Friday, September 18, 2009

Read this book: Rosie and Skate

I don’t remember how or when I met Beth Ann Bauman—one of my favorite writers and friends—, but I do remember seeing the New York Times profile of her after her acclaimed short story collection Beautiful Girls (MacAdam/Cage) came out. The way she talked about her work and about the published life and the difficulties of having to earn a living while being a writer resonated with me so much that I went out that afternoon and bought the collection, which was wonderful. She now has a young-adult novel Rosie and Skate (Random House), which is racking up raves from Kirkus (a starred review) which said she “expertly captures the ever-hopeful ache of adolescents longing for love stability, and certainty,” and a starred review from Booklist who called the book “as brisk and refreshing as an ocean breeze.” Beth’s been nominated for a Pushcart prize and is a recipient of fellowships from the Jerome Foundation and the New York Foundation of the Arts. She teaches fiction writing at NYU and the Writer's Voice of the West Side Y in New York City and online at UCLA Extension.

I’m fascinated how the author of a critically acclaimed collection of short stories for adults wrote a YA novel. What made you decide to do this and how was the writing process different?

Three of my stories in Beautiful Girls are told from a teenage point of view. Adolescence is a time of firsts, of possibilities. I really like the territory. Soon after the publication of my collection, I met Wendy Lamb at Random House and she encouraged me to write a YA. The prospect of a novel was daunting, but I felt I could probably do it. The process is different too, at least for me; because this is a YA the tone is younger, not to suggest that all YAs are young-sounding, but mine is, I think. The book has been called “sweet,” which is something you wouldn’t say about my stories. Maybe there’s an intrinsic hopefulness to adolescence, which is part of the mix.

What I loved was the way (and you did this in Beautiful Girls, as well), you tunneled into the minds of these two girls. What's your experience with teens or is this from your own past?

I really don’t know any teens! My nephew just turned 13 and is starting to get a little sarcastic, but mostly he’s still a sweet boy hovering on the brink. So the book is based on my memory of those years. And in some ways I still feel like a teenager so that probably helps.

You switched communities, from the gray suburbs of Beautiful Girls to this warm, beach community—which, nevertheless is in the winter. So, where did these two cultures come from?

Growing up I spent summers on the Jersey shore, a place I love. I’ve written lots of stories that take place in this setting but weirdly none of the stories wound up in my collection. I like writing about New Jersey (and the suburbs). I’ve lived in New York City for the past 16 years, but I am still a Jersey girl to the core.

Alcoholism, teen sexuality and the messiness of growing up focus the novel, but despite the dark subject matter, the book is also really funny. How did you manage that?

Alcoholism. An incarcerated Dad. It sounds bleak, right? But I have no desire to write a bleak book. I wanted it to be lively and funny and to capture the quirky idiosyncratic messiness of life. I’m glad you think it’s funny.

You’re also a writing teacher. How do you grapple with the demands of writing a novel and the demands of making a living? What’s your daily working day like?

This is the never-ending question that every writer grapples with. You and I have swapped countless emails about the struggle. AND it’s not figureout-able, at least from what I see. Here’s my process. I carve out time to write, rewrite, toss, worry, bite my fingernails, steal more time, complain about not having enough time... Somehow the works gets done, but it always takes longer than I think.

I’m always fascinated by process, so can you tell us something about the process of writing Rosie and Skate? Are you an outliner? Did you create the voice and move on from there?

The sheer length of a novel has always terrified me because I am a natural sprinter, not a long-distance runner. A novel is a large container and how to keep it moving is the question. As a writing teacher, I see a lot of static work that just piles on more and more information. So when I first started teaching I learned three-act structure. I love it because it gives the writer immediate destinations to move toward. A novel is a journey; it moves characters through a narrative that will change them. It sounds easy, but it’s incredibly hard. Three-act structure gives a workable format for movement. When I started writing Rosie and Skate I spent a long time just exploring their characters to find out what their conflicts might be. Once I got a handle on that I started using three-act structure.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing another YA based loosely on the title story of Beautiful Girls. I’ve tweaked the characters and relocated them to the Jersey shore. The working title is Horny.

What books about teenagers do you love?

There are many tween/teen characterizations I adore. Here’s my short list: Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding (gorgeous!), Elizabeth Berg’s Durable Goods and Joy School, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly, Francesca Block’s Weetzie Bat, Patrice Kindl’s Owl in Love, M.E. Kerr’s Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, and Cathi Hanauer’s My Sister’s Bones.

1 comment:

Clea Simon said...

Sounds wonderful - and like adult readers would enjoy it, too.