Author Interview: Gayle Brandeis
I am so pleased to be welcoming Gayle Brandeis to the First Line blog! Gayle grew up in the Chicago area and has been writing poems and stories since she was four years old. She is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, Self Storage (Ballantine) and Delta Girls (Ballantine), and her first novel for young readers, My Life with the Lincolns (Holt).
First Line (FL): What is your favorite word?
Gayle Brandeis (GB): I have two favorite words that I love with an equal passion: luscious and luminous. I love how they feel in my mouth, I love how they sound, I love what they evoke. Come to think of it, I have a third favorite word now, too—my one and a half year old coined it: bookagee (sometimes bookajay), which he says repeatedly and gleefully as he runs back and forth across the couch or the bed.
FL: What was the best advice you received as a writer?
GB: Write about what scares you. It’s where the juice is. Also, give yourself permission to write a really awful, messy first draft; revision is when you can give it shape, make it more--shall we say--luscious and luminous.
FL: What book do you think every writer should read?
GB: My go-to books about writing are Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Writing Begins with the Breath and The Writing Warrior by my amazing friend and first reader, Laraine Herring. All of these books inspire and fortify me—they make me brave, make me dig deeper into my writing self than I would have on my own.
FL: If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?
GB: Someone who makes a tangible difference in the world, whether through relief work or research or education (or maybe through having a restaurant that offers the most mind-meltingly good food you can imagine, and is also conscious about feeding the hungry in the community.)
FL: Describe your work habits. When do you write? Where?
GB: That’s what I’m trying to figure out! I have not written nearly as much as I would have liked since the baby was born. I just recently started to have a babysitter over three mornings a week, and I tiptoe up to the guest bedroom to work while they play downstairs; much of that time is filled with online teaching and other obligations, but I’m trying to squeeze in my own writing, too. Traditionally late nights have been my most creative time, but I’m so exhausted by the end of the day now (something that wasn’t an issue when my 20 and 17 year old kids were little) and have to retool my idea of who and how I am as a writer. I haven’t quite figured it out yet!
FL: You write both fiction and nonfiction. How does the process differ for the two?
GB: It’s hard to say because I kind of disappear when I write and what happens in the process is quite mysterious to me. Of course I can’t disappear quite as much when I write non-fiction since I have to be attentive to facts and memory; that’s really the biggest difference between the genres—with non-fiction, I generally know what really happened, but I have to find a form to contain and shape that reality, whereas with fiction, I have no idea what is going to happen at all, so the main process for the first draft is figuring out the people and their world. With both genres, though, I try to keep my process as fluid as possible; I like to not know where I’m going, even if I am writing about subjects I know well—I want to invite discovery, surprise, transformation.
FL: What inspires you?
GB: Everything holds the potential for inspiration—I feel as if my job as a writer is to stay as open as possible, so I’ll be ready to breathe in inspiration any time, any place—whether it’s a snippet of overheard conversation or the taste of the first ripe garden tomato of the season. I’m also inspired by kindness, by generosity, by creative risk-taking, by anyone who raises their voice to speak truth to power.
FL: If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
GB: Meridel LeSueur. I just discovered her as I was researching my recent talk on mothers who write socially engaged fiction, and now she’s my new role model. She was born in 1900, and wrote with a freedom and passion and desire to make a difference that was rare among women of her time. I wish I had known about her while she was alive—she lived until she was 96, and continued to be a rabble rouser until the very end. I’d love to talk to her about motherhood and writing and being an agent for change.
FL: Do you have any other creative talents? Do you paint? Play a musical instrument?
GB: Aside from writing, dance has been my other lifelong passion. My background is mostly in modern, improvisational dance, but I’ve been belly dancing in my friend’s troupe for a few years now, and find it a wonderful, cathartic outlet, full of fun and sisterhood.
FL: What are you working on now?
GB: I have three projects all screaming for attention—a new novel, a new YA novel, and a memoir about my mom, who took her own life when the baby was a week old. I’m not giving any of these projects as much time as I’d like, and am hoping that one of them will push the others out of the way for a while so I’ll have a clearer focus when I sit down to write. We shall see which, if any, of them rise to the top of the heap!
Thanks Gayle! To learn more about Gayle Brandeis and her work visit: www.gaylebrandeis.com
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I'd like to add a book for aspiring writers to read: Fruitflesh by Gayle Brandeis! Thank you for this luminous, luscious interview!
Thanks for reminding me to add that to my list, Rachel! Fruitflesh is a great book!
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