Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Co-editor Bethany Brownholtz interviews Kate Abbott, #BLauthor12

Series of untitled photos by Craig Scoffone - Video Maker

Here is BL's interview with #BLauthor12 Kate Abbott.

If you haven’t checked out Kate’s prose poetry yet, please do that. Featured art is a slideshow of work by Craig Scoffone, a San Francisco Bay Area based photographer. We are pleased to be able to present some of his works here.  Please visit his website to see additional works.

BB: I love the way this piece describes the act of people-watching—the qualities we notice, the questions we are left with.  How does your being a writer affect the way you people-watch? 

KA: I think it gives me a great excuse to spy on people in the name of "research"! I love making up stories about the people that I overhear or see out in public--what they're doing, who they are, what they like, what they're afraid of. Sometimes I have even taken notes if I see or hear something that strikes a chord with me that I might be able to use in my writing later.

Then again, I've always taken notes while "spying" on people--I was obsessed with Harriet the Spy as a kid and I kept my own notebook of observations! (I still have it somewhere.) But now that I'm older, I can say my nosiness is justified because I need to get inspiration for writing.

BB: The narrator of “Things I Know About Us” identifies with the other person (us/we) rather than dismissing him or her as separate or “other.” Can you expand on this? What makes you want to identify with someone else as opposed to disassociating from him or her?

KA: I'm not terribly outgoing, and I usually avoid talking to people I don't know. Especially if I'm doing something I consider unpleasant, like exercising! So although I do like people-watching when I'm out walking, I don't really talk to anybody or engage with them.

But I saw this one particular older gentleman every single day while I was walking. Good weather, bad weather, whatever. He never said a word to me (which was fine with me!), but eventually as we recognized each other he would wave at me and smile and I found myself looking for him whenever I went out in the park. I developed a familiarity with him from seeing him all the time, from doing the same thing, separately but still together in time and place. I think there's a sort of camaraderie that happened--we were both making ourselves go out and exercise even though the weather was terrible and we were the only ones out doing it.

And then it was funny because eventually, I came to actually like my walks, and I think seeing this man every day was part of making me enjoy the experience of walking around my neighborhood. It made me feel like I was more a part of the community, that I could recognize a neighbor. So I wrote this piece to him, talking to him, even though I haven't ever said more than "hi" to him in real life.

BB: What inspired you to divide the piece into its three sections: Things I Know About Us, Things I Know About You, and Things I Don’t Know About You?

KA: I think I structured this "list" in the same way I might take notes on somebody I was observing when I was a kid, when I was spying on someone. I would always try to remain strictly impartial and factual in my observations, but of course your imagination takes over a bit when you start to wonder about someone, about what their behavior might signify. What I don't know about a person, even after observing him, is frustrating and fascinating to me. I wanted to end this ode to this stranger by acknowledging that even though I think I know all about this person, I really don't know everything, and I never can.

BB: You published a YA novel, Disneylanders.  Tell us a bit about the book. Are you a Disney fan?

KA: Disneylanders is a coming-of-age story that takes place over the course of one girl's summer vacation to Disneyland. Casey is about to start high school (which I think is a pretty awkward stage of transition) and her best friend has just dumped her, her parents are smothering her, and her annual vacation just isn't the same. She meets Bert while waiting in line, and as they go off together and explore the park, she has to face her own fears of growing up.

I am a huge Disney fan, but my nerdiness is mostly focused on Disneyland itself. I've always been interested in how it works--how this artificial environment can feel like home to millions of people. What it means to all of them. What it means to me. Also, it's such an American icon of childhood, I thought it would be intriguing to set a story there that's about growing up.

BB: What is the focus of your recently completed memoir, Walking After Midnight?

KA: Walking After Midnight is a memoir of my experience going into and recovering from postpartum depression. When I was pregnant, I read all these parenting books, I watched Supernanny, I thought I was going to have this parenting thing down. And then I actually had a baby, and my world got rocked. I think that would have happened to some extent anyway, since nobody can be really prepared for navigating parenthood, but that sense of getting knocked on my ass was worsened by my sudden plunge into a depression that I had never expected. It chronicles my descent, how I got help for it, and how I recovered.

BB: Can you recommend a couple of books for the BL readership? What did you like about these works?

KA: I love Joan Didion essay collections, like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album. I just love her voice, her point of view, her sentences. Plus she's from Sacramento, where I live. I will admit to driving by her old house, even when it's out of the way. I also love Anne Lamott. I reread Bird by Bird all the time. I find her so funny and inspirational. And I recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon because it's fast and fun! One of those up-all-night books.

Thanks so much for the interview, BL!

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