Wednesday, December 19, 2012

10 Questions: Deborah Batterman

Deborah Batterman is a fiction writer, essayist, and teaching artist. A story from her debut collection, Shoes Hair Nails, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in anthologies as well as various print and online journals, and a selection of her essays, Because my name is mother, is now available as an e-book.

Contact Links:

Twitter: @DEBatterman
#1:  First off, let me say that I was blown away by the appearance of your website. Did you design it yourself or hire a professional?

It’s a pretty clever design for a writer’s website/blog – isn’t it?  But I can’t take credit for much, except some fine-tuning.  I had originally set up my blog via Blogspot, which was fine, until I decided to raise the bar and do a more formal website where I could add a book page. So I made the switch to WordPress, and it was pure serendipity that the Scrabble template showed up in my search for something with a little oomph to it.

#2:  You've tried both the traditional and self-publish routes with your writing. What can you tell us about the experiences you've had and how the two routes differ?

Both channels are riddled with frustrations. With traditional publishing, the big hurdle is finding the right fit for your book – and not taking rejection (too) personally. With small, indie presses, like the one that published my collection, there’s the perception that you’ll get the kind of attention you don’t get with a bigger house. Maybe yes/maybe no. At the very least, you’re working with someone who has a vested interest in you, someone you can partner with every step of the way. With self-publishing, going solo multiplies the pressures. Until the digital revolution spawned the world of e-book self-publishing, there was no question about seeking traditional routes of publishing. Yes, it’s a trial by fire, but the alternative (a ‘vanity’ press) was not something most serious writers considered. That’s all changed now -- and it’s hard to argue with the notion that taking a more proactive role in the means of production and distribution is a good thing.  At the same time, the ease of publishing makes it tempting to’ just do it,’ often without the kind of critical eye good editors at traditional publishing houses pride themselves on. Maybe the best of both worlds lies somewhere betwixt and between more formal, traditional channels, with the particular kind of validation it brings (i.e., when an editor/publishing house invests in a writer) and the DIY mindset (i.e., in which all the investment in time and money is the writer’s.  Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ very wisely reminds writers that we can’t – and maybe shouldn’t – be expected to do it all. 

#3:  Everywhere I turn, writers are talking about NaNoWriMo. In our initial correspondence, you told me you were giving it some thought. This morning, when I visited your blog, I noticed a post explaning that you had bowed out. The post is worth a full read, but can you sum your experience up in a couple of sentences?

Pushing myself to write a certain number of words a day, for the sake of seeing if I could finish a novel in a month, is not how I would normally work. So it was basically a challenge – to rattle myself into deadline mode, even though I’m not the kind of writer who needs to be pushed. I have plenty of self-motivation to spare.  I had a novel in mind, a back-burner book, that I’d outlined. I was sure it would just spew out. The fact that it didn’t was my clue that something wasn’t right with the basic idea and structure.  It also confirmed my stronger conviction that I may not be made of NaNoWriMo stuff.  Which is fine.
#4: You recently finished a novel. Here's your chance to plug it.

For a long time I’d been thinking about how the nature of what we call ‘home’ has changed. Families do not necessarily live around the corner from each other anymore, or even within driving distance. Each generation seems one step further from the previous one. Even the rituals – religious or otherwise – that hold us together are diluted.   A character emerged, Daphne Roth, a kind of everywoman who can’t seem to find her way home. A single mother on the road with her seven-year-old daughter when the novel opens, she struggles with a sense of purpose. The year is 1990 and seven years have passed since her best friend, Valerie, died under circumstances that still haunt her.  Whether or not she ever finds out the truth is as much a part of the story as her search for the mystery man who kept her from falling apart when it happened. 

The title – Dancing into the Sun – picks up some of the musical threads running through the novel as well as the underlying metaphor of migration. Native American migration legends have a spiritual underpinning in the Four Cardinal Directions that individuals go through to achieve wholeness: The novel, with its East/South/West/North frame, fuses the literal and symbol aspects of a life’s journey. Daphne’s restlessness is characteristic of the times we live in. Only after confronting what she’s running from/searching for can she find herself in a fully awakened life. And true home.

#5:  Tell us about your Mother's Day story collection and how successful that has been for you.

A number of my stories and essays explore mother-daughter relationships, and it occurred to me that I might be able to pull together a small selection of essays, mostly from my blog, connected by the reminder that every mother is a daughter too. It was something of a brainstorm, what with Mother’s Day was around the corner. So I chose six essays that seemed to hold together well, turned a wonderful old photograph of my mother into a cover, and there you have it, Because my name is mother. The response was good – especially in light of  the short lead time – and I’m giving some thought to a promotion this coming Mother’s Day.

#6:  I see the terms "women's lit" and "chick lit" a lot, but never "men's lit" or (I don't know what the male equivalent of chick lit would be). Are male and female readers actually that different in terms of what they want from their fiction?

When it comes to literary fiction, I would think there’s little difference – a great book is a great book is a great book. What you’re speaking to here, though, has more to do with the sexism inherent in the old dead white male canon that Western literature was built on. It colors the perception of books, from the way they’re reviewed to how we market them.  Here’s a little tidbit I love. Back in 1847, a novel by an unknown writer was published. It was considered “powerful and original,” the work of a “promising, possibly great, new writer.” A few years later, a second edition was published, this time with the author known. What was considered a novel “brutal realism” a few years earlier was now a “love story.” The book? Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I doubt that many of my male friends would choose this as a book to just pick up and read or reread.  The way we pigeonhole or market books is more to the point here. If I had titled my collection, “Vegas and Other Stories” and didn’t put a shoe on the cover, don’t you think it would draw a different audience? And did you know there’s now a genre known as ‘high-concept women’s fiction’?

#7:  I've used the hashtag #amwriting a lot on Twitter, but never knew there was a website associated with it. Tell us about your involvement with that community and what it offers writers.

It was in fact the #amwriting hashtag that took me to the website. I’d just begun using Twitter. I was trying to understand how it all works.  I followed the hyperlinks, discovered Johanna Harness, and the rest is history.  As I understand it, she used the hashtag as a way of creating a community where writers could blog, etc., about all things relevant to our experiences re: writing and publishing. I like it for the mix of ideas and the forum nature of it. I learn things, I share my own thoughts. I discover writers I might not readily know otherwise.

#8:  Besides Twitter and Facebook, which social media do you think is most important for writers to become and remain active in? 

I’m still trying to figure that out ;-)  Seriously, I don’t mean to hedge, but, like almost every writer I know, the challenge these days is to strike a balance between the invisibility needed to do our work and the visibility needed to grow our readership. Initially LinkedIn appealed to me most for its professional interface. Have I maximized my presence there? Hardly, but I like that you can involve yourself in discussions re: writing and publishing. Twitter and Facebook both offer a kind of immediacy that allows for dialogue but they’re worlds apart in terms of how we present ourselves and to what purpose.   What I enjoy most about social networking is the discovery of people and ideas I might not readily come across without the effort at expanding my sphere. Yes, I want people to discover me, too, but in the context and spirit of what I put out.
#9:  Something you said in one of your blog posts struck me as very true. You were talking about "plotter" versus "panster", and, paraphrasing, you said any writer worth their salt is both. How important is it, do you think, for writers to resist the plethora of well-intentioned advice that a good writer must do things a particular way? 

What draws me to certain writers more than others is that thing I can only call ‘voice.’ Wry, melancholy incisive, witty, poetic – developing voice requires a lot of time spent alone, looking inward, experimenting with syntax, constructing/deconstructing/reconstructing. Listening.  Reading. Reminding yourself that maybe the reason you’re stuck at a particular point in a story is that you’ve devised a plan, but the character has something else in mind. Reminding yourself, too, that saying, “I want to be a (published) writer” is a little different from saying, “I wake each day to write.” The point?  I think there’s very intuitive part to writing.  And, yes, there’s lots of well-intentioned advice re: how to develop plot and characters, create suspense, keep the narrative pace moving. So if it’s true that rules are made to be broken, it’s equally true that you can’t break the rules if you don’t know them in the first place.

#10:  Let's do something different. There has to be a question you were hoping I would or wouldn't ask. Ask yourself that question (please let us see the question), then answer it.

At a program I attended a few weeks ago, a panel of writers talked about their books, their process, what keeps them writing.  One of the writers was Alix Kates Shulman, who so generously made the point that the writers on the panel were published; they had editors and agents and received advances for their books. So the question of what drives a writer might be better asked of those writers who just keep at it, without the recognition and/or the book contract. It’s something I ask myself all the time. 

What drives me to keep doing this, day after day, week after week, year after year?

I write because I simply cannot imagine my life without the play of words that gets me working each day, the challenge of shaping words into sentences, sentences into paragraph, paragraphs into stories. I write because it goes hand-in-hand with my love of reading. I write – as my husband so beautifully put it in response to an exasperated moment of mine: “to complete the thought.”


  1. This has got to be one of the best interviews I've read this year. Love your question-response to Question 10, Deborah. What drives a writer who keeps at it despite any recognition or a book contract? I often stutter when people ask why I do what I do, because I don't really know the answer. Now I think I've come closer to my answer with your "I write because it goes hand-in-hand with my love of reading."

    1. She did come up with some great answers, didn't she? Question #10 is always my favorite one to ask.

  2. I've been honored to know Deborah both online and in person and still I learned more from this very generous and talented lady in this well done interview. Her writing always inspires and delights me.

  3. Great interview, Deb, and great questions, Carl. I particularly like #10 myself. You get to what's the most important thing for that writer. For Deb, it's that she writes because she can't do anything else. Fortunately, she does it so well!

    1. Thanks, Tracey. I haven't done any interviews in a few weeks. Trying to get this second novel wrapped up. This entire interview/blog thing began with question #10. I've always thought it was the best of any I asked.

  4. Deborah is a gem! I'm so lucky to have her as a friend and mentor.
    She is indeed an inspiration to all of us!

  5. Terrific interview Carl. And Deborah, you never fail to amaze and inspire me with the rich fullness of your expression. So glad to know you.

  6. Wonderful interview. Deborah, you are so very wise. Thank you!

  7. What a great interview you did with Deborah. I enjoyed Deborah's first book and I look forward to adding her new book to my collection of writers/friends with books shelf!