Thursday, September 23, 2010

Writers Talk with B.N.

I'm so very happy that my good friend B.N. has agreed to participate in the Writer's Talk series.  My association with B.N. goes back to 1984, Charlottesville, VA, when she was in the final year of her poetry MFA & I was in my first year. B.N. really was the first person I connected with in the program, & we've maintained a friendship based on both writing & a shared wry view of reality.  I have the greatest respect for B.N.'s writing talents, & it's been a privilege to make her work available here on Robert Frost's Banjo; it's also been heartening to see how many people have responded to her work, because I strongly believe her work should have a wide audience, & in fact much wider than what I can offer her here.  Speaking of B.N.'s work being posted here: please check in next week for her story Still Life with Girl, which will be serialized from Monday September 27th thru Thursday Septemer 30th.

B.N.'s work has appeared in the following publications: Gulf Coast, The Gettysburg Review, The Cream City Review, Quarterly West, Memphis State Review, Seneca Review & Timbuktu.  Speaking of Timbuktu, the production of another dear old friend, Molly Turner, you can read B.N.'s poem "A Story" from that publication over at the Writers Talk blog.

Without further ado, here's B.N.

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 

I wanted to write from an early age—maybe 12.  I grew up in a home with thousands of books.  They were perhaps the most significant possession—certainly afforded the most space.  Books were sacred objects.  This came from a history of the Holocaust—Nazis burned books.  I understood pretty early, maybe six, that books were what separated the clean from the dirty, the compassionate from the brutish, the sacred from the profane. 

My identity as a writer—me calling myself a writer has waxed and waned over the years.  At points I found it deeply pretentious—would rather call myself a wife, a mother.  I think that is because I am an Orthodox Jewish woman and our identity in our day to day lives is much more based on family.  

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

I write reams—or it feels like reams.  How I picture the character in a certain situation.  I will also have themes—class and money, sexuality and age.  In fiction I never plot—although I love an O. Henry twist, these days very out of fashion.  In general my creative process will involve one piece of music—a song over and over until a draft is done.  As I work a very dull day job, I write small notes all day long and then when I get home I type them into the computer.  I review them every few days to see what I can still use.

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

I have had very limited relationship with publishing.  For some early years I published a couple of things a year—both poems and stories.  Those few publications a year required me sending out a lot.  This became costly both in money and energy.  Then I had a family and had to support the family.  The last thing I ever wanted to see in those days was a rejection note from a grad student that said something to the effect of—nice stuff but not today.  That would have just been too much.  My favorite line is: “this just does not meet out needs.”  I always have a vision of little grimy editors trying to satisfy their needs—black Lycra.

In truth, I think there is so much great stuff published—much more in fiction than poetry but then there is also a lot of crap—a lot.  I can’t figure it out.  Taste and trends are not something I have ever had a handle on.  It seems that much of the fiction I see published is articulate, not super ambitious and invariably makes gestures toward some third world life in traditional garb. A cult of the exotic—change the characters names to Joe and Dianne, set the whole thing in the rust belt and nobody, nobody would give it a second glance.  Unfortunately it does speak to a poverty of imagination that is American—and not very exotic at all.  This scares and saddens me.  What we take as diversity only (which is morally good) and giving other voices is only happening because to a large extent there are few voices emerging.

Logistically, publication is a challenging.   I am also not a very record keeper.  It has happened that something was accepted that I do not remember sending, and once I just received a copy of a journal and lo and behold there was something of mine in it.  I essentially gave up the whole notion of publication

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

It may have made me more difficult to live with and more messy as there are sheets of paper every place.  In reality I am not sure it has had such a huge effect.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I have a few “writer” friends and those relationships are “virtual,” meaning email and phone. They are like any other “long distance” relationship in that in some ways they are more precious than my day-to-day relationships.  For people who live far from large communities or cities where there are other writers they are essential.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?

I want to write the best book of short stories to hit the world in the last 50 years—I want it to knock socks off.

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

Oh it would have to be something with broken strings.  It is hard to be a mediocre violin.  What else has strings?—not a guitar—they are too sexual—maybe some kind of dulcimer


  1. "...a poverty of imagination that is American..." - B.N., you bought tears to my eyes this morning. You are wonderfully articulate. Thank you for sharing your passion and your struggles.

  2. Fascinating insights - and some lessons we could all perhaps do with learning. I am looking forward to the serialisation.

  3. I was absorbed in this interview. My relationship to traditional publishing is similar and I am also not the best record-keeper, despite being organized in everything else.

    I nodded in agreement at the assumption of "poverty of the imagination". I laughed at the black lycra (although, if I'm honest, I'm still trying to work it out).

    I admire anyone who can manage to write and hold down a day job - well, maybe not ANYone, but in B.N.'s case, definitely.

    Looking forward to the knocked-off socks stories!


  4. Hi Aaron, Alan & Kat

    Aaron: Thanks for stopping by--I'm so happy B.N. had a place to share this, & so glad you had a chance to read it.

    Alan: That B.N. is pretty smart! I'm excited about this serial & happy you're looking forward to it.

    Kat: I'm still working on the lack lycra image too! Glad you had a chance to read this.

  5. *black* lycra image--I really need a new keyboard!

  6. I understood pretty early, maybe six, that books were what separated the clean from the dirty, the compassionate from the brutish, the sacred from the profane.

    And I agree with the thoughts on publishing, the trends and fashions, the diminished imagination. Makes me weary too.

  7. Hi HKatz: Thanks for stopping by--glad you had a chance to see BN's interview.


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