Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writers Talk with Audrey Bilger

I'm very happy to introduce today's Writers Talk participant, Audrey Bilger.  Audrey is a good friend & a staunch supporter of Robert Frost's Banjo.  In fact, she's written a number of popular posts for this blog, with subject matter ranging from esoteric points of 18th century literature to up & coming rock bands.  Which makes sense: Audrey is an English literature professor who has also been a drummer in a blues band!

Audrey—Dr Bilger in point of fact—obtained her PhD in literature from the University of Virginia, & is an Associate Professor of Literature, as well as Faculty Director of the Writing Center at Claremont-McKenna College.  She has an impressive list of publications, including Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen (Wayne State University Press, 1998); articles in The Paris Review, BITCH: FEMINIST RESPONSE TO POPULAR CULTURE, ROCKGRL & in various Women's Studies journals, as well as upcoming articles in the print version of Ms. magazine.  Audrey also is a regular contributor to the Ms. blog.

You can read one of Audrey's essays on the Writers Talk blog; I'd also recommend searching the "Audrey's Writing" label on this blog to see even more of her work.  & so—here's Audrey!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with the written word. I stayed up late into the night when I was 6, 7, and 8, reading everything I could get my hands on. Black Beauty, Little Women, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time. Books were a means of escape, gateways to alternative universes where I was always at the center of the action.

My first creative works were funny poems. I enjoyed making people laugh and getting praise for coming up with clever rhymes—mostly in the sing-song rhythms of Dr. Seuss. When I hit adolescence, I switched to introspective material and started hiding what I wrote.

What I most remember about my earliest experiences as a writer was how I got lost in the process and how time got fuzzy around the edges. Like the best forms of play, writing was a world unto itself, a puzzle to be figured out, a mystery to be solved and put down on the page.

I don’t write poetry anymore and haven’t since I was a teenager in Oklahoma, but I still feel most at home when I get absorbed in a writing project. It’s a special form of magic.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.

Much of my writing has involved research and critical thinking. Almost every piece starts the same way. I get obsessed by an idea or a question—from a conversation, a news item, a book, a TV show, or just something I see out of the corner of my eye—and I have to figure out how the pieces fit together to make some sort of sense. If I’m lucky, at some point in the process, I know exactly what I’m doing, and the words make their way to my fingertips on the keyboard or to the end of my pen. Usually, I have to sit with a piece for a while before I get immersed and find flow. Whether I’m writing a script, a narrative, or a critical essay, the writing only gets good when that fuzzy sense of time sets in. Creativity requires a state of grace—and it comes to you with a mandate. When you’re in the creative zone, you find everything you need; and when you leave it, you know you have to get back there again.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)

From my earliest days as a writer of silly poems, I recognized that sharing what you’ve written can be both exhilarating and agonizing. When I’m writing I can’t think about what anyone else will think about my work or I get stuck. Once a piece is published, in whatever form, it’s out there on its own and a part of me goes with it. The level of exposure is intense, and the outcomes can be mixed. I’m miserable when something I write doesn’t get noticed. I’m happy when I hear from someone who has read my work, especially things from a while back—and even more so when the person has good things to say about it!

Because the blogosphere moves so quickly, I usually feel a rush when something I’ve written goes live. This energy lasts for a day or so as I keep checking back to see if anyone has commented or left feedback (I’m sure I’ll do that with this!), and my mood goes up and down, depending on what I see. With print books and articles, the process gets stretched out over time, but it’s pretty much the same emotional ride.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

My wife, Cheryl, is extremely patient with my writing habits. I have to get up really early if I want to find my way to the creative zone, and when she wakes up, I’m either high or low, depending on how the writing has gone. Neither state is particularly pleasant for someone who’s looking for her first cup of coffee. She’s also extremely good about reading my work and dealing with my initial sensitivity to criticism.

I have several close friends—Eberle being one of my closest!—with whom I trade pages and share work. All of these relationships are deep and special to me. Since writing is something I usually do by myself (in the wee hours of the morning), my writing network makes what I do seem more real.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to collaborate with Eberle, and some of our work has appeared here on RFB. The community John has built here is delightfully supportive—it’s been lovely getting to know all of you—so many cool writers!

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I’m currently working on an anthology, Here Come the Brides! The Brave New World of Lesbian Marriage with Michele Kort, a senior editor at Ms. magazine. [Here’s a link to our site, currently under construction.] I blog for Ms. and have a couple of pieces coming out in the next issue of the print magazine. I also have  a piece in mind for RFB that I hope to get to one of these days.

I took on a new position at Claremont McKenna College, where I am an associate professor of literature, as the Faculty Director of the Writing Center, so many of my goals are linked to developing a stronger culture of writing at my school and bringing people together to talk about the craft of writing.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

A drum set, of course! I lay down a rhythm and then listen as the melodies gather around.

pic of Audrey in the Writers Talk graphic is by Greg Allen


  1. I can relate to much of what Audrey has to say here. I wrote silly poems when I was young; in fact, I still do!
    What struck me most of all was that need for affirmation - the constant looking to see if someone has read the latest work on offer. I often feel like a drug-addict who needs a fix, when I post a poem. I'm not proud of it, but it really does feed the need and it spurs me on.
    I can also relate completely to that high/low experience when the work is in progress. If I am not writing, I can be a total bear, but as soon as a poem is "out there" I am back to my "sweet" self.

    I love the photo, Audrey! It really is a wonderful one that conveys your environment and the openness of your smile.


  2. Hi Kat: Thanks for stopping by & commenting. I think many of us creative types have that craving for affirmation, whether our creative act is being hunched over a keyboard typing a poem or sitting on stage playing a guitar. & I also like that pic of Audrey very well!

  3. Excellent interview, John! Thanks for giving us a little peek at Audrey. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  4. Hi Willow: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it--I thought Audrey did a fine job.

  5. Hi, Audrey! I'm the proud mother of a UVA English Lit Ph.D and the sister of a former UVA dean, so I feel an affinity of place with you before I read the interview.

    I can relate to a great deal of what you say,especially about putting your work out there. I have enjoyed the blogs mostly because sharing myself with strangers is a little easier than opening my veins before my family and friends. At the same time, I look for the high I get from comments and like you, I check and check for more.

    I enjoyed your interview, as I have enjoyed the things you've posted here on Robert Frost's Banjo, and I look forward to reading you in Ms.

    Good luck with the book!

  6. Hi Karen: Thanks for stopping by & for your kind words. I expect Audrey will indeed be checking in here a bit later on when her business day winds down on the West Coast!

  7. Hello Kat, Willow, Karen--and, of course, John! My day has indeed just wound down, and I am so pleased to be able to hear from you all at the end of it. Kat, I loved your Writers Talk and was remiss in commenting when it went up. I think we share many traits as far as our process goes. Karen, nice UVa connections. I wouldn't know John and Eberle if it weren't for Charlottesville, and I have many fond memories of autumn and spring there especially.

    I love this community! Thanks, everyone, for being so cool and welcoming!


  8. Hi Audrey: Thank you--you're an important member of the RFBanjo community for sure! & yes, spring & fall in C'ville were gorgeous.

  9. Great interview.

    My first creative works were funny poems. I enjoyed making people laugh and getting praise for coming up with clever rhymes
    I did this in high school, a lot... :)

    I also think it's great to be in some sort of writer's group/network; the one I joined last year has helped me start writing again in a more committed way - it's good to have different readers and get different styles of feedback.

    A drum set, of course! I lay down a rhythm and then listen as the melodies gather around.
    I love that.

  10. Hi HKatz: So glad you enjoyed Audrey's interview & found common points. Thanks!


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