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Interview with author Barbara Gerber on Her Breakthrough Debut Novel,
Love and Death in A Perfect World
Ms Gerber: I am a writer, a teacher, and a mom. I am someone who thinks and feels entirely too much--
I worry a lot about people and the world.
It took me seven years to write this book, which seems to contain every thought I’ve ever had and every observation I’ve ever made about human nature. But the funny thing is, as people read it, I learn there’s more to it than I realized. It’s a deep, “inside” look into a collection of lives that seem hauntingly familiar to many.
TNB: What inspired you to write this first book?
Ms Gerber: I got my first glimpse of what would become Love and Death in a Perfect World during a family vacation at Joshua Tree National Park in March 2007. At one point during a week of hiking and camping, I was watching my 14-year-old son scramble up a steep, narrow outcropping of rock when he lost his footing. Although there were only a few moments of uncertainty before he righted himself, the close call took my breath away: What if he had fallen? What if he had been seriously injured? What if he died? All parents worry that their children will be put in harm’s way, but rather than shudder and put those scary thoughts out of my mind, I decided to explore that dark possibility. When I woke up the next morning, those “obsessive mom” worries began to take a different form. As I cooked breakfast and planned the day’s activities, I found myself inventing characters and scenarios. The troubles that young Dylan encounters in the book stem from that moment.
TNB: What is a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Ms Gerber: There’s so much I hope people will see, but I don’t want to be too heavy-handed, so I’ll just touch on two aspects. First, I hope they see themselves. I have always relished identifying with a well-developed character. It’s amazing, really, how readers carry the experiences of fictional characters in their hearts and minds. I believe that each character, every book, brings us that much closer to understanding humanity, like pieces in an infinitely complex puzzle. This is why we need novels, memoirs, and, really, all books—we need to understand ourselves and our world.
I also hope the book makes readers question why they think what they think and feel what they feel. I find it fascinating how our habits of mind are formed; from the unexamined kneejerk reaction to a full-blown system of belief, dogma looms everywhere. Which beliefs, tenets, and morals—which guideposts—are our own, and which are simply absorbed unconsciously from others?
TNB: What is your power word? Why this word? (A power word is a word that has great effect to the person hearing or reading it.)
Ms Gerber: My power word is AUTHENTIC. My book is authentic —sometimes gritty in its realness—and I think my readers appreciate that. I have no patience for books that seem clicked together like predictable composites of Lego bricks. Even literary fiction can be formulaic, which is a huge disservice to readers and writers alike.
TNB: Did you encounter any surprises or unexpected twists during the process of writing this book?
Ms Gerber: A funny thing is that since it took me so long to write the book, by the time I finished I identified more with the main character’s mother than Rosemary herself. I felt so much compassion for Martina as she ceases to be the center of her children’s lives, a development I have had to adjust to personally as my children grow up. (They are now 22 and 16.)
In addition, although I planned out the book and was clear on its “message” before I began to write, it turned out I had a whole lot more to say. I ended up focusing more than expected on how women, as exemplified by Rosemary, are expected to care so much—to care for their children, their partners, their parents, their co-workers, their neighbors—everyone in their lives, really, as well as often having jobs that require them to care for others. We’re so used to seeing this that it’s become invisible.
Ultimately, the book took on a life of its own—I ended up writing a better book than I’d planned!
TNB: Why should someone buy your book?
Ms Gerber: The book makes readers question what we’re all doing with this baffling gift of life, the mystery of love, and the burden of death. In addition, since it covers so many years in the life of Rosemary, her parents, her husband, and her son, a broad scope of readers can connect with it. (And it’s a page-turner!) If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys strong character development and a good story, but who also expects some depth in a book—a book that makes you think and wonder and remember and feel and laugh and cry—then Love and Death in a Perfect World fits the bill.
TNB: What marketing techniques are you using to sell your book?
Ms Gerber: The book will be officially released on July 1, so I’m just getting started with it all. So far I’m blogging and using social media. I’m also sending out advance reader copies and media kits to reviewers. I’ll begin holding book talks and reaching out to book groups this summer. My publisher is offering book groups of six or more 20 percent off retail price with free shipping. (Go to the Book Clubs page on their web site if you’re interested!)
TNB: What projects are you currently working on?
Ms Gerber: I’m enjoying blogging. After years of being a freelance journalist—having to pitch stories, please editors, and cringe when a story is hacked to pieces—it’s great to write what I want and publish it directly. I also love how blogging and other social media allow me to connect directly with readers, without a filter.
Apart from that, I’m planning a sequel to Love and Death in a Perfect World.
TNB: Do you have advice for other writers?
Ms Gerber: Keep the faith. It’s hard to devote thousands of hours to something that might never fully manifest, or might utterly fail. Let’s face it—when you’re writing a novel, you’re not making money, you’re not spending time with your family, you’re not exercising, you’re not…fill in the blank. It’s a huge leap of faith, and it’s hard to maintain that faith over a long period of time. And it changes—how you write, why you’re writing, the shape of the book, etc. I support writers in being devoted to the process, but flexible about the product. Let the book become what it needs to be.