Whether I am gardening, quilting, or just relaxing, a good book makes my day. I enjoy the adventures, the characters, and all the places and experiences reading allows me to share. So often I am amazed at how my favorite writers do what they do. It is a process that amazes me. Nora Roberts, on her blog Fall Into the Story, recently compared it to the process of gardening! Which just goes to show that my all my hard work can’t make up for the creativity necessary to make them gorgeous. Luckily, my pleasure comes from the work itself.
My lifelong friend has just had her first book published, Message from a Blue Jay: Love, Loss, and One Writer’s Journey Home (Buddhapuss Ink). I have had the extraordinary gift to read her writing all our lives so I have seen this day coming. Yet every time I read a draft, or discuss a finished essay, I am struck with the same wonder I feel encountering any provocative piece and hers are intriguing. How did you think of that? How did you describe that in such a way that I can experience it too?
Today she will answer some of these questions for us….
Faye Rapoport DesPres was born in New York City, and over the years she has lived in upstate New York, Colorado, England, Israel, and Massachusetts. Early in her career, Faye worked as a writer for environmental organizations that focused on protecting wildlife and natural resources. In 1999, after switching to journalism, she won a Colorado Press Association award as a staff writer for a Denver weekly newspaper, where she wrote news stories, features, and interviews. Faye’s freelance work has since appeared in The New York Times, Animal Life, Trail and Timberline, and a number of other publications.
In 2010, Faye earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College’s Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program, where she studied creative nonfiction. Her personal essays, fiction, book reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines, includingAscent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Eleven Eleven, Fourth Genre, Hamilton Stone Review, Necessary Fiction, Platte Valley Review, Prime Number Magazine, Superstition Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle.
Faye currently lives in the Boston area with her husband, Jean-Paul DesPres, and their four rescued cats. She is an Adjunct Professor of English at Lasell College.
Please welcome Faye Rapoport DesPres.
I notice your book is a collection of personal essays. How do you choose your fodder for your stories?
When I started writing personal essays, I tended to look to my past for inspiration—to memories that had stuck with me for years. If one seemed worthy of exploration, I’d start writing about it to see what would unfold. Sometimes what I found or wrote didn’t end up being anything of significance. It was more interesting and fulfilling when I discovered something important that turned into an essay.
The longer I worked in creative nonfiction, the more I noticed that a lot of my inspiration was starting to come from my present life. I started writing more about experiences that were happening to me, around me, and during my travels.
My favorite parts in your collection are those “aha” moments, those pivotal understandings and connections. Did you make those connections as life happened and choose the story accordingly, or did the storytelling create the connection?
Almost always, the storytelling created the connection. Usually while we are just living life, we’re not searching for meaning in every moment or activity. We’re not creating metaphors for the coffee we’re having for breakfast—we’re just drinking coffee. When I start to write about experiences in my life, however, the writing process creates the opportunity to find those connections you mention, and to mine deeper meaning out of my experiences. Sometimes I do realize that a moment or event has deeper connections even as it’s happening, but more often I find those connections as I write. Sometimes the “aha” moments don’t come until several drafts into the piece, when all of a sudden I realize what I’ve been trying to say, what I’m writing about and what it all means. Those moments are just as great for the writer as they are for the reader.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
I think each reader will take away something different from the book. I think some will identify with the feelings, conflicts, and realizations I gleaned from different experiences. Some might think more about their own lives. Perhaps others will just find it interesting to read about places they’ve never visited or cultures they didn’t know about, or to learn something about a family with a background that’s very different or very similar to their own. In the end, I hope readers simply enjoy the book and think it was a good, thought-provoking read.
What books have most influenced your life most?
That’s a tough question! I’ve read many different types of books. The first books that come to mind are the classic Russian novels I read while commuting to and from work on the trains in Boston when I was in my twenties: War and Peace, The Brothers, Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment. I also love Shakespeare, and certain poets whose words have stuck with me over many years, such as T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson. At the same time, I’ve been really affected by contemporary literature, like The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery or the memoirs This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff, and Why Be Normal When You Can Be Happy? by Jeanette Winterson. I’m a closet mystery fan, too. I have read every Tony Hillerman mystery. I also admit that I was one of those people waiting for the postman to arrive on the day each Harry Potter book came out.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I love being outdoors—walking, hiking, skiing, canoeing, you name it. Because I love animals, I volunteer at a local shelter and of course I spend time with my own cats. I’ve been involved in athletics of some kind or other all my life; I studied martial arts for many years and now I work out at home and at a local gym. When we can, of course, my husband Jean-Paul and I like to spend time together.
Do you have an interesting routine or writing quirk?
Hmmm…I don’t think I have any real writing quirks. For about a year I woke up early and wrote every morning between 5 and 7 but that has changed lately. I’m actually looking forward to getting back into a writing routine after six very chaotic months.
What was the most surprising thing you learned when writing this book?
Maybe the most surprising thing I learned was that I could actually do it. Hard work, persistence, tuning out the critics, and believing in yourself and your work really can pay off. There is so much discouragement on the road to becoming a published writer that it’s easy to give up or decide that it just wasn’t meant to be. I have on occasion given up on something in life and wondered later if I made the right decision. With writing, I simply refused to give up. And yes, it was a bit of a surprise when that attitude paid off. It still is!
Faye, thank you so much for these very thoughtful comments.
Note: This was the sixth stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres’s Virtual Book Tour. You can visit the next stop on May 22nd at Lisa Romero Writes. In the meantime, Faye’s publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus “swag” to the winner of a Virtual Tour Giveaway. You’re invited to leave a comment below to enter. For more chances to enter, please visit theBuddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab.