In a recent interview someone asked me about authors I admire. Of course, I wasn’t about to name names. My answer was simple. I admire authors who seem to be doing it all, who give back in some way or another. I admire authors who aren’t all about their books all the time, even though we all know how important it is to talk about books. I admire authors who seem to realize that in order to get something out of a community of writers or neighbors or friends or family, you also have to put something into it. And those are things author Nicole Baart understands and lives. With the release of SLEEPING IN EDEN, Nicole’s sixth novel, she shares her insights and experience and her thoughts on women’s fiction and how she lives her very busy, amazing life.
Please welcome Nicole Baart to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Nicole Baart Says Women’s Fiction Is Raw, Honest, Soulful, And Can Make You Catch Your Breath
Amy: Hey, May-pub-sister! Recently you mentioned to me how exciting it is to have a book published. What is the most exciting part to you? How do you think we, as writers and authors, can remember to enjoy it all amidst the noise?
Nicole: I love books! I love reading books! I love writing books! I love holding, smelling, and browsing books! Honestly it still stuns me that I get to live my dream and write real, live books that real, live people read. Somebody pinch me!
The truth is, it’s all exciting to me… from concept to edits to finally holding the finished book in my hands. But if I had to pick just one part, I’d say the most exciting part for me is getting my first reader email. Hopefully lots of people will read my book–some will like it, and sadly, some will not–but only rarely do readers take the time to connect with the author. At least, in my experience. Reader emails are few and far between, but when I do receive them, it’s like meeting a new friend every time. It’s hard to describe, but it often feels as if that reader has looked deep into my soul and read not just the book but everything I hoped to communicate through it. And that moment of connection, that dialogue that was spurred on by the daydreams and wonderings that compelled me to write the book in the first place, is just priceless.
Amy: Your newest book, SLEEPING IN EDEN, has one of the most compelling covers I’ve seen. Can you tell us a little about the book, and the cover?
Nicole: Thanks, Amy. I absolutely love the cover, and there’s a great story behind it…
Normally I don’t get involved in creating my book covers. I leave that up to the incredibly talented team of graphic artists who make it their business to design gorgeous, evocative, gripping covers. I love all of my covers, and I have some very gifted artists to thank for that. But Sleeping in Eden is a special book. Truly it is. Ten years in the making. Countless rewrites and edits. Major plot changes. And in the time it took to write, I changed just as much as the manuscript. My first son was born. And then I lost three more sweet babies. We adopted our darling second son from Ethiopia, had another miscarriage, had another baby (a third boy!), moved to a different country, started a non-profit organization halfway around the world, and got some wrinkles. (I’d like to say I love those wrinkles, but it’s more of a love-hate relationship.) Suffice it to say, Sleeping in Eden has a very special place in my heart and in my life, and when I finished the final (final- final-final) edits on the book and handed it in, I felt the need to DO something. Pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, sure. But my friends are more creative than that.
￼One of my dear friends is an artist and photographer (Ellenvelde Photography), and after the final period was set, we spent a whirlwind evening bringing Sleeping in Eden to life. We wanted to capture the mystery, the longing and magic and heartbreak and wistfulness and hurt and hope that is this book. (There might have been some wine involved.) Another friend’s farm was the perfect backdrop, and we shot a couple hundred photos that we hoped conveyed the emotion of the book. I ended up sending ten of those photographs to my editor, and she passed them on to the design team. The end result is the evocative cover of Sleeping in Eden. I think they nailed it.
Want a little sample of what we did? This is probably my favorite picture from our impromptu photo shoot. I think it’s haunting and wistful–a visual summary of the mood I hoped to evoke in Sleeping in Eden.
Amy: What is your writing day like? Do you have a routine? Or more specifically, do you have a routine you stick to? I know you’re a mom, and involved in many things and written many books. How do you get it all done? (No, really, tell us!)
Nicole: I have multiple personalities. No, that’s a lie.
I don’t sleep. Uh, that would never work. I LOVE sleep. I have many minions…? I wish.
Actually, I don’t have a formula for writing or for “getting it all done.” I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of girl, at least, when I can be. Unfortunately for me, having three sons (and a five-year-old daughter on the way!), a career, and a non-profit organization requires me to have some order in my life.
I write two mornings a week while my older sons are in school and my “baby” (two years old) is at a friend’s house. But that’s not the only time that I write. Honestly? I do most of my writing in my head throughout the day. A scene will come to me, or the way a stranger sips her tea at a coffeehouse will grab my attention, and suddenly the book I’m working on will start writing itself in my head. I keep notebooks with me at all times, and try to jot down any and all ideas that pop into my head. If I have the time, I’ll write entire scenes on the fly. Often in church. Shhh–don’t tell.
As for the rest of it (the kids, the dog, the house, the cooking, the volunteer work, the non-profit, etc.), I have an incredibly involved, helpful husband who actually likes (loves!) housework as much as I like having a full plate. I function best when I have deadlines and lots of stuff to do… I was the girl in school who could hardly ￼sit still, who was always tapping, twitching, moving, and shuffling, and now I guess I’m putting all that restless energy to good use. Retirement sounds like a little slice of hell to me. I like to be doing something. Actually, doing a lot.
Amy: What was your favorite scene to write in SLEEPING IN EDEN?
Nicole: Such a tough question! I could say that I loved writing them all, and though that would be partially true, it would also be a big cop-out. So I’m going to have to say that I really enjoyed writing scenes with Meg in them.
Meg is one of the narrators and protagonists in Sleeping in Eden. One of the things that I love to do when I write is experiment with different points of view and watch how people of unique ages, backgrounds, and perspectives alter the telling of the story. Lucas, a middle-aged doctor in a failing marriage, is one of my narrators. And Meg is the other. She’s a teenage tomboy caught in a forbidden affair with the love of her life. Meg was a blast to write because in many ways she was the girl that I wished I had been in high school: fierce, independent, daring, and strong. She’s not afraid to try new things or follow her heart. I just loved her for her tenacity and spirit, and I thoroughly enjoyed every scene I wrote about her pushing the so-called envelope. My favorite? An entire chapter dedicated to Meg’s brief career in powderpuff football. She plays for a team called the Riot Girls against two other hometown teams: the Pigskin Barbies and the Broken Stilettos. So fun! It made me want to start a women’s football team.
Amy: What is your definition of women’s fiction as a genre?
Nicole: People ask me all the time what sorts of books I write, and I never quite know what to say. I feel like the term women’s fiction has a bit of a bad connotation– like if the book is primarily geared towards women it must be full of fluff and romance and First World problems like smudged fingernail polish or a broken ankle strap on a favorite pair of shoes. Same with chick lit and romance and cozy mysteries. Not that there is anything wrong with reading books full of fluff and romance! I love them from time to time, too. But it irritates me that everything “women’s fiction” seems to get lumped into one big “beach read” pile, and a thick line is drawn between literary fiction and popular fiction.
The truth? So-called literary fiction can be garbage, and I’ve read countless popular fiction (women’s fiction!) books that are raw and honest and soulful, written in gorgeous prose that makes you stop and catch your breath. I think the line is definitely getting very smudgy.
But I guess I didn’t really answer your question… My definition of women’s fiction? Any book that engages the issues that women deal with. I think a more accurate definition of the kinds of books I like to read (and hope to write!) would be book club fiction–the sort of book that straddles the line between literary and commercial and wrestles with relevant, potentially hard-hitting topics that affect us all.
Amy: What is your best advice specifically for writers of women’s fiction?
Nicole: Don’t shy away from the truth of our very complicated lives! I think women are at a remarkable place in history, a time when we are encouraged (forced?) to be incredibly independent and to take on many of the roles and expectations that were previously reserved for men. A lot is expected of us–at home, at work, in our personal lives and beyond. We are supposed to be thin and beautiful, articulate and well-educated, great with children and successful in our professional lives, and yet somehow maintain the down home goodness espoused on Pinterest boards as we make our own jam and sew handmade Christmas presents. It’s exhausting. And it’s a lie that a woman has to fit this new feminist Barbie doll archetype or turn in her second X chromosome. I love women’s fiction books that address these issues head on, and that offer a hint of hope in the midst of the broken pieces of our complex lives. I think the world is longing for honest representations of women battling these misplaced presumptions, and I think we need to take the voice we’ve been given seriously. No more Bella’s and Anastasia’s, please. We can do so much better than that.
Nicole Baart lives in a small town in Iowa and is the mother of three young sons. After the adoption of her second son from Ethiopia, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and co-founded a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. An accomplished novelist, she was a 2009 Christy Award finalist for fiction. Visit her website at http://www.nicolebaart.com.