My guest this time around on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is Gayle Brandeis, author of The Book of Dead Birds, which has been reissued in a trade paperback edition. Some of you may remember my minor freakout when I got a great review from Charles deLint. Gayle can top that. She's had glowing acclaim from people like Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver. In fact, she won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, given by Barbara Kingsolver to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice, and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.
The book tells the story of Ava Sing Lo, who has been accidentally killing her mother's birds since she was a little girl. As an adult, she heads to the Salton Sea, where she volunteers to help environmental activists save thousands of birds poisoned by agricultural runoff. Along the way, she struggles to come to terms with her mother's terrible past.
Here's the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
This book started out as a poem about a dead bird I saw when I was six years old (my first direct encounter with death.) The poem ended up spilling out of its edges and eventually turning into a novel (it was a very twisty turn-y path to get there). You can read about the whole journey here.
Describe your creative process.
I write very much by the seat of my pants. I often have no idea where a story is going, and that can be scary at times, but it can also be incredibly exciting and freeing. I love when my characters surprise me. I tend to write scenes as they come to me, and then later figure out how to piece them together in a coherent way. I like to burn through a first draft fairly quickly, just to keep the energy going, keep the juices flowing. Once I'm done with a draft, I'll hunker down and figure out how to polish it, how to shape it, how to try to make it sing.
Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
Night time tends to be my most fruitful time, but I've retrained myself to work during the day when the kids are in school (plus I can't seem to stay up as late as I used to). I prefer to write in silence; I love music, but it distracts me when I'm writing, especially if it has lyrics. I don't have any rituals to speak of to get me into writing mode, although I've fallen into the habit of playing a game of Spider Solitaire to mark the end of my time at the computer (and I find that my characters like to talk to me while I'm playing—sometimes they send me right back into Word.)
How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I didn't think I had much in common with Ava as I was writing the book (especially since she's a different ethnicity from myself, and has a very different background), but now, I am able to see a lot of parallels. Both of us tend to question ourselves a lot. Both of us feel most at home in our skin when we're practicing our arts, our passions—for her, drumming and tae kwon do, for me, writing and dance.
Chocolate: dark or milk?
I know this could be construed as heretical, but I'm a white chocolate kind of girl.
(I was ready to burn her at the stake, but then I realized I wouldn't have to share my dark chocolate M&M stash with her, so I think I'll let her live.)
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new novel, which will be published by Ballantine somewhere down the road (it's the second book of a new two book deal. I should be getting my editor's revision notes for the first novel—Self Storage, which will be published in early 2007—any day now, and I'm eager to jump into the editing process.)
(Hey, a fellow Ballantinian! Welcome to the fold!)
Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
This book took me to places, both physical and emotional, that I never expected to go, and I'm very grateful for the ride. I am also very grateful that the book received Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize. Barbara Kingsolver has long been an idol, a model, for me, and to have her blessing is such an amazing honor. I hope I can live up to it as I continue my writing path.
For more info, you can visit Gayle's web site.