Saturday, October 22, 2011

1/2 Dozen for Alicia Bessette

And here is debut novelist Alicia Bessette -- on the writing life, the working life, love & Netflix.

Here goes:

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

A love-hate relationship. Most days, writing means sitting at my desk for several hours, trying not to doubt myself. Every now and then, it means the ideas are flying through me so fast that my fingers can hardly keep up.

I tend to be more prolific in summer than in winter, and in afternoon and evening than morning. If I'm in a procrastinating mood, I moisturize my cuticles and read about new musicians on Pandora.

I prefer re-writing to writing. The process of surveying what I've created and making it stronger and truer is very satisfying. The process of getting the words down in the first place is more daunting.

My favorite part of writing a book is allowing my characters to burgeon into beautiful and flawed human beings -- those ah-ha moments when I re-read a passage and say, "So that's who this person really is!"

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

What a writer most needs in a life partner is support, and the knowledge that, whether the writing is good or bad, flowing or stuck, you will be there to read her words, and recognize the person you love behind them. So if you've fallen in love with a writer, my advice is, don't be that person's unsolicited critic. Be that person's editor, cheerleader, proofreader, confessor, and sounding board. But don't criticize her finished works if she hasn't requested that sort of feedback. And it's probably best to avoid passing along readers' negative reactions, too (such as, 'My father/friend/neighbor said he just couldn't get into your book,' or, 'Did you see the awful things Such&Such magazine wrote about your book?') Keep it positive, and she will love you for it -- and find it easier to love herself.

What's your advice to a writer who's looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

I suppose it depends on what kind of writer you are. I'm an emotional writer, and my husband is too. So what we both need in a lifelong partner is humor, a willingness to listen, and the ability to be steady when the other person is teetering.

Brief love story: When I was seventeen I fell in love with a nineteen-year-old aspiring teacher. A decade after we got married, he left teaching to become a novelist. And then I became a novelist too. We feel more married now than in our early years together, before we realized our dreams. We live passionately.

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

Besides my editing and reporting jobs, I've been a yoga teacher, a maker of deli sandwiches, a file clerk in a medical clinic, a landscaper, and a gopher at a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving the history of chemistry.

I'd say the deli gig had the most influence on my development as a writer. It was great character study. The oboist who lived on a sheep farm loved challah bread and mayonnaise. The mechanic always requested extra peppers on the side. The peppy nurse preferred her pickle unsliced, and more than once she asked the deli owner, my boss, why there wasn't a tip jar next to the cash register.

At the deli, I also learned about my limitations. One is that I am not very good at counting change or doing math in my head -- especially during the lunch rush when there's a line of hungry people out the door, and they're all impatient to pay for their grub and get back to work.

I do, however, make a mean grilled cheese.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

I feel well-balanced in general, but all aspects of my life seem inextricably linked to my writing life. Most of my big (and some of my little) decisions take into account my writing and career. I'm not sure if this is unhealthy or healthy. I'd love to know how other writers and artists feel.

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

Banana-flavored seltzer water -- especially when you combine it with orange juice -- and In Treatment, the HBO series about a therapist and his patients, which my husband and I are devouring on NetFlix.

Alicia Bessette’s first novel, A Pinch Of Love (also published as Simply From Scratch), became an international bestseller immediately upon publication. People magazine dubbed it “tasty” and Library Journal raved, “a strong, richly detailed debut novel, with a truly lovable heroine.” Alicia was born and raised in central Massachusetts. A pianist and freelance writer, she and her husband, novelist Matthew Quick, live in New England. For more information visit

A Pinch of Love is the paperback version of Alicia Bessette's debut novel (originally titled Simply From Scratch), which comes out Tuesday, October 25, from Plume.