Celebrity Author Lineup Includes Marcia Clark, Cat Cora and Milt Larsen
By Leslie Dinaberg
CALM’s Annual Celebrity Authors’ Luncheon is a must-attend literary event for anyone who loves books. CALM’s mission is to prevent child abuse and treat children and families who have suffered from child abuse. The 27th annual fundraiser, which takes place on Saturday, March 16, at 10 a.m. at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, is sure to be another terrific literary fete.
Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine editor Leslie Dinaberg spoke with New York Times bestselling author Tiffany Baker (The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, 2010; The Gilly Salt Sisters, 2012) in a phone interview from her home in Marin County.
SANTA BARBARA SEASONS: I’m a big fan of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County and when I saw your name on the CALM guest list I begged them to interview you. Can you tell me about that story first? Where in the world did your inspiration come from?
TIFFANY BAKER: It started with the character of Truly, really. When I wanted to write a book I knew I wanted to write about a woman who was an outsider in a small town but when I got her voice in my head, it didn’t sound like this meek voice, it kind of came out like a big voice … I was trying to reconcile being an outsider with this big voice and then I thought well, what if she was really big. (Editor’s Note: The character of Truly is a gargantuan woman, so large at birth that the town of Aberdeen joins together in betting how record-breakingly huge the baby “boy” will be.)
SEASONS: That’s an interesting metaphor for that situation. Having three children and writing that book, I commend you … how on earth do you find time to do that?
BAKER: I treat it like it’s my job; I guess I’m like any working mother. My kids are in school, so it’s a lot easier. I work when they are in school and I have babysitting help and we just kind of juggle it. It works.
SEASONS: When you’re in the middle of working on a book or coming up with a story are you able to turn it off and on, say these are my work hours, these are my family hours?
BAKER: No it doesn’t work like that. In fact, it’s horrible because writing, I say it’s like a job but it’s also not like a job because you need a lot of time to be by yourself and be quiet so sometimes I’m in the carpool lane or something and I’ll be scribbling stuff (Laughs) and it kind of bleeds over into my life as a mother. Sometimes that does get a little challenging but I just kind of try to make it work somehow.
SEASONS: Are you always working on a story? I know you’re promoting the paperback edition of your second book right now, so when you’re in that kind of marketing mode are you also in writing mode or are you focusing on that?
BAKER: I am always working on a book, always. So I’m promoting the paperback right now for The Gilly Salt Sisters, and then at the same time I’m doing the copyedit for my third novel which is due January of 2014. It’s called Mercy Snow. So I’m wrapping all of that up and I’m also working on a fourth book. I’m always working on something new.
The way I work is I usually have a story in my head for a year sometimes. The book I’m working on now I’ve been thinking about it for four years, and so by the time I start writing it I’ve really been thinking about it a lot; it’s just sort of been marinating. By the time I start writing it, it doesn’t seem unfamiliar to me. So that’s kind of how I work. I have lots of story ideas that I want to work on and I just keep them in my head until it’s time to start a new one.
SEASONS: So when you have a story that you’ve been thinking about for a long time and you’re starting to write it, do you feel like you have a pretty clear idea of where you’re going?
BAKER: I always think I do. My husband and I joke because I always say, “oh the next book; it’s going to be so easy to write. It’s going to be so easy, it’s not going to be like this book.” I always think I have it all together and then I start writing—because you know writing is hard and you know you always have to say, “oh wait, I didn’t think about this or reconcile things or research,” so it’s never as easy as I think it will be— but that’s the challenge of writing a book. And that’s what is so fun about it.
SEASONS: So it’s never as easy as you think it will be, but is it easier now that you’re on your fourth book than it was when you were on your first book?
BAKER: I always think okay now surely I know how to write a book, but it doesn’t actually work that way (Laughs) because each book is a little bit different and I don’t want to write the same book over and over again. Usually I’m trying new things in a book. So it’s something I might not have done before, so I have to find a way to do it. So it’s never as easy as I think it will be. … I think it is getting easier though. I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea that there is a part of the novel, especially in the first draft, I just have to understand that it is not going to feel comfortable and you kind of feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. But you just have to get through that. I’ve gotten more comfortable with that.
That part has gotten easier, where you just trust the process more. It’s not like I sit down and it just flows out of me so beautifully and easily.
SEASONS: I read on your blog that you’ve taking up rowing recently. Is that an activity that takes your mind off of what you’re writing, or is it something that feeds it? How do those things come together?
BAKER: I like to say it’s my therapy. I started rowing because when you write—well you know this being a journalist—you sit for a long time at the computer and I was getting out of shape and I just needed to exercise more. I got in a boat I was like, “oh this is just great.” I just loved it. Then I joined the rowing team and I’m learning. I’m on a novice team where we’re going to race for the first time. We’re learning to row, because it’s really hard.
I do find that actually it’s helping because it’s pure physical activity, you put the oar in the water and you pull really hard. (Laughs) So it really does kind of balance out all of the thinking that I do. I also feel like there are lessons that translate because it’s an activity you have to be very patient in and you can always be working on something, so I think it sort of translates over to writing somehow for me.
… When you’re on a boat in the water and you kind of see the world from the perspective most people don’t see it in. It’s really cool.
SEASONS: Speaking of seeing the world from your perspective, when I was doing some research for this interview and reading your reviews, the word “quirky” kept coming up.
BAKER: That always comes up. (Laughs)
SEASONS: Do you think that you write quirky stories?
BAKER: I think I write interesting stories. That word bugs me a little bit because I feel like it points to the way publishing is going these days, where I feel like things are getting more and more niche-oriented, if that makes sense. Because I think things are so driven by marketing now, so if you’re a mystery writer, people can market you. If you write bodice rippers, it’s like okay, good for you. But I feel like a lot of literary fiction writers kind of blur genre lines and people don’t really know what to do with us, so we get called things like quirky.
SEASONS: If you were going to describe your stories other than as interesting, how else would you describe them?
BAKER: I would say they are magical and female-oriented, I guess. I focus a lot on sisters and relationships between women and I hope they are redemptive.
SEASONS: Do you have any favorite writers?
BAKER: I love Barbara Kingsolver; I love John Irving and Amy Tan. I love Karen Russell‘s writing and usually whomever I’m reading at the moment, I’m like oh this is so good. Right now I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall. … Years late for the party, but it’s really good.
SEASONS: I saw you had a great quote about bookstores, “A bookstore—a good one, at least—is far more than just a retail establishment. It’s a bank of the human condition.” I just thought that was a lovely idea. In the time that you’ve been publishing there are fewer bookstores, obviously. How do you feel about people reading your books possibly in a digital format rather than a paper book?
BAKER: I don’t know. I’m lucky where I live we have so many independent bookstores in this area, but I sort of feel like people read a lot with e-readers, and I don’t mind e-readers per se, because I feel like they almost make people read more because you can put it on your phone, you can put it on your iPad. So that doesn’t bother me as much. But I do worry… other places where I have spent time there are no bookstores left. And it kind of worries me that there’s no place where people can go and congregate and hear a writer come to talk, where people can go and talk about books. So that saddens me.
So I am a little worried about new trends that I’ve been reading about where Amazon wants to sell used eBooks. I’m just not sure how that works at all. I find that whole thing confusing, so I don’t know about that.
SEASONS: Are any of your children old enough to have read any of your books?
BAKER: No. They are just not even impressed, not even at all. (Laughs)
SEASONS: I would imagine with three little ones at home you have to kind of pick and choose your speaking engagements, and your time out of town. Why did you say yes to CALM and this particular event?
BAKER: I do like to speak at events that are oriented for charity. … I like the idea that books can actually do something in the world and make some sort of difference in the world, so that’s always a nice thing. And it is not so solipsistic, like come hear me talk. It’s kind of a nice thing. … It’s just nice to have an event where you feel like there are two kinds of worlds meeting, book world and a charity organization. … I was very honored to be asked to speak at it.
For more information about CALM’s 27th Annual Celebrity Author Luncheon click here.