Ever wonder how to be a writer? Here, in Part II of this two-part interview, authoritative, prolific--and brilliantly funny--author Gina Barreca elaborates on the pleasures, practicalities and privileges of being a book author. She talks about book sales and marketing and what is, to her, the most amazing thing about being an author.
You have a lot of speaking engagements, which I'm assuming help book sales — would you tell us a little about "the life of an author" as you experience it from a self- and book-promotional standpoint?
I’m like a snake-oil salesman: I carry books in my trunk. Every place I go, I bring books. I’m talking at a college, at a hospital, at fundraiser for a women’s shelter, at a library, at a prison? I bring books. Somebody might want some. I also work very hard to make sure my writing lives in more places than just between two hard-covers: I write a weekly column for The Hartford Courant, a monthly column for Principal Leadership, and I blog several times a week for Psychology Today and The Chronicle of Higher Education. When I’m not writing, I should be; when I find something interesting to write about, I like to make sure that I put the words into print. Writing is a profession, and like every other profession there are serious requirements. It’s not a once-every-couple-of-years deal. If you’re going to build a readership, you have to write constantly, consistently, and with genuine enthusiasm.
From your first book to your most current, how has the publishing process changed for you as an author: editorially? marketing and publicity-wise?
There are a lot of books published every year and very few of them reach the readers their authors hoped they might actually reach; it’s becoming increasing important for the authors to participate in the process. There are still brilliant editors, but there are fewer of them because there are fewer publishing houses and fewer independent bookstores—when the marketplace shrinks, the supplies consolidate, so that’s not a surprise. Anyhow, I have always enjoyed speaking in front of various kinds of audiences, from small libraries to giving keynotes in front of a couple of thousand audience members. I just need to make sure I don’t have a run in my tights, a coffee stain on my jacket, or spinach in my teeth (especially if there’s a Jumbotron). My students are now working in publishing. My goal is to have my students take over the business completely. I’m working on it.
How to you manage your writing with your other careers? Specifically, how and when do you make and/or find the time to write? Do you keep a regular writing schedule? Many aspiring writers who think it's a glamorous life--and would love to hear the details.
There’s no glamour—or even glamor. It’s work, even though I’m glad to be able to do it. For example, I’m answering these questions while sitting in my basement office at UConn before running to a meeting of the University Senate (which is across campus, so I have to remember to change to my low-heeled shoes) and which, in turn, I’ll need to leave early in order to teach my two and one-half-hour class this evening (remembering to put the heels back on so that I can look Officially Professorial—or at least not quite this short). When I get home at 9 p.m., my husband of twenty years will tell me what’s left over and still available to eat in the fridge, and I will devour it (along with a glass of wine—which is why my latest book is called Make Mine A Double: Why Women Like Us Like to Drink–or Not and then before I go to bed I will finish the column for next Sunday’s Courant and email it to the editors and my co-author for final approval. Oh, and I’ll clean the cat-boxes and talk to at least two of my friends while I’m getting things ready for tomorrow morning. Alarm clock rings at seven a.m. and I’ll grade the papers for tomorrow night’s class while I eat breakfast (my students expect some blueberry jam on their in-class quizzes) and then start all over again—which I consider a privilege.
What's the funniest thing about being an author? What's the most amazing thing about being an author?
The funniest thing is the fact that people think it’s a glamorous life.
The most amazing thing is the authentic privilege (yes, that word again) of being able to have real conversations with people I’ve never met in person. When I first started writing, I promised myself that if I ever got a letter from somebody who read anything—from one word to every book-- I’d written, I’d answer their letter (in those days—1987-- we wrote letters). And I’ve tried to make certain I keep my word. These days, with Facebook and email, it’s easier than ever for a writer to have a connection to her readers, and to know whether or not your voice is being answered by another voice. When that answer comes, it’s amazing. Even if it’s not a happy voice (I get some “how-dare-you” notes from readers who think that every phrase coming out of a woman’s mouth should start with “Darlin’?”), it’s fabulous to know that you’re being heard.
What advice do you have for other people who'd love to write humor, as well?
Read the funniest writers, past and present; read Robert Benchley, Nicole Hollander, Gene Weingarten, Dave Barry, Stella Gibbons, Liza Donnelly, E.B. White, and Molly Ivans. And if you really want to write humor, then do yourself a favor and go to your local bookstore to buy humor books. That’s how the story goes, folks.
For more on the author's life — including how she got her start as an author and how she found her writer's voice, read Part I of the interview with Gina Barreca.
Gina Barreca's books, which have been translated into seven languages, include Make Mine A Double, They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted, Babes in Boyland, and It's Not That I'm Bitter. She has appeared on 20/20, 48 Hours, NPR, The Today Show, Joy Behar, and Oprah to discuss gender, power, politics, and humor. She is a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut.