Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Interview with Susan Baruch – author of Paternity

Where are you from?
Cleveland, Ohio – and proudly so.

Tell us your latest news?
I appear in a documentary film entitled “The Muslims I Know” – made by a friend of mine, Mara Ahmed. We hope it will be accepted into Rochester’s High Falls Film Fest this spring.

When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing in my twenties simply because I had stories inside me. One was about my experiences at a beloved summer camp as an awkward twelve year old who came out of her shell, thanks to some unlikely connections made there. Another was about a young woman I met (at a macrobiotic dinner) who was dying of cancer.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not until I took a class called “Send It!” at Writers & Books of Rochester in the summer of 2004. My wonderful teacher, Kitten Howard, insisted that we start thinking of ourselves as writers, and conducted a “Send It” ceremony, complete with candles and a trip to the mailbox with our submissions on the last night of class.

What inspired you to write your first book?
I was inspired by a book that I read called “The Transit of Venus” by Shirley Hazzard. Believe it or not, it was the structure of the book that made a huge impression on me. Because of her brilliant use of foreshadowing, the actual ending of her story takes place in the readers’ minds after the last words of the book are read. That just blew me away!

Who or what has influenced your writing?
I love writers like Anne Tyler and Kate Atkinson – women who take us into the ordinary contemporary world of love and family with tenderness and humor, and make us care deeply about their flawed but lovable characters and their relationships.

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? Well, anyone who knows my mother will recognize aspects of her in my novel. In an essay I wrote, entitled “It’s Personal” which was published in the anthology “A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love” (Adams Media, 2005), I describe my own struggle with finding love in the face of my mother’s fierce pressure to “marry Jewishly.”

Do you have a specific writing style?
I like to keep it light, fast-paced and entertaining, with as much humor as possible. I try to refrain from sentimentality (which is sometimes a challenge for me.)

What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Contemporary literature.

How did you come up with the title?
Oh, the title was easy. It’s all about a man who wants to, and does, produce offspring before he dies. Paternity was the obvious choice.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. I want my readers to come away with the understanding that people, whether Jewish or Christian, black, white, bi-racial or Asian, gay or straight, vegetarian or omnivorous, are more the same than different; and that all are worthy of love. I hope the characters in Paternity convey that message.

How much of the book is realistic?
I believe all of it is. It’s a story that could happen. That’s what makes it compelling, I hope.Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? Many of the characters’ back-stories are based on my own experiences or those of people I’ve known. For example, my first boyfriend will recognize himself. I’m hoping that will make him smile.

What books have most influenced your life most?
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Anne Tyler

What book are you reading now?
There are three: The Devil in the White City, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

What are your current projects? Writing projects?
I just finished a personal essay about a childhood friend who passed away a few years back.

Other projects?
Getting ready for my son’s bar mitzvah, redecorating the walls of my house.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The women of my two book clubs (one a neighborhood book club, the other a mother-daughter book club) have been very supportive and enthusiastic.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not at this time. Ask me again in a year or two.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
As a young scientist/engineer working at Kodak, I found that even the technical writing that my job required attracted me. The leap to creative writing felt natural.

Why did you pick Rain Publishing to be your publisher?
I have always been something of a “Canadaphile” – I love Canadian films and even TV shows (such as Slings & Arrows) so it seemed like a great fit.

Rain Publishing receives over 100 submissions everyday- why did they pick your book to publish?
Hopefully because it rang true, and struck a chord.

What was the submission process?
I submitted my entire manuscript by e-mail as specified on the RAIN website.

Would you recommend writing as a career? Why or why not?
I love writing and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is so inclined. But don’t quit your day job!Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Sometimes I find it difficult to balance clarity with intrigue – deciding how much to spell out and how much to leave up to the reader to infer.Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? I can’t give a single name: Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Diamant, Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom, Nicole Krauss. All of these writers evoke strong emotions in unique ways.

Who is the target market for your books? Why did you choose that market?
Primarily women, and more sensitive males – anyone who enjoys a good page-turner about family relationships, and has an open mind. Parents of all stripes, Jewish readers, interfaith couples, people with strong ethnic family ties, liberal-minded Catholics and African-Americans, gay readers and vegetarians will especially identify with this story.

What is like working with a publisher that is not from the same country?
It’s no problem. I am fortunate to live in Rochester, NY, which is just a short drive from Canada. I actually took the opportunity to meet Tilly Rivers, Sarah Hylton, and some of the other members of the RAIN family when they held an authors’ night in Toronto last summer. It was delightful!

Today all sized publishing houses expect much more from authors, and often ask for a marketing / promotional plan as part of the submission process- what advice do you have for upcoming writers regarding the marketing aspects of writing?
It’s definitely good to think about this as you are writing, but don’t let it influence what/how you write. Writing from the heart is most important!

What disillusions do you think authors have?
There are so many new books on the market every year (every month!). It’s hard get the attention that you know your writing deserves.

Who designed the covers?
RAIN has a graphic designer, Kara Elsberry, who does that.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I find the editing process difficult, because, unlike a painting, you can’t see the whole thing at once. You have to go through it linearly and hope that when you change something it doesn’t mess up something else later on.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? Do you have any advice for other writers?Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope you love this story as much as I do. If so, please share it with your friends and please send me feedback. I look forward to hearing from you!

Writing is a tough market, with hundreds of thousands of books; publisher’s down-sizing or going under-what is the unique selling feature your book offers readers?
The sheer pleasure of getting to know these characters and finding out how they navigate the complicated and compelling circumstances of their lives.

What is your ultimate goal as an author?
To speak to the hearts of my readers, to make them smile and enrich their lives in some small way.

What has been your greatest accomplishments?
My three beautiful, red-headed children. And this book!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully retired from Kodak. At that point, with three children just graduated from college and hopefully on their own, I look forward to more writing and more traveling with my husband. As a movie buff, I’d love to take a film festival cruise some day – maybe with Roger Ebert (one of my heroes), if he’s still around.

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