My guest for this month’s interview is Caroline who blogs at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Her blog is one of my favorites because she writes in a way that makes me want to read most of the books she reviews, even one or two that I started and then abandoned. We also hosted some reading events together, the most recent being Angela Carter Week back in June last year. I was very happy when she agreed to answer the following questions.
1. Who are you?
This is such a difficult question. I wrote three different versions, one worse than the other. The first was an almost philosophical exploration of what “I” means. The second sounded a bit like a job application, and the third gave the impression that all I ever did was reading and failing at not buying more books.
And then I thought of a meme I’ve seen years ago on a few blogs. I liked it so much but never tried it myself. I figured this guest post was a good opportunity. As far as I remember, it was called something like “I’m from”. The idea was that you try a sort of prose poem about yourself and what you like.
I’m from dark purple and rainy days, the pattering of drops on a glass roof, the dawn chorus on a bluish summer morning, from stuffy boudoirs and open spaces. I’m from sleeping cats and playful dogs, from rounded hills and leafy trees, bookshelves as high as cathedral roofs, sacred spaces and noisy pubs, from friendships spend talking until the early morning, from a smile on a dark night on a lonely road. I’m from a lively room and a quiet garden, from a writer’s despair and a reader’s delight. I’m from an old bathrobe and a silky dress, from high heels and bare feet on dewy grass. I’m from a book devoured in three hours and a poem learned by heart. I’m from silver jewelry and lucky charms, and talismans carried in a pocket. I’m from honey milk on sleepless nights, from popcorn while watching a movie, from olives and dates and elaborate meals, from coriander and spices. I’m from a painting of blackberries and African masks, from a song by the Waterboys and a composition by Glass. I’m from magnolia blossoms and the scent of lilac, from fern in the shade and moss under trees. I’m from the murmur of a brook and the wind in the reeds. I’m from saying no when it needs to be heard and yes when that’s what I can give. I’m from walking through Bath and dining in Rome, from book shopping in Paris and sleeping in Brittany. I’m from no parents, no siblings, no relatives, no kids; I’m from a few very close best friends. I’m from a day spent reading and a night at a club. I’m from no God but many saints, from prayers and from song. I’m from melancholy and the jokes of a trickster, from a pun and a curse. I’m from heady perfumes and freshly washed sheets, from a story told by firelight. From a poem by Yeats and a cat on the lap, from an owl’s hoot and bats chasing at twilight. I’m from foggy autumns and yellow leaves, a walk on a graveyard and a phone call late in the night.
2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?
Initially, my blog was meant to help me stick to a daily writing routine. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to blog about. I have too many interests to stick to one topic only and, finally, I began to write two blogs in parallel. One was a movie blog dedicated to war movies, written in English, the other one was a blog about spirituality, music, and personal essays, written in German. I wrote them both on an almost daily basis for half a year – and still post regularly – before I decided it wasn’t enough. I had to start another English blog, dedicated to “Books, Movies, Cats and Other Treasures”. At first the blog was more varied but then, eventually, it became more and more of a book blog, or rather a blog, in which I review mostly literary books. These days I feel that that isn’t enough anymore. I feel like starting a book blog dedicated to children’s books and another one focusing on genre other than crime. And maybe a blog about writing.
3. Favorite books/authors/genres
My favorite fiction: literary fiction, crime and children’s books.
My favorite nonfiction: memoir, psychology and spirituality.
I don’t think I have a favorite author. Not anymore. It used to be E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Raymond Chandler, but since I’ve read all of their books when I was a teenager and haven’t re-read them, I don’t know if I would still like them as much. I suppose I would.
I’ve loved too many books to pick only a few favorites. I have a list on my blog, in the About section. The books I like the most are those that touch my soul and find their ways into my dreams. Giorgio Bassani’s novel The Garden of the Finzi Contini is one of them and so is Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep and Paula Fox’s The God of Nightmares.
I’d like to mention three nonfiction books that have been extremely important to me. They are the type of books I usually don’t review. Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit, Suzanne Segal’s Collision With the Infinite and Judith Handelsman’s Growing Myself.
4. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
I wouldn’t take a novel. I would take either one of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s books, or one by Ramana Maharshi. Or a book like Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets because it is so full of stories.
5. Best book to use as a doorstop.
I would never use a book as a doorstop. I simply couldn’t. It would feel sacrilegious.
6. Three tips for bloggers.
Enjoy what you are doing and try to write regularly. Whether once a week or daily doesn’t matter, just stick to some routine. Be welcoming and answer comments. Someone has spent time reading what you have to say and was kind enough to leave a comment, so, unless you’re a famous blogger who receives hundreds of comments, you should always try to answer.
7. Best/worst blogging experience.
I’ve had too many great experiences blogging to name just one. I love to organize events and I’m always astonished and happy to see how many people join and contribute.
I also love that I’ve made some extremely good friends. I wish that I might meet them in real life some day.
8. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your books.
I am a writer but I’m not published yet. Until this year that was by choice. I didn’t want to publish too early. I’ve written two novels in German, several dozen short stories, personal essays, thousands of diary pages and a lot more. Then, a few years ago, I realized I didn’t want to write only in German and French anymore. Since then I’ve finished two novels and over a dozen short stories in English. Just like I read in different genres, I write in different genres. My „first love“ will always be literary fiction, but one of my novels is an Urban Fantasy novel, another one is a children’s book. At the moment I’m finishing another children’s book and a book for adults. I’ve also started a crime novel.
A month ago I finally took the plunge and sent out a few query e-mails and submitted some of my short stories to literary magazines. I’m still waiting for answers. The response time, in some cases, can be up to eight weeks or more. I’ve got one negative response, which was still very nice. The agent told me that she thought the book was hard to sell but that she’d be very interested in reading anything else I had to offer. Since she’s one of the top US agents, I’m more than happy.
9. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?
I write daily, mostly in the mornings, and again later in the afternoon. I try to write at least 1000 words. On good days it’s a lot more. Sometimes less.
10. Four tips for writers.
Write regularly. Daily. Fix yourself a word count and try to stick to it. If you write more – that’s good, but try not to write less.
Don’t show your project or talk about it before it has a shape. If you share too early you might disperse the energy.
Finish your projects. Starting one story/book after the other is a form of procrastination.
Don’t try to publish too early!
11. What are you most passionate about?
Authenticity, compassion, and tolerance. Not just of different skin color or gender but of different styles and different rhythms.
12. Last book that made you cry.
I don’t usually cry because of books, that’s why I’ll always remember the one book that did make me cry. Back when I read it, I was working for an editor, reading foreign language fiction and assessing whether a book would be a good fit for the German market. One of the books the editor sent me was by an English author I’d never heard of, Lucy English. She’s written three novels, one of which, Children of Light, was sent to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been moved emotionally as much by any other book. It’s set in the South of France and in Bath. It contains so much joy and so much heartbreak. It is a truly lovely book. Her second book, Our Dancing Days, was a very emotional read as well. I’ve still kept her first novel Selfish People “for later”. I’m sad that she’s stopped writing and that hardly anyone knows her.
13. Two books that helped me overcome difficult situations.
In the past I’ve often sought solace in books. I distinctly remember two books that I found during extremely difficult moments and which were so helpful. One was a book of short texts by the Japanese author Kenko. Here’s my favorite quote from the book:
It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met…
The other book that was important was Nell by US writer Nancy Thayer. Her novels aren’t exactly literary, they are rather mainstream, but I like her very much. I loved that the character Nell was almost exactly like I was back then.
14. Ask me a question.
Will you stay in Thailand or do you have plans to move somewhere else?
I plan on staying here for now but I don’t see myself living in Thailand forever. I may go back to Europe at some point.