Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Q&A with Christina Baker Kline

This news is just too good not to share. Author Christina Baker Kline has just released a fantastic new book, Bird in Hand, and it’s available… now! So, to help her celebrate her new release and see what the new book is about, what better way than to ask the author herself. Please join me in welcoming our guest for this special author Q&A.

Hi Christina. Can you tell us about Bird in Hand?
Bird in Hand opens with a car accident that sets in motion a series of events that changes the (interconnected) lives of four people. It moves forward in the present day through the alternating perspectives of these four characters, and it also moves back in time through their perspectives to a specific moment in the past.

But what’s it really about?
That's a good (and funny!) question. Well, at one point in the book a character wonders, "Who breaks the thread, the one who pulls or the one who hangs on?" I wanted to write about love and loss and betrayal and renewal. I wanted to write about characters who don't know quite what they want, or how to get it, and are pushed into decisions by circumstances beyond their control. One of my epigraphs is a quote from The Age of Grief, by Jane Smiley: "Confusion is perfect sight and perfect mystery at the same time." This holds true for all of my characters in different ways.

You’re quite prolific and diverse. How did you fall into writing both novels and non-fiction?
I'm not really that prolific. I've just been on the planet for a while! Writing novels is my passion. But writing fiction is a solitary pursuit, and another side of me wants to be out in the world, interacting with people and exchanging ideas. All of my nonfiction books have been, in a sense, collaborations -- I wrote a book about feminist mothers and daughters with my mother; I've edited or co-edited four essay collections. I realized the other day that my blog on writing [note: hyperlink?], A Writing Year: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing Fiction, fulfills this social/intellectual need. I can share my thoughts about writing with other people, and work with guest bloggers on their own ideas. I love doing it.

Tell us about what you do at Fordham University.
As Writer-in-Residence, I teach creative writing to undergraduates and graduate students and oversee creative-writing masters' theses. I serve on the Creative Writing committee and help bring visiting writers to campus; I also facilitate creative-writing events and contests. It's a wonderful job, and I wish I could have it forever, but it's a three-year appointment, sadly!

How do you balance your writing life?
It's hard. I rarely feel that I achieve balance; what I've learned over the years is that sometimes things will be out of balance, and that's okay. Sometimes I don't have time to work on my fiction (like now, while I'm in London teaching and working on nonfiction articles and interviews). And sometimes I'm focused on my family -- my husband and three boys (two teens and a nine-year-old) and just want to be in the moment with them. I'm not sure whether it's my nature or whether I've learned to do this because I have a complicated life, but I'm pretty good at hunkering down and working on my novel when I need to. When I'm completely consumed with writing, other parts of my life suffer -- laundry piles up, for example, and we do a lot of takeout. My family is pretty understanding; they know it's all part of the process, and will be over before long. They all have their own passions as well!

Tell us a bit about your journey as an author.
In my senior year of college a visiting novelist took my short stories to her literary agency, and a young agent (Beth Vesel, who is still my agent) called me up and said she wanted to represent me. This gave me confidence at an early age -- the idea someone believed in me and cared about my work. Though I know this is pretty unusual, and I was lucky, I always tell my students that what's most important is that they find someone -- a mentor if possible, a friend, even a parent -- who believes in their work and encourages them to move forward. After college I went to graduate school in literature and didn't write a creative word, but this agent called every few months, just checking in: "Are you thinking about your novel yet? How are you going to carve out time to make that happen?" She encouraged me to apply for MFA fellowships so that I'd have two free years to write. And that's what I did -- I went to the University of Virginia, did an MFA in Fiction Writing, and wrote my first novel.

What have been some of the challenges in your career as a writer?
The biggest challenge for me came after I'd written my second novel and was working on a third. A lot of things changed at once -- I moved from New York to the suburbs; I had three children in fairly quick succession, I started a full-time teaching job. As a result, I lost the thread of the novel I was working on and couldn't figure out how to find it. Eventually I abandoned that novel and wrote another very quickly, The Way Life Should Be, which was lighthearted and funny and had recipes. Writing it was a pleasure! After that, I had the clarity to return to the novel that became Bird in Hand. Though it was a long and difficult process, I learned a lot about myself and my writing in those years. And I think that ultimately Bird in Hand is much stronger for it. I truly think it's the best thing I've written.

What advice do you have for writers starting out?
Well, as I said before, find someone who encourages your writing. Avoid people who are "toxic," to use an old self-help phrase -- people who are competitive with you or otherwise sabotage your writing. Set clear goals for yourself ("I will write a draft of a novel in one year," "I will write one short story a month") with daily goals as well. When I'm writing a novel I set myself the task of four pages a day. Sometimes I write more, sometimes less, but that's always the goal.

How has social media and technology enabled you to connect with readers?
It's transformed my ability to connect with people. I'm pretty accessible; I have a website and a blog and an email address that's easy to find. As a result I get a lot of mail from readers, which is a terrific way to learn about the impact your work has on others.

What can readers expect from your blog?
I started my blog, A Writing Year, as a way to talk about the creative process. Essentially, I write my blog the way I teach -- with an emphasis on tips and ideas for getting words on the page and turning them into readable prose. I also "commission" pieces from guest bloggers, published authors with specific things to say about craft and the life of a writer. Unlike many blogs, mine is not stream-of-consciousness; it's not a diary of my experience. Though I sometimes talk about my personal life, I'm more interested in talking about ideas and inspiration.

What’s up next for you? What can readers look forward to?
I'm working on a new novel that traces the journey of Vivian Daly, a now-90-year-old woman, from a small village in Ireland to the crowded streets of the Lower East Side to the wide-open expanses of the Midwest to the coast of Maine. In 1929, after a terrible accident in a Lower East Side tenement destroys her family, nine-year-old Vivian is sent on an orphan train to Minnesota. Stripped of her identity, she has to learn how to survive on her own. She never tells anyone the whole story of what happened to her -- until a 17-year-old troubled girl comes into her life when she is an old woman. As Vivian begins to face the truth about what happened long ago, the past becomes more and more present for her.

How can readers learn more about you and your books?
Go to my website,, and my blog, (You can also reach my blog through my website.) Over the next month or so I'll be doing guest blogs and interviews all over the web and linking to them on my blog. Feel free to comment on blog posts -- I love to hear what readers think!

Thanks, Christina! I appreciate you taking the time to talk about Bird in Hand and your latest news.
Thanks so much, Lori


You can pick up Bird in Hand at your local brick & mortar store, or order online from amazon here.

If you love the author Q&As, be sure to see this week’s interview with Daphne Uviller. Remember, too, there are several guest blogs this week and during the rest of August.

Until next time….

No comments :

Post a Comment