Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beatriz Williams Shares the Joys of Family and Writing

Welcome Beatriz to Writers Corner.  I am excited to introduce everyone to your work.   Beatriz is a graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia. She is sharing her debut  Overseas.  Thank you for speaking with us today.

What inspired you to write your first novel?
I call it my mommy-age crisis -- it was either write or strangle myself with a pacifier cord! Seriously, I'd always wanted to write, and writing was always my gig, even in a business setting (as in, hey, let's let Beatriz handle that executive summary no one else will touch!). Then I found myself at home cleaning dog poop off my toddlers' shoes, and I really needed a creative outlet, a domain I could own for myself. It took a few false starts, but once I got going on Overseas, I knew this book was the one.

  What is the best advice you received about writing?
A friend of mine, who's an editor at a science fiction/fantasy publisher, very kindly sat down with me when I got serious about pursuing publication. She told me that if I wanted to write historical fiction, even if I wasn't focused on romance per se, I should join the Romance Writers of America. She was absolutely right. The resources there are tremendous; it's a great place to learn the craft of storytelling, and a great place to learn about the business of publishing. And the writers of RWA are about the most collegial and generous on the planet.

 Did you know that you wanted to write fiction?
Always! While I appreciate a good biography or history, I always wanted to tell stories.

 What inspired you to tell the kind of story you did in Overseas?
Well, I certainly never set out to write a time travel novel! Ever since a college seminar on turn-of-the-century Europe, I've been fascinated by the cultural shift that took place around the time of the First World War, and by the generation of brilliant young men who were sacrificed in the trenches and battlefields. One day I formed a picture in my head of a classic WW1 infantry officer, in the mold of Rupert Brooke and Julian Grenfell, walking the streets of modern Manhattan. I couldn't get it out of my head -- this idea of a literal clash between the world of 1914 and the world that arose from the ashes -- and so Overseas was born.

  What was the best advice you were given by family pertaining to your writing?
When I was a naive teenager and said I wanted to major in English and write novels for a living, my father said that if I really wanted to write, I should go off and do some living first. Otherwise, to borrow FDR, I'd have nothing to write about except writing itself.

 What has surprised you the most with the publishing of your first novel?
When you're unpublished and writing a manuscript, your shining goal is to get your book published. Then the miracle happens, and someone buys your book, and you realize that this isn't the goal at all; it's only the beginning. It's a wonderful accomplishment, but I don't feel as if I've arrived anywhere. I'm still striving, still plagued with all the usual insecurities of writers everywhere: Is this any good? Is it going to sell? What am I going to write next? And my kids are still, whatever, Mommy wrote a book. Where's dinner?
 Will history to continue to play a role in future books?
Absolutely. Overseas was a complete surprise for me, set as it is primarily in the present. History holds a relentless fascination for me, such a tremendous canvas for conflict and heroism.

  Other authors have come out with play lists for their novels.   What inspired the playlist for Overseas?
To me, the big theme of Overseas is the distance between Kate and Julian: not just their physical separation, but the completely different worlds in which they were raised. Julian comes from the romantic tradition, the great European civilization before the Armageddon of the First World War, and Kate was raised in this postmodern world of irony and cynicism. So I had to find common ground that would be familiar to both of them, and the music -- Chopin, Beethoven, Bizet -- was it. Whenever the differences separate them, the music comes in to negotiate a truce. And, okay: Julian waltzing Kate around the living room floor to the Blue Danube? Win.
Interestingly, my Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin, liked the playlist so much, they're printing their edition with QR codes in the text. Readers with smartphones can scan the codes and listen to the music as it occurs in the story. How genius is that?

 Any future projects?
My next book is already written and sitting on my editor's desk at Putnam. It's set in an exclusive Rhode Island beach community in the summer before the great New England hurricane of 1938, with a tangled love affair at the heart of the action. Sort of High Society meets A Perfect Storm.

  What do you like to do besides writing?
With four small children, I really don't get much chance for any other hobbies! But I do love going out for a run in the mornings; it's a wonderful way to escape all the other demands and let the creativity flow. And I love travel of any kind, even road trips in the minivan with the kids screaming in the back! Anything that changes the usual scene.

   Since this is International Chick Lit month, what authors would you recommend to others?
I admit it: I'm a promiscuous reader, which means I don't often read deeply in any one genre. But if by chick lit we mean vibrant, contemporary women's fiction, I do love Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, and Allison Winn Scotch, among others. And I loved the paranormal twist to Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl -- any links between present and past capture my imagination.

   Would you like to share a recipe with us that is a favorite?
My kids love my banana chocolate chip muffins, which are to get rid of those brown bananas no one wants to eat! I used to make this recipe as a loaf, but with muffins the baking time is much shorter, and you don't have to wait for them to cool completely as you do when slicing up a loaf. I adapted this one from a Cooking Light recipe, so it's not too heavy on the butter.

2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 mature bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Spray muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray (do NOT use paper baking cups). Mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time. Add banana, vanilla, and yogurt; mix well. Slowly add flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chips and pour into muffin tins. Makes 24 muffins.

   How do you find time to write?
I just want to say that the rumor about using an astronaut diaper is NOT TRUE! No, really, I just cut out everything unnecessary, like watching TV and (when I'm on deadline) cleaning the house, and I try to make every moment productive. When I'm folding clothes or driving the kids to soccer, my brain is working on the next scene, so that when I sit down to write I'm ready to go. Now that my youngest is in preschool, it's a little easier. I drop her off and go straight to Starbucks or the diner, where there's no ringing telephone and no dishes waiting to be cleaned. Most importantly, I turn off the WiFi so I'm not even tempted to go online!

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