. It’s also about fear.
                Most of my novels, though, have been inspired by, merely, the desire to produce another one. It’s like a new car. You like it for a while, but then, after some time, your admiration wanes. It doesn’t smell new anymore. The thrill of driving it is gone. It’s just your car. It may stay that way for years, but you always look forward to buying another new one. It’s the same with a novel. Eventually, you gotta have a new one.
10.   Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
                My brother Richard Bausch, George Garrett, Alan Wier, James Dickey, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Penn Warren, Anne Beattie, Howard Norman, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Maynard, Elinor Lippmann, Jane Hamilton, James Jones, William Maxwell, Ron Rash, Joyce Carol Oates, Harper Lee, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Tom McGuane, Kaye Gibbon, Alan Gurganis, Flannery O’connor, Richard Dillard, --oh, the list is endless. I love the work of all of these writers. I have left off as many as are on this list. I could write a brief essay about each one and why I love his or her work. And this is only the fiction list. I loved Shelby Foote, Henry Steele Commager, Bruce Catton, David Halberstam, Walter Isaacson, Nathaniel Philbrick.. it’s a long list. I love the philosophy of David Hume, and Voltaire; the work of John Paul Sartre.
                I know this list is long, but truly, if I had to go to a desert island, I could not take any less than these guys and their books with me.
I hope all this hasn’t bored you too awful much.

My eighth novel, In The Fall They Come Back has been available since early in the year. It has done well among reviewers and I’ve heard good things from readers. The book was the hardest novel I’ve ever written because much of it is based in fact. The characters are based on people I knew and worked with in my first two years of teaching. I’ve never written a book like this before—I’ve always been proud to make up all the stories I write. But this one wanted to be told, and hounded me until I decided to write it. I hope it has some influence among readers, especially those who are students or teachers. It is available online at, in both Kindle and book format. It can also be purchased on line at Barnes & Noble ( in both paperback and Nook format. The best review of it follows:

In the Fall They Come Back

            By Robert Bausch

            Reviewed by Joseph Peschel

Robert Bausch is an award-winning writer who has written and traditionally published seven books. His newest novel, In the Fall They Come Back, is as good as the best novels I’ve reviewed or just read in quite a while, and that includes a couple of major prize winners.

Based on a true story, In the Fall They Come Back is Ben Jameson’s narrative, a sort of fictive memoir, of his time teaching at Glenn Acres, a small private prep school in Virginia. It’s a quiet story about a teacher’s relationship with his students. There’s Leslie, beautiful and dangerous, a femme fatale everyone warns Ben about; Suzanne, who is mysteriously damaged and mute; and George, who’s physically beaten at home and bullied by the kids at school. Ben fights with and placates abusive parents, bucks the school system, and soon faces sexual misconduct charges.

Ben tells his story with the benefit that a few years of contemplation and wisdom provide. He’s in law school as he recounts those two years of not just teaching, but “about caring a little too much; or maybe about not caring enough” about his disparate and desperate teenage students. It’s his benevolence for his students that undoes Ben and ultimately destroys one of the three students he attempts to save. Bausch does a masterful job as storyteller seamlessly moving from the mid- to late-1980s, in this wise and profoundly heartrending novel.

It’s 1985 when Ben, who’s recently finished graduate school, takes a job teaching English at Glenn Acres. He has no intention of being a professional teacher; instead he’s taken the job with the idea of eventually going to law school, but he’s happy to get the job. Ben has his 120-130 students write business letters, book reports, and personal narratives. Mrs. Creighton, the head mistress, also requires that Ben’s students keep daily journals and fold over the pages that no one will read. The catch: Ben must read everything on the folded pages. To satisfy Mrs. Creighton, Ben agrees to tell the white lie to his students. For a while, he goes through the motions of being a decent teacher. But soon, he aspires to be better than the sort of mediocre teacher he encountered when he was in school and considers making teaching his life-long work. He adopts a mentor, Professor Bible, but eventually, Ben goes far outside the bounds of Bible’s advice. He finds himself becoming more involved in the lives of his students and near assaulted by an angry parent. His girlfriend Annie says he has a “Christ Complex”: trying to fix everything and solve the problems of his students.

Bausch depicts Ben not only as wonderful but flawed teacher, but as an amazing human being. Bausch’s novel is steeped in realism—you won’t find any post-modernist techniques here, only subtle artistry from a brilliant writer who so cares about his characters that he depicts them, especially the students, succinctly, vividly and often poetically. Leslie is not just beautiful: Bausch writes about “her fine hair almost the color of a daisy’s eye, swaying in the fall breezes.” Suzanne is not just plain-looking and shy, but has “stringy hair that hung in front of her like a bright red waterfall, and she never took her eyes off the floor in front of her.” Bausch is a marvelous artist and storyteller as proven in his first novel On the Way Home (1982), and again in A Hole in the Earth (2000) and Out of Season (2005). In the Fall They Come Back, an indie-published book, is destined to be considered among his best work.