I met novelist and memoirist Anne Clinard Barnhill nearly twenty years ago in a creative writing workshop in North Carolina. She's become a dear friend, and I'm delighted to introduce her to all of you -- especially those who love historical novels -- the link to her latest, an Anne Boleyn novel, is below!
And here is a 1/2 Dozen for Anne Clinard Barnhill.
Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?
Oh, the page--that blank, pristine screen awaiting my words of wisdom--we definitely have an on-again, off-again affair. There are moments when the page and I seem to blur together, when it feels so good to write and the writing is flows like a river, I find myself almost panting with passion, kind of a Raymond Carver moment. Then, there are times when I avoid the page, pretend to care, but secretly, I'm watching TV or playing solitaire, hiding my longings, hoping the page doesn't find out. Sometimes, I just hate the thought of the page--sitting there all smug and filled with ridiculous expectations. And then, there are those nights when I rise from my bed and come to the page, still groggy but looking for the love. What I've discovered is, for better or worse, the page and I cannot leave each other alone. So I make the best of it.
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?)
That's a toughie. My lifelong partner, Frank, is wonderfully supportive. He's my first and best critic, though his reading/literary tastes are nothing like mine. But he knows a good story and he helps me figure out my own, though I must admit, that applies only to novels. He never reads my short stories or poems. He tells me to buck up when I get a rejection or a bad review, saying that I've certainly given enough knocks and now it's my turn to take a few. He's a realist who doesn't allow excuses--he wants me to succeed and over the years, he's learned that when I'm not writing, I'm not happy. A happy wife is way better than one who is miserable. So, he has given me the gift of understanding who I am and allowing me to be that. I don't think I could have made it with another writer--though lots of people do and it works well. For me, someone who loves to read, has an open mind, is willing to deal with the emotional ups and downs of the writing life, oh and did I mention great sex? Well, enough said.
Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.
I find the entire publishing process a great mystery. My first book, a memoir, was published in the UK by a small press. They hired a publicist in the US to promote the book in North Carolina, which was really nice. Since the book is about growing up with a sister with autism back in the days before autism was really well-known, the market was pretty well-defined. Due to personal circumstances, I was not able to promote the book myself after the initial first couple of months. Yet, I noticed it's still in the catalogue and in its second printing. I guess that's a good thing but I have no idea how many have sold--getting the word out about a book seems an impossible task--and understanding the numbers of your sales--all mysterious--I mean, I know selling 50 books wouldn't be great and selling 50 million would be a dream. As for anything in between, I have no idea what good numbers might be....and I can't seem to find out. There seems to be some hocus-pocus surrounding the entire process!
What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?
I was a dreamy child who talked to herself all the time. My dad still teases me about watching me when I didn't know it, how I'd talk and pretend--and this was not as a wee little one, but more like, junior high! Because my sister was odd (we didn't know the term or the reason at the time) I had to try to figure out the world and I had moral decisions to make: would I allow others to make fun of her? Would I fight for her? Would I forgive her when she destroyed my dolls? I was raised by amazing parents who taught me to imagine how the other fellow might feel, to empathize and to forgive--they lived their faith and they still do. It is one of the great comforts of my life to know that my folks, now in their late 80's, still pray for me every night. So, with my circumstances, I was challenged early on to try to make sense out of this world--to try to create cosmos from chaos, which I believe all art attempts. And, my mother read to me, shared her love of books with me. I have tried to do the same with my own children as they were growing up, though I don't feel I was as good at it. I had my children at a very young age, before my spiritual life had matured. Matter of fact, I was in rebellion against all I'd been taught. So, they didn't go to church in their earliest years....it's one of my big regrets. By the time I'd found a few of the answers I was seeking and started attending church regularly, they were in grade school. I feel like I failed them. But everyone is on a spiritual journey whether they realize it or not. I was a kid who asked hard questions none of the grown-ups around me could answer.
Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?
Absolutely not. I have no balance. I'm either writing full-on or I'm managing family crises. I've had a few times where things have been in balance but for the most part, my writing has been tucked into the niches and corners of my life--I aim to change that in my old age...so far, hasn't happened. I was never one of those amazing writers who rise before the dawn and type out 5000 words, then make breakfast for the family, then head off to work. While my three sons were growing up, I taught high school English. Between that and mothering, I had no time to write. Finally, when I was 37 and the older boys were teenagers, I quit teaching to write. Everyone thought I was crazy--they told me my kids were going to starve. But I took part-time work to help out and started writing articles for a local magazine at $25.00 a pop. All the while, I was writing short stories. In 1991, I got a small grant and to me that was a huge vote of confidence. I eventually went back for my M.F.A. and continued to publish articles, stories and poems. While I was in school, I started the memoir, which became my first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, in 2007. When I quit teaching, I did so because I knew deep in my soul, I was supposed to write. I knew I would not find satisfaction or joy until I gave it a try. Now, I believe being a writer is one of the things I was created to do. Even if I write for the audience of One.
Anne Clinard Barnhill has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Besides writing, Barnhill also enjoys teaching, conducting writing workshops, and facilitating seminars to enhance creativity. She loves spending time with her three grown sons and their families. For fun, she and her husband of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance. Her latest novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN: AN ANNE BOLEYN NOVEL, was recently published by St. Martin's Griffin.
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