Author interview with Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
I’m a writer, a writing teacher, and the curator of “Out Loud: The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon.” My work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, and The Gettysburg Review, and I write a monthly column about writing fiction for WritersontheRise.com. I live in Shanghai, China, with my husband and daughter. Thirsty is my first novel.
1. Tell us about your latest book.
Thirsty is the story of one woman’s unusual journey through an abusive marriage, set against the backdrop of a Pittsburgh steel community at the turn of the twentieth century. Klara Bozic marries young, immigrates to America, and discovers her husband is angry and abusive. She is a woman without a voice, a woman constrained by religion, class, gender, and economics, but still she has to figure out if she has the courage to change her path in life (a question we all come up against at one point or another). Thirsty is the story of her journey.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I wrote my first poem—“The Hummingbird”—when I was eight. (I still have it.) After that I was obsessed with writing. I wrote poems, short stories, and during middle school, a series of parodic plays about my older sister and her friends. While other kids were dallying around at the mall, I was sitting under a tree scribbling in my journal. I majored in English and journalism as an undergrad at Indiana University, and studied poetry there with some amazing poets (including Lynda Hull and Yusef Komunyakaa). I wrote the first draft of Thirsty as my graduate thesis at Columbia College Chicago.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
5:00 a.m. – Wake. Go to gym.
6:15 a.m. – Check email/Twitter/Facebook. Say hi to world. See what I missed overnight.
6:45 a.m. – Tully (my 20-month-old daughter) wakes.
6:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Tully time.
12:00 – 5:00 – Write. Ponder. Work.
5:00 – 7:00 – Tully time.
7:00 – 7:30 – Eat. Talk with husband.
7:30 – 10:00 – Write. Ponder. Work.
10:00 – 10:30 – Read in bed.
10:30 – Crash.
4. Describe your workspace.
My apartment in the French Concession area of Shanghai sits at the intersection of two streets: Wulumuqi Road and Anfu Road. Wulumuqi Road is still part of old China; here I can have a live chicken killed and plucked for dinner, get a couple of frogs skinned for lunch, or buy xiaolongbao from street vendors. Anfu Road represents new China; here I can sip a glass of wine at a French wine bar, have a slice of thin-crust pizza at an Italian restaurant, get my nails done, or have a silky dress made at an upscale tailor shop.
While I often hole up in my home office when I’m working hard on a project, I spend an equal amount of time in one of the many coffee shops at the intersection of Wulumuqi and Anfu roads. As a writer, I’m inspired by place, and there’s no better place for a little inspiration than this intersection in Shanghai, China. I see it all. (Then I write it down.)
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
Here are five books that have wowed me in the past couple of years. I’ve read all of them more than once:
- · Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- · The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
- · Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
- · The Known World by Edward P. Jones
- · The Gathering by Anne Enright
(I also think that Steve Almond is inappropriately hilarious and should be read out loud to friends at least once a week, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is brilliant, and Mark Haddon is a master of point of view.)
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you
Between 1998 and 2002, I spent three seasons on a 588,000-acre ranch in New Mexico where I saw more bears and elk than people, learned to shoot a gun, and became a terrible, but passionate fly-fisherwoman.
I am Meat Loaf’s greatest fan. (I’ve seen him perform numerous times, grabbed his belly at a record label meet-and-greet, and served homemade meat loaf to friends for dinner before concerts.)
I suffer terrible vertigo.
7. Favorite quote
“’There is no use trying,’ said Alice; ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’” – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
8. Best and worst part of being a writer
First drafts are excruciating for me; when I’m writing them I feel like I’m being turned inside-out. I love writing second (and third, fourth, fifth) drafts. That’s when the fun begins, when things flow, when I can really dive deep.
9. Advice for other writers
For me, there are two parts to being a writer:
1) the mystery of discovering and writing stories
2) the business of finding homes for those stories
Keep those two parts separate. Trust the mystery of your story as you’re writing it. Listen to it. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. See it in your dreams. Carry it on your daily walk to the river. And once you’ve got a story finished, believe in it. Then work hard to find a home for it.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
I read everything I write out loud. Over and over again. Whether I’m alone in my office or sitting in a crowded restaurant. Last year I was reading a piece out loud in a local Shanghai coffee shop when I realized an entire table of Chinese teenagers was staring at me. The funny thing was, they weren’t bothered by the fact that I was reading out loud, but were listening to practice understanding English.
Where can people buy your book?
Thirsty has a great Web site and a very cool book trailer. Visit it at http://www.thirstythenovel.com. You can buy Thirsty at your local indie bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Swallow Press Web site. I’d be eternally grateful if you ran out and bought a copy right now. Then stop by my blog, leave a comment, or ask me a question (http://kristinbairokeeffeblog.com).
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