Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview with Sharon Bially, Author of Veronica's Nap

Joining us today is Sharon Bially, author of Veronica's Nap.

Sharon lived for twelve years in Paris and Aix-en-Provence before settling with her family in Massachusetts. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, she’s a public relations professional and leads seminars for the Boston-based, nonprofit literary arts center, Grub Street Writers. She’s also an adult student of ballet and modern dance.

Welcome to The Book Connection, Sharon. It's wonderful to have you with us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Francophile. Publicist. Writer and blogger. Adult dance student. Mom of two boys. Not necessarily in that order.

At the age of 16, I finagled my parents into sending me to France on a summer exchange program that wound up shaping my future. One exchange program followed another, and grad school in New York (Columbia, where I studied international economic policy) led to a job in Paris which led to a French husband (who’s also half Italian) and a total of 12 years in France. Since 2001 we’ve lived in the Boston area with our two children. We speak French at home, and I still can’t help feeling like we’re on the wrong side of the Pond.

A professional publicist, I telecommute to my job as VP of a small PR firm in the NY-area. That’s such a unique situation, which I’m extremely grateful for -- especially since it helps me find time to squeeze in writing and blogging. It’s hard to keep all the balls in the air while juggling these things with family life and other passions like teaching at Boston’s nonprofit literary arts organization, Grub Street Writers, and taking ballet and modern dance classes, but I love it all so somehow, it works out.

My pipe dream: not needing a day job, having more time to write and a pied-a-terre in Paris or the south of France.

Where did you grow up?

Basically, I’m a Brooklyn girl transplanted to Sudbury, MA via the tiny Pacific island of Kwajalein -- a former U.S. trust territory (now a military outpost) in the Marshall Islands, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. It was an amazing place to spend the ages of 5 to 11. The carefree lifestyle, the ease and liberty of living in what was basically one big, pedestrian neighborhood where everyone knew and trusted each other, plus the year-round beautiful weather and scenery left an indelible impression on me. PS -- there was no TV. A great way to grow up!

When did you begin writing?

Like most writers, before I was ten. But I didn’t start paying serious attention to the urge to write until my early twenties, when I drafted a feeble first novel. It never even occurred to me to consider writing as anything other than a hobby until then because “becoming a writer” simply wasn’t an option I was aware. Instead, I studied practical things like international economics to make sure I could get a deent job. I do also have a degree in French literature, since I was always passionate about reading, writing and language, but I always thought of it as secondary...until farily recently.

What is Veronica’s Nap about?

The protagonist, Veronica Berg, has everything she needs to achieve her dream of becoming a painter including a charming home studio in Provence, a hard-working husband and a nanny who watches her two-year-old twins. Yet instead of painting she spends her days secretly indulging in lengthy naps. When her Moroccan-born, Sephardic husband grows impatient and challenges her to sell one painting, Veronica has to find a way to break out of the seductive rut that's overtaken her life. As the Iraq war begins and anti-Semitism in France intensifies, her journey reveals depression's sunny mask and the dark side of privilege and security. The book also gives a rare look at contemporary Jewish life in France.

What inspired you to write it?

I lived in the south of France, where Veronica’s Nap is set, for four years. While there, I met dozens of fascinating women in positions not unlike Veronica’s -- American, Canadian, Irish, British and Australian expats who’d come to France on their own, met and married French men, then stayed and raised families there. It sounds glamorous, but in fact it isn’t easy at all. For many of these women, the usual identity crises that come with being a new mother were intensified by the challenges of living as a foreigner, often not speaking French well and not being able to fully integrate into society. All of which is pretty overwhelming.

Several of them did actually take regular naps while their kids were off at daycare -- which is super-cheap and high-quality in France, so a no-brainer choice for moms looking for a little free time. I couldn’t help wondering about the connections between this napping routine and the underlying challenges they were facing: Were they overwhelmed? Depressed? Or just taking care of their needs as moms of young kids? A few also had other aspirations like writing, becoming artists, opening businesses... But they never did anything about it. I wondered what was holding them back. I’m the total opposite -- hyper-busy and driven, always worrying about providing for myself and my family while trying to make some of my own dreams come true, too. The idea of feeling secure enough in the knowledge that somebody else is doing the providing, while at the same time not worrying about my own future, intrigues me. At some level, I wish knew what that was like! I also wonder what it does to a marriage when one spouse has to work super hard and the other gets to reap the benefits without the same sorts of pressures.

To explore all these questions, I imagined Veronica and her situation.... Voila.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

Seriously bumpy. And it still is. Publication isn’t at the end of a road: it’s part of one. I’ve written three novels since since 1993, the second and third of which were signed on by literary agents but didn’t get publishing deals. Eventually I lost faith in one of those books, and cringe now when I think of it, but the other -- actually a series of three chapter books for children based on the legends of the Marshall Islands, where I grew up -- is still very close to my heart. I’m considering dusting that one off and publishing it at some point, too.

It’s been one heck of an emotional roller-coaster ride, and my decision not to spend time or energy seeking representation for Veronica’s Nap was based in large part on the fact that I just didn’t have the stomach for it anymore. Though being an independent author comes with a huge set of challenges, I’m really glad I went this route, giving myself permission to put Veronica’s Nap out into the world.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

On Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s also available internationally through Amazon, including in France and the rest of the EU.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

Both are at

What is up next for you?

Spreading the word about Veronica’s Nap, including abroad, and writing my next book, Henna, set amid the intense Muslim-Jewish conflict in Paris.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Just thank you! And happy reading.

Thanks for joining us today, Sharon. We wish you much success.

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