Monday, March 3, 2008

May I Introduce...

Carolyn Bahm!! We participated in The Great Interview Experiment. She is a writer, and my job was to interview her. After reading her other two blogs (www.dropsofblood.com, and www.loopyknits.com), I was to come up with questions for her to answer. No pressure here as I'm just Joe-Bloe and she actually a writer-person!!
BTW~my "interviewer" never contacted me, so I guess I won't be posting that here.
But, on to Carol's answers!! (I particularly like the answer to #5-ROFL)

1. I've been reading your blog and have noticed some interesting things
about you! You aspire to be a writer, so therefore you probably love to
read. What book(s) are you reading right now?

*
Just finished "Runemarks," a marvelous YA novel by Joanne Harris. Next
up: "Mississippi Sissy" by Kevin Sessums, "Specials" by Scott
Westerfeld, and then probably something non-fiction. I'm also looking
for a more serious read to put in the lineup but don't have anything
literary that's grabbed my attention lately. You can probably tell that
I'm a *very* eclectic reader. :o)

2. What is your Great American Novel going to be called and do I get a
signed copy?

*
No title yet, and sure! You may have to remind me, though -- I have the
Great American swiss-cheese memory. I am wincing at almost every
paragraph I commit to computer memory, though, and am trusting in the
advice of other authors who say it's OK for the first draft to really,
really suck. (Excellent, then. I'm right on target.)

3. The parseltongue greeting on your Drops of Blood website is interesting. What is your favorite Harry Potter book and why?
*
The first one, actually. I love all of them, but I especially relished
that oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-BOY feeling of finding a new series that I knew I
was going to love. This one had everything -- a fun plot, sadness,
childhood persecution, humor, action, and silly magic. And if there's
anything I love more than a good book, it's a massively sized good book
in a long series.

4. I was very saddened to read that you miss the smell of your father's
shirt, which your mom confiscated after finding it in your closet
shortly after his death. As an adult, have you and your mom talked
about that incident and did you share your feelings about that with her?

*
We only talked about it once. She was astonished that I remembered it,
actually. Her grieving was so intense at the time that she could not
bear to be so viscerally reminded of her suddenly dead husband by the
look, scent, and feel of his shirt, and she reacted on gut instincts
when she threw it away. It didn't occur to her what she was taking away
from me.
It still doesn't. I came to the above realization of why she discarded
the shirt after just knowing her long enough as an adult to see it
through her eyes.
Mom's a good-hearted person, hard-working and generous to a fault, and
well-loved by family and friends for good reason, but she's not chatty
in that way or introspective in the least. I remember that I started
crying one day a few months after Daddy died when she was driving me
home after picking me up at my grandparents' house. We pulled over and
talked, and she comforted me. Years later, she remembered the incident
while I did not. What struck me was her comment on that time. It was
something like, "It was like I realized for the first time you were a
real, separate, little person with feelings of your own."
As I get older, it gets easier to remind myself that she simply is who
she is -- a survivor in the only way she knows how. And I think about
some really harsh years she endured as a child. She and her three very
young sisters were sent to an orphanage for four years during the height
of the Depression because their widowed mother couldn't afford to feed
them. That experience warped or shaped them all in different ways. My
mom was the scrappy one, who came out of it with an elbow-swinging,
hell-with-you attitude that helped her survive. Her deep-rooted sense of
humor and close relationship with her sisters kept her personality's
edges from being too razor sharp.

5. Is there another funny or poignant childhood story you would be willing
to share with us?

*
We lived on a farm in rural Copiah County, Mississippi, and mom was a
housewife at the time, trying to do her chores with a very bored kid of
5 or 6 who was trying to demand her time. She finally decided to send me
outside to play so I wouldn't drive her nuts. She locked the doors when
I kept trotting in to get water, toys, snacks, or to show her an
interesting bug or two. I was outraged! This was my house! I lived there
too! I actually ran around to the front door but she beat me there and
locked it too. Her laughing sent me over the edge. So I spent the next
5-10 minutes running around the house, beating and kicking furiously at
the doors and yelling about the meanness of it all. (I did inherit my
mom's ... er ... "drive.") I think my heart stopped cold in my chest
when, on my last pounding tour of the back porch, she flung the door
open. It was like a Western when the sheriff enters the saloon. I was
opening my mouth to say something -- anything -- when she let me have it
in the face with a loooooong squirt of Red-Wip. At the time, I wasn't
sure whether I was more relieved, infuriated, or tickled to have my
favorite whipped topping piled in my face. Mom still laughs when she
talks about her little way of dealing with the afternoon and the
pole-axed expression on my face.

6. Could you share with us which genre of writing is the most difficult in
your opinion and why?

*
One of my old college professors would be smiling in anticipation of my
answer here, because I'm such a person of gray zones and mitigating
circumstances that it's hard for me to speak in absolutes. And on top of
that, my answer differs when you're talking about my point of view as a
writer or as a reader.
At the moment, writing a really subtle, intricate, twisting, surprising
mystery seems impossibly brainy to me. Most of my writing experience is
in journalism and in technical and business writing, where the emphasis
is on clarity. So I tend to telegraph my fictional plots WAY too
clearly, way too far in advance. Plotwise, I'm a lighthouse when you
need a penlight. Naturally, a mystery is what I'm trying to write at the
moment. :o)
As a reader, I feel very rewarded when I read fine literature but have a
time getting into it. Some of it is exhausting to read, frankly, and
it's rarely as funny or hopeful as I like my leisure reading to be. I
get the most out of this when it's part of a graduate-level English
class that forces me to read it, analyze it, and understand its
magnificence, and by then I'm usually the nerdy one waving my hand
frantically in the front row. I slog on through these books because I
think it's important to feed your brain as much as it is to amuse it. I
probably do less of the literary reading than I should, though.

7. Do you feel that teens, and possibly people in general these days have
a much more lackadaisical attitude? How do you feel this is affecting
or will affect our society in the future?

*
I think adults have always thought this in each generation, and it's
probably less serious or dire than most of us secretly fear. But with
that said ... GOD, yes! I have the hardest time trying to motivate -- or
teach self-motivation to -- my older daughter, who is bright, beautiful,
and oh-so-full of the "um, yeah, whatever" spirit. I'm just waiting for
her to get a bit hungry and greedy so she'll start scrapping to make her
own way in the world. My master plan is to keep in place all the family
support she truly needs and, over time, continue to withdraw the
not-necessary supports that just prop her up. I'm hoping she'll
jump-start her own engine and I can quit pushing her up the hill at some
point. She goes to college this fall (knock on wood) and we'll see what
happens from there.
In general, the apathy I commonly see in her generation annoys me. It's
like everyone's waiting for everyone else to do something. I don't know
the cure, except raising your own children the best you can, trying to
nudge their friends in the right direction too, and trying to be an
influential part of children's lives in your community. That, plus time,
will help. They're not bad kids -- just locked into their own little worlds.
How will it affect our society in the future? For kids who wake up to
opportunities in business and life, there will be feast days ahead as
they leap ahead of the competition. For others, I expect a lot of
pissing and moaning about things that are Just Not Fair, and they'll be
frustrated as they wait expectantly for the world to arrive on their
doorsteps with the anticipated silver platter. Parents are going to have
to show some tough love as they plant their boots on their kids' butts
and point them toward the door.
I think people are having to parent their kids for far longer today than
in years past on issues of maturity, responsibility, and long-range
planning. Maybe because the parenting isn't done with the commonsense
and expectations of years past, and maybe because today's parents are
gentler, meaning the kids have a longer learning curve. And discipline
is different, with kids being treated with rationality rather than
corporeal punishment, and, unfortunately, with a desire to make things
easier on the child rather than emphasizing firm limits; it's harder to
get and hold attention that way, although my generation's way seems
kinder than some of the harsher methods in my parents' generation. (My
parents regularly spanked me or whipped me with a leather belt. I can
count on one hand the number of times I spanked both my daughters -- and
always with my hand, except once with a ping-pong paddle that made me
heartily ashamed.)
And it's not just parents -- some teachers have a hand in things, too.
I'm disgusted with how my daughter's junior-high and high-school
teachers and counselor have repeatedly let her off the hook with low
expectations at school. Even when I called a conference with all of her
teachers one or two years ago because she was failing in so many
classes, they were way more warm and fuzzy than they should be. Were
these really the people who'd been answering my concerned emails with
agreement on specific things she was doing wrong or not doing at all,
and they were only making timid, weak little comments with her at the
table? It was exasperating, and my daughter came away with the
impression that I just needed to chill out and that her barely passing
grades were good enough. Their emphasis was on protecting and nurturing
her self-esteem; mine was on bolstering her self-esteem with REAL
ACCOMPLISHMENTS rather than feel-good statements.
Sorry, this looks like my stop. I'll get off the rant train now.

8. Where exactly did you find that awesome husband (re: 30 Reasons I Love
My Husband
), and what advice do you have for young women contemplating
marriage?
*

He's a good man, isn't he? In college, Good Hubby lived down the hallway
from the boy who later became my first husband. About 14 years later,
Good Hubby's job moved him to the town where I was a newspaper reporter,
single mom, and divorcee, and he happened to read my column and see my
picture when he was up looking for an apartment. It was kind of a
coincidence, since I only wrote a column once a month and he happened to
be in town that weekend, reading the paper. He wrote to me, I called him
back, and we've been an item every since.
He's the oldest of three children, and I credit his even temperament,
humor, and intelligence to his family environment. I *adore* his
immediate and extended family, and his parents in particular are the
most wholesome, sweet mom and dad I could imagine having. He just rolls
his eyes when I tell him he was raised by June and Ward Cleaver. And his
paternal grandmother, who died several years ago -- I really miss her.
One time when he and I were dating and I attended church with his
family, she spotted me and came over to admire my red dress. She looked
me up and down and said in her droll way, "I'd roll you for that dress."
LOVE. HER.
My advice to young women contemplating marriage is to find someone who
cherishes you and offers selfless love, because you're going to need it.
Someone who genuinely is willing to inconvenience himself to make your
life a little easier makes the rough parts of life bearable. And he
makes it so much easier to be a selfless spouse in return. I've learned
more about being a better person from being with him than I have with
any other adult in my life.
Also, as a practical matter, you should be able to talk easily and also
have easy silences, argue passionately without viciousness, enjoy each
other's company, and share compatible opinions on important things like
children, money, religion, lifestyle, and long-term goals. They matter.

9. I noticed that you would like to learn French. Have you ever been to
France?

*
No, but it's one of my leisure goals in life to go there. It will
probably happen after our oldest gets in college. I'm hoping to be a
smaller size by then, or at least to know enough French to say something
subtle but stunningly rude if I'm snubbed as a fat American tourist. :o)
I'd actually like to have at least three France vacations -- one for
Paris, one for a long tour of wine country, and another for museums,
gardens, and historical sites throughout the country.

10. Where would you go on vacation if money were no object?
*
There's no one place -- in the U.S., I'd hit Yellowstone National Park,
NYC, the Grand Canyon again, anywhere in California, Pennsylvania Dutch
country, Hawaii, and probably a dozen other spots I'll kick myself for
forgetting to mention right now. Abroad, I'd like to hit France,
Scotland, Ireland, rural China, Tokyo, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil,
England, and more. *sigh* Any place where the food is different, there's
something magnificent in nature or urban life, the culture is distinct,
and it's safe enough to travel. Bonus points if it's a location renowned
for wool production or textile arts. So many cool things to explore out
there in the big, bad world. Curiosity may be my defining trait.

11. What is the most interesting thing you have ever knitted?
*
*laughing* Oh, nothing as interesting as a willie warmer or anything
like that. Mostly it's been ponchos and scarves and hats and socks. The
only points of interest would be to another knitter, who might be mildly
impressed that my first sock was a toe-up lace pattern with a twisted-8
cast-on, on 5 DPNs. Overly ambitious for a relative beginner., but I'm
nothing if not pigheaded. I knitted the beginning so many times the yarn
was frayed and I had to cut it off and start with a fresh end. :o)

12. Is there something else that you would like your readers to know about you?
*
That I have fun with my children and have laughed even more with my
husband. It feels so good to have a playful family life. I'm allowed and
encouraged to be a goober at home, which is fortunate since that's me by
nature. My older girl and I were standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the
fridge one night, jockeying for position, and one of us started kicking
the other in the fanny. We locked arms and each began kicking
frantically behind our backs at each other until we tangled legs and
down we went. We still giggle about what idiots we were.

13. I have been teaching for 15 years. In those 15 years, I have noticed a
decrease in the quality of the children's books being written. I love
books like Miss Rumphius and Amazing Grace that have beautiful
illustrations as well as rich vocabulary and a lesson. Do you have an
opinion about the decline in quality of children's books?

*
You're in a far better position than I am to identify this trend. But my
perception differs. I think there are plenty of good new children's
books out there, like those by Louis Sachar, the American Girl books
(which have admittedly spotty writing but contain interesting history),
"The Dragons Are Singing Tonight" by Jack Prelutsky (poetry), and the
Wayside School books (for sheer silliness). The problem is finding them
among all the mediocrity that hides them. The good ones are essentially
drowning in a sea of crap.
I know when I pick out books for my kids, it's usually because I've read
good things about books online and found ones that seem to fit their
reading level and interests (vampires and other speculative fiction for
my oldest; and fairies, princesses, or something like the historical
"Girls of Many Lands" series for my youngest). I keep a running list of
cool books for them and me in my BlackBerry. If I show up at the
bookstore unarmed without a list, I'm totally lost. I just wish there
was a shelf that said, "Here are the really GOOD books." I'm not talking
just the Newbery and other award winners -- even the excellent genre
fiction for children takes time to identify. And people are sorely short
on patience and time.
I think it's hardest to find younger children's books that appeal to
their tastes and the tastes of the parents who help them with the
reading, and I think it's a crying shame that so many books starve the
minds of children by using dull, overly simplistic language, trite
characterization, and formulaic plotting. And when the books are boring,
the parents shy away from re-reading them with the kids, and an
opportunity to hook a young reader is missed.
But there's continuing hope as they get older: Do you find that there's
some really excellent young adult writing out there, like Melissa Marr's
"Wicked Lovely"? I've been thrilled at the quality of YA books I've seen
in recent years, and I thank Harry Potter's success for inspiring this
trend.

1 comment:

Aileen said...

Great interview. I'd love to learn more about how you had the opportunity to do that. I'll check out all the links later. I'm a YA reader (kind of have to be with my girls, plus I enjoy it myself), along with all the stuff I normally like to read. I'm also an aspiring writer. At some point, I aspire to have time to actually write.