Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gayle Brandeis Interview: The Book of Live Wires

Hi readers and writers,

Not long ago, I was a gofer at a writing event for high school students sponsored by Inland Empire California Writers' Club and organized by Victoria Waddle, librarian extraordinaire.  The speaker was Gayle Brandeis, and she talked about writing in so many generative ways I found it inspiring, and no doubt the high school students there did too.  I had not realized she recently e-published a new book, a sequel to Book of Dead Birds called Book of Live Wires.  Darryl and Ava, characters from the earlier book, reappear and have fascinating adventures here.  Gayle and I had an interview about her new e-book, how it's not so new after all, but how she came to publish it as an ebook.  Hope you enjoy it.  You can also click above on her name to see the earlier interview about writing Self Storage.   Best,  Laura
Hi Gayle, I loved your Delta Girls, and before that Self Storage and The Book of Dead Birds.  And now you have put out a sequel to Book of Dead Birds, called The Book of Live Wires.  Can you tell us about where that title came from?

Thanks, Laura! I knew I wanted the title to have resonance with The Book of Dead Birds, and when I realized that Darryl was going to be dealing with power lines as part of his new job in Los Angeles, The Book of Live Wires seemed like the perfect counterpoint to the original title.

LH: Can you tell the blog readers about your experience writing this book, when, why, and how did you write it and why did you take so long to publish it?

GB: I wrote this book during National Novel Writing Month in 2002. My first book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, had come out that Spring, and while I was on my book tour, I learned that The Book of Dead Birds had won the Bellwether Prize, judged by Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, and Maxine Hong Kingston, my three favorite writers. This was thrilling beyond belief, but it completely messed up my creative process--I started to worry that everything I wrote had to be worthy of Toni Morrison’s praise, and I ended up with writer’s block for the first time in my life. When I heard about National Novel Writing Month, I realized that if I took the plunge and tried to write 50,000 words in 30 days, there wouldn’t be time to worry about whether my literary idols would approve of every word. It totally worked. Writing The Book of Live Wires was liberating and fun and brought me right back into my own creative process.

For many years, I never considered publishing the book. I had written it for myself, not for an audience. People have asked about it over the years, though, so I finally decided to take another look at the manuscript and was surprised by how much life was inside it. I decided to dust it off and bring it out as an ebook to celebrate both National Novel Writing Month and the 10th anniversary of the Bellwether Prize. It’s been an interesting experiment--I learned (and am continuing to learn) so much in the process of e-publishing.

LH: Ava was a favorite character of mine in Book of Dead Birds.  She seems a lot less vulnerable, as well as touchier, in Book of Live Wires, perhaps because we are looking from Darryl Sternberg’s perspective instead of Ava’s own.  How did you decide on the point of view character? 
GB: I decided to write the sequel from Darryl’s point of view because a few readers had told me that they found Darryl to be too good to be true in The Book of Dead Birds, and I wanted to show that he was more layered than he appeared. And yes, Ava felt very different to me as I wrote about her from Darryl’s perspective, too. I missed seeing the world through her eyes, but it was definitely an interesting experience to view her through someone else’s lens.

LH: There are a lot of parts of this book where Darryl struggles with his parents’ expectations and his own about his Jewish background.  These parts are particularly poignant.  Do you use any of your own experience in writing these parts, or just imagine what it might be like for him?

GB: I grew up in a secular Jewish household, so I didn’t have any pressure to relate to my Judaism in any particular way, but I do struggle on occasion with not being as literate in Judaica as I would like. On the rare times I go to temple, I always feel a little bit sheepish that I can’t read Hebrew and don’t know all the blessings. My Jewish identity is important to me, but it sometimes feels like a more theoretical connection than a lived one, especially since I’ve been influenced by other forms of spirituality over the years. I’m sure all of these feelings informed the writing of Darryl’s story even though his experience is quite different from my own.

LH: Writing from the point of view of a man when you’re a woman is a challenge, yet I found Darryl very believable.  Did you have any problems in thinking yourself into a man’s head?  Did you get advice from any male readers?

I thought it would be difficult to sustain a male perspective, but I actually felt quite comfortable slipping into Darryl’s skin. His voice came naturally to me--more naturally than Ava’s, which I really struggled with, at least in the early drafts of Dead Birds. I wrote Live Wires with such tunnel vision--I didn’t look up long enough to ask any guys for advice in the process. As I was revising, though, I did show the book to my husband and he found the male point of view believable, which was a relief.

LH: The character Zipporah is almost a jester-figure in the book, one who could be taken with deep seriousness or considered completely unreliable.  How did the concept of her character come to you? 

GB: She just emerged full-blown on the page. I didn’t have any expectations for the book when I sat down to write that November--I had no idea what was going to happen in the novel, other than the fact that I wanted to explore Darryl’s life and see what my characters had been up to. Zipporah was a surprise, and man, did she take me (and everyone else in the book) for a ride.

LH: Zipporah is supposedly translating Darryl’s grandmother’s diary, and I thought the diary passages that she gave Darryl were among the most moving parts of this book.  Were we meant to question the entire translation as part of Zipporah’s unreliability narrative? 

GB: I’ll let you decide that as a reader! I will say that when I started writing the diaries, I wasn’t sure who was translating them, and when I realized it was Zipporah, my relationship with those journals changed quite a bit.

The story in the opening chapter, of the grandmother’s family being killed by Cossacks, is actually based on a family story, or so I thought. My mother had told me that her father had witnessed his mother being raped and killed by Cossacks, and that story has haunted me for years. After my mom died in 2009, however, I asked her sister about the story and she had never heard it before. My mom was not the most reliable narrator, herself, so there is a strange parallel between life and fiction here as far as the journals go--in fact, there are many strange parallels between The Book of Live Wires and my current life, which I couldn’t have anticipated when I wrote the novel. I am now on my second marriage, like Darryl; I have a new baby (toddler now), who was conceived before the wedding, like Darryl and Ava’s baby; I baptized the baby for non-religious spouse-related family reasons, as did Darryl, and had similar reservations about the decision. I never could have imagined any of these things for myself when I wrote this book, but here they are!

LH: That's fascinating! Any other thoughts about writing and publishing today you’d like to share?

GB: The publishing world is changing so rapidly, it can be a bit dizzying. The way to stay grounded, I believe, is by focusing on the writing process instead of publishing process--write from your heart, from your gut, from your fear, from your love; write the best book you can, the book you want and need to write. If it doesn’t find a home with a traditional publisher, there are so many ways to do it yourself now--I hope writers feel empowered by that.

LH: Could you give us your blog address and the connection to your book on Amazon?

GB: I have two blogs, neither of which I update with any frequency (to my continuing sense of guilt):, my writing/publishing related blog, and, my parenting blog. You can also find me on Facebook (which I update a bit more often) and Twitter (which I really just dabble in). The link to Amazon is (you can also find The Book of Live Wires on your favorite ebook platform, from Google eBooks to Smashwords to Nook, etc.)

Thank you so much, Laura--always a pleasure to talk with you!
And always a pleasure to talk with you too, Gayle!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm going to buy this for my Kindle! I've always wondered what happened to Ava after Dead Birds. Brandeis writes so beautifully, and her characters really come alive.