Barbara Quick is the author of A Golden Web, which is a book that not only is out today, but one that I'm dying to read. And today, I'm lucky enough to have her here to answer a few of my quesitons.
What are three words that would best describe your newest book A Golden Web?
That's a tall order for a novelist, Lauren, to ask her to describe her novel in three words! Merrimon Crawford gave particular emphasis to three good ones in her review of A GOLDEN WEB--so maybe I'll offer you those: Inspiration, Creativity, Compassion. These, I hope, will be what readers of A GOLDEN WEB will take away with them after reading the novel.
Describe your main character Alessandra in one sentence.
Alessandra is a girl with dreams who won't let anything stand in her way--not even death!
If you could offer advice to Alessandra, what would you say?
Wash your hands! We take the importance of hand-washing for granted now. But in the 14th century, people had no idea about the spread of deadly germs and disease.
What was your favorite aspect of writing A Golden Web?
I loved all of it--but spending time in and around Bologna to do the research was really wonderful!
Traveling in Italy is one of my favorite things. The people in Bologna were incredibly helpful and friendly to me. What a fantastic city--and there are hardly any tourists there, for some unknown reason.
I felt that everyone I came into contact with, in the course of my research, wanted to help me resuscitate the beautiful and inspiring story of Alessandra Giliani.
Do you have a favorite scene or line from A Golden Web? If so, would you mind sharing a bit about it with us?
I think my favorite scenes are the various comic moments of gender confusion, when Alessandra is faced with the inconvenience and embarrassment of other people thinking she's a boy. I'm a great fan of Shakespeare's comedies--and these scenes were certainly influenced by the verbal choreography and sophisticated fun of his scenes involving disguises and cross-dressing.
I also love the novel's final scene, which I won't give away other than to say that Alessandra, alas, didn't wash her hands.
I love writing scenes that crack my heart open, in one way or another. This, to me, feels like the essence of being human: to feel compassion; to feel another person's joy and pain.
So often, while I'm working on a novel, I feel more like a reader than a writer. I'm right there with the characters, inside their hearts and minds. I don't even exist, except as someone who reacts, emotionally, to what's being said. When I cry, I know that I've gotten it right.
What part of A Golden Web did you find to be the hardest to write?
It was hardest to write the ending--because I had such a rich and wonderful time, living with the book's characters, day in and day out, for a full year. I hated the idea of not getting to hang out with them any more.
I was rather isolated that year, having suffered a backpacking accident and a devastating breakup. Alessandra and her siblings, her father, her nanny, her mentor, and her friends comprised a world where I lost myself, found comfort, and finally healed. It was as hard saying goodbye to them as it would be saying goodbye to any treasured family members or friends.
What type of research, if any, did you do while writing A Golden Web?
I did a ton of research! I spent three weeks, in and around Bologna, looking at paintings and architectural ruins from the 14th century, locating research material I wouldn't have been able to find in the States, and just soaking up the physical details of the region. (I write about this in some detail in an essay on my HarperTeen microsite.)
The research continued all through the time I was writing the novel. I have an entire shelf of books I used--books about medieval medical practice, daily life in the 14th century, educational curriculum and theory in the middle ages, gender roles, the Church, art history, pre-Gutenberg book production and distribution, the history of women, histories of Emilia-Romagna, the region of present-day Italy where the story takes place--the sort of books I never could have imagined wanting to read, when I was much younger.
I never liked history-as-history, when I was in school. But history has become the site of wonderful treasure-hunts for me, now that I've written two historical novels and I'm working on a couple more. I always dive in now with pleasure!
How did the title A Golden Web come to be?
The title was the hardest part of writing this novel! I filled pages and pages with title ideas, but none of them seemed "just right" to my publisher. A GOLDEN WEB was more or less decided on by committee. But then I had the chance, in my final rewrite of the novel, to make sure that the title resonated within the story. In the end, I came to like the title a lot.
What were you like as a teenager? Were you similar to Alessandra in any ways?
No one has asked me that yet in an author interview--but it's a really good question! I drew on my own emotional experiences quite a bit in writing about Alessandra.
Unlike Alessandra, I wasn't any kind of prodigy. But I was precocious, in some ways. I read early, and I started writing poetry when I was nine. The essays and poetry I wrote in school got high marks, a lot of attention, and occasional awards. I used to play hooky from high school, so that I could stay at home and write in my journal.
Like Alessandra, I grew up feeling like I had a special destiny. I felt constrained by my life at home--like an adult trapped in an child's body. I couldn't wait to get out into the world, to create a life more to my liking. And I also encountered a lot of obstacles along the way. I was very full of myself, when I left home at 17 to go to college--and I also had deep and painful doubts about my self-worth.
Feeling like you have a special destiny can be both a blessing and a curse. I'm always very hard on myself when I don't live up to my expectations--or when even my best effort doesn't yield the results I've been hoping for.
I haven't been a teenager for a very long time--I'm the mother of a teenager now! But I still feel very close to all the feelings I felt then. The process of growing up is something that we work on all our lives, I think, if we're living thoughtfully.
What’s you favorite part of being an author? Least?
I love everything about being an author, except for the undeniable fact that it's almost impossible--even for very successful authors--to earn a living!
I was stubborn about not getting some kind of advanced degree that would have guaranteed me a teaching job at a university. I was always a good student, and I loved school, once I got to college. But I had a pretty snobby attitude about no one being able to learn to write by going to school. You learn to write, I told myself, by reading, writing, and living.
Of course, many highly successful authors who have come out of MFA programs are evidence that my snobbery was misplaced.
Am I a better, more original writer because I didn't come out of an MFA program--because the only school I went to, after college, was the school of hard knocks? Well, who can say? It's probably true that I would have arrived wherever I've arrived sooner, if I hadn't been so stubborn--if I hadn't insisted on getting there on my own.
Because I've always been such an optimist, I quit my day job much too early. But I've got to say that it's been well worth the very real financial struggle I've lived with for most of my adult life. I don't care about money, per se. But I love the freedom I have as a writer. I put a high value on making my own hours and doing work that I love with all my heart.
What’s your typical day like?
I tend to wake up and start working right away. It's embarrassing to admit, but I often don't get out of my bathrobe until noon! And then, if things are going well, I keep on writing after I get showered and dressed.
I take breaks by working in my garden. I used to ride my bike a lot and work more at cafes--and to punctuate my writing day with dance classes. But I've recently moved to the country, to live with my fiance--and my routine has changed. I work more at home. And I haven't hooked up with a new dance community here. (I danced with two different samba schools or blocos while I lived in Berkeley, where there are tons of Brazilian emigres.)
I work opportunistically, whenever I have ideas and a block of time, day or night. My fiance, Wayne Roden, is a violist with the San Francisco Symphony. So I tend to write now when he's away, rehearsing or playing.
Once a week I get all dressed up and go into the City with Wayne, to sit in the Symphony Box, if there's a seat there, and hear him play. I love the San Francisco Symphony! I'm one of their devoted fans. It amazes me that I went to Symphony performances, whenever I had the good fortune to be invited by a friend who had an extra ticket, for so many years without having the slightest idea that my romantic destiny was sitting right up there on the stage, in the viola section.
What’s next for you book-wise?
I'm working on a time-travel novel set in the world of music. I'm also working on a book of linked short stories about my own family--rather a dark tale! And I'm about a third of the way through a screenplay I'm writing for George Clooney and Alec Baldwin (although they don't know it yet!).
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I just want to say what a wonderful forum the Blogosphere has provided for a never-before-experienced dialog between readers and writers! It's such a fabulous thing--and it's so ironic, in a way, that this new connection has come into being when the survival of books themselves is in peril.
I'd like to say this to your readers: If you love reading, buy books--real books, made of paper and ink (at least, when the author is alive). Buy them at independent bookstores, if you still have one in your area. Buy them at at a chain bookstore, as a second choice.
Don't buy the "New and used" books offered at a pittance by Amazon online, from "other sellers," or on E-Bay. Authors get nothing from these sales--not one penny. And, believe me, 99 percent of the published authors out there are struggling just to keep food on their tables. The movie sales and the best-seller lists are the writers' equivalent of winning the lottery--the literary lottery. For most of us, it's a slow, painful slog--a glorious, impecunious struggle!
Last but not least, Lauren, I'd like to thank you for taking the time and trouble to spread the word about the books you love!
No, thank you, Barbara, it was awesome having the chance to interview you. :)
A Golden Web on Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Indie Bound/Haper Collins