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Saturday, June 18, 2011
Author Interview: Beverly Breton
The Long and the Short of It welcomes Beverly Breton, who was a nonfiction writer by career. When she graduated from college, she worked on Capitol Hill for several years, editing and writing a trade magazine. At the same time, she freelanced for several newspapers and magazines, writing travel and lifestyle pieces. She continued freelancing as a stay-at-home mother, while also writing two books on teaching kids sports. In the last couple of years, she's turned her full attention to fiction.
Her writing didn't start when she got out of college, however. By the time she was in teh second grade, she was a dedicated diary writer. By fourth grade, she was handwriting a neighborhood newsletter. She's always written letters (and still does, she assured me, "Real letters on stationery that I send via postman!"). She published her first story in the local newspaper before she was out of high school.
"Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?" I wondered.
"For nonfiction writers, writer’s block is an unaffordable luxury. As a nonfiction writer, when I needed to meet a deadline, I wrote, period. Many well-known authors, Nora Roberts and Anne Pachett to name two, approach their fiction the same way. Writing is a profession. Sit down at your computer or pad of paper and start working. To avoid sitting down and writing complete trash, I am creating in my mind throughout my day. Walking the dog, taking a shower, cooking dinner, I’m turning characters or scenes around in my head so that when I sit down, I’m prepared to write. I do think all of us need time away from writing to nurture and recharge ourselves, but I don’t call that writer’s block. I just call that smart!"
One of the most important elements of good writing, in Beverly's opinion, is consistency.
"Nothing turns me off more than a character or plot line that doesn’t follow from what has come before," she explained. "I don’t ever want to think: 'that character wouldn’t do/say that' or 'that wouldn’t happen.'"
Characters are usually the first to come to her, but usually they are characters in a situation or setting or with a particular problem. Usually each character is a mix of people she knows or have read about, and often there's a bit of herself in each one as well so there's at least one personality trait with which she can readily identify. Then, she just lives with them in her head--watching them, listening to them, imagining them in situations. Over time, the story begins to take on a life of its own, and then she starts writing.
Sometimes the perfect title for a story will just pop out at her, while other times she reads through the finished story for a catchy phrase or pivotal scene that really speaks to what is unique about the story.
"And I can admit, other times, I’ve put my need out to my critique group and gotten the exact title from one of my writing colleagues, who has generously offered, knowing next time I might be the one offering the perfect title to her!" she told me.
Beverly described her writing space as chaotic, adding, "But it's, generally, a chaos I understand. I have books and piles of papers and files all over my desk tops, on auxiliary tables, the floor. I’d like to be neater and more organized, but somehow I always return to writing in creative chaos."
On a personal note, Beverly told me she has a dog, Abby, who is a four-year-old yellow lab mix who was rescued in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
"She starred in a personal essay I wrote for Bark magazine," Beverly said. "The magazine sent out a photographer so we even posed for pictures, our little model girl and my husband and I. Proud parents, of course."
I asked her about her favorite animal and she said, "If you take most little girls' favorite animals, dogs and horses, out of the equation, since I was no exception to this rule and dreamed of riding my horse with my dog by my side, my favorite animal is the gorilla, hands down. I could watch them for days on end, their facial expressions and interactions, imagining what they are thinking about because I’m betting their thoughts are closer to mine than I could probably ever imagine."
She admitted to crying during movies, while reading books, at athletic events, awards ceremonies, and weddings.
"And I cry, guaranteed, every time I hear bagpipes," she assured me.
Pizza is her favorite food, and she can be happy with various vegetarian versions. Her current favorite, however, is mushroom, especially if paired with caramelized onions.
She refused to label herself as a stereotype, telling me, "According to my favorite astrological book, I was born on the Day of the Nonconformist and all I can say is, they got that right."
Beverly's never been comfortable in thunderstorms, and now she dislikes them even more because the noise and flashing lightening makes Abby uncomfortable.
"Did my canine daughter pick this up from her mother?" she wondered. "I hope not."
She used to be big on multitasking and was good at it. However, now she finds that being efficient with her schedule and the flow of her day, but doing just one thing at a time, is more productive. She makes one exception, however.
"I listen to book tapes while I do mindless household tasks."
Beverly shared with me that she's super-sensitive to noise, sound, and sensations.
"I have trouble sleeping in a room with any light, noise, or movement, but I am the ecstatic new owner of seriously effective black-out curtains and as long as my husband’s not coming in late or my dog isn’t barking at some nocturnal wild animal, I can now enjoy sweet dreams indeed," she told me.
She doesn't drink carbonated beverages, but told me that, if necessary, she could probably tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke.
"I would probably go for Coke because while I don’t like carbonation, I do like the taste of Coke syrup. Go figure."
Finally, I asked her, "What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?"
"Learn, listen, and write. I have seen writers who write and write, but don’t learn from conferences or reference books or critique suggestions, so their writing doesn’t evolve. I have seen naturally-talented writers who don’t persevere. I think to succeed, most of us need the whole package. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever seen is to acknowledge your weaknesses and write to them. Make your weaknesses your strengths."
You can keep up with Beverly on her website, www.beverlybreton.com