Michele Bacon: Five Questions

Life Before by Michele Bacon

It is really hard to write about abuse authentically. If you haven’t experienced it,  it is hard to put yourself in the victim’s shoes. If you have lived it, then it is equally hard to distance yourself from it and write from a perspective that isn’t so horribly devastating. Michele Bacon has done a phenomenal job in her portrayal of Alexander Fife and his physically abusive father in Life Before.

Xander is almost there. He is graduating from high school and has a full-ride scholarship to college. Once he gets there he can live a life that doesn’t fall under the shadow of his violent father. But on the night of his graduation ceremony a tragedy occurs that destroys his world and leaves him in danger for his life.

In order to spare those he loves the worst of the peril, Xander takes off. He reasons everyone will be safer with him gone and all he has to do is kill time until college starts. But life on the run is neither glamorous nor fun and Xander finds himself in Burlington, Vermont with no money, no friends, and no place to stay.

Bacon tells Xander’s story with the perfect balance of realistic danger, sorrow, fear and hope. It does not fall into a maudlin place because even though Xander finds himself at probably the lowest point of his young life, he is not completely bereft of hope, nor damaged beyond repair. He makes friends in Burlington, finds a job, and even meets a girl. But will he ever stop running from his past or go home again?

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The seed for this book was my greatest childhood fear. I grew up in a violent household, and for much of my childhood I was terrified that my father would kill my mother. While Xander’s story is fiction, it’s based on that fearful what if of my childhood.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Today, I am a devoted plotter, but I wrote Life Before without plotting it first. I often wonder how it would have been different had I plotted it before writing.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I appreciate this question, because it’s more difficult than rattling off a list of authors whose work I enjoy. Instead of emulating others’ work, I try to learn something from every book I read. Here are three examples:

On pacing: In Janet McNally’s debut, The Girls in the Moon, I loved her transition between chapter 1, when her best friend arrives on the doorstep, and chapter 2, when we learn about that friendship. My curiosity forced me to turn the page.

On storytelling: Alison Bechdel’s first mention of 17-year cicadas in Fun Home seems interesting but immaterial, but she later uses the insects as a metaphor. I appreciated that echo, and how it changed my reading experience.

On point-of-view: Emma Straub’s The Vacationers is in and out of characters’ heads, moving the camera around to tell the whole story. I always write first person or third person close, but this book changed my mind about omniscience.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I have three small children, so I savor the quiet of my empty house. When I am experiencing stress or time constraints, I use solo cello music to help calm me and keep me focused.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m poring over Atlas Obscura, which will inform my travel plans for years to come. I’ve just started The Portable Veblen, by Elizabeth McKenzie. I received it in the reddit books exchange, and it’s quite promising.

michele-baconMichele Bacon writes novel-length fiction for adults and young adults. An avid traveler, Michele has visited all 50 states and few dozen countries. She lived in many cities throughout the United States, and spent 14 months living in Christchurch, New Zealand before settling Seattle with her husband and three young daughters. Michele’s second novel, Antipodes, a coming-of-age novel about an ambitious teen forced into a foreign exchange program, will publish early in 2018.

I don’t, as a rule, cry at books. But this one did get me, I confess. It’s a wonderful read that ultimately gives you hope that Xander will not just survive, but thrive.

Get your copy here:

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K is for…

KKarnezaika

My husband is 100% Greek extraction. His mother’s maiden name is Karnegis, and there is actually a town on the Peloponnese named for that family. His aunt Froso (see Irea post from April 11) has a house there and we got to stay for a few days 2011. There are perhaps 10-12 houses, but they have their own church and it is painted beautifully inside over every surface with icons of saints and angels. It really took my breath away and I wish I could show you but it is not polite to take pictures inside churches in Greece.

Karnezaika--the road in town.

Karnezaika–the road in town.

The town has one shop, used to have a gas station, and just about everyone is related.  The cemetery that clings to the side of the church at the top of the hill is filled with my husband’s relatives and ancestors. The house where Froso grew up now houses her niece and family. In fact, the Germans occupied that very house during World War II. Karnezaika is quiet, dusty, hot, and completely wonderful.

Kosta and Froso.

Kosta and Froso.

The cemetery next to the church--full of Kosta's ancestors.

The cemetery next to the church–full of Kosta’s ancestors.

Beauty everywhere you look.

Beauty everywhere you look.

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.