Today, I'm lucky enough to have Bethany Ball stop by for a Book Bite. Ball is the author of What to Do About the Solomons, a darkly funny, globe-spanning, multi-generational family saga that was short-listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Happy Reading!
"A wry, dark multigenerational tale, full of emotional insight, about the Israeli and American branches of an extended family.”―New York Times
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing with all of your free time?
There is nothing I’d rather be doing than writing, but when I’m not writing I’m playing tennis or platform tennis. I think if I spent all that time playing tennis rather than writing I’d probably be much better than I am.
In your eyes, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
A successful writer has the desire to write, takes that desire very very seriously regardless of any kind of outward success. Joins writing groups, takes classes, if possible (community education classes can be amazing), reads lots of books like the ones they want to be writing, reads writing books and sends work out consistently.
What was the best review you ever received? The worst?
The best review was the New York Times, absolutely. What was so great about it was that the reviewer felt so much warmth for the characters. I was worried that I had been too hard on them, showed too much of their foibles and faults. I was happy she felt love for them, because I certainly do.
The worst review I received was from a teacher in my high school. I didn’t know her, I’d never been her student, but she gave me one star and said I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about. It seemed hurtful because my school district is one where about 15% of the kids go on to college. Maybe I was in a vulnerable place when I read that, but it hurt. But a bunch of my teachers did read the book and are proud of me. And I have nothing but love and respect for all the wonderful teachers I’ve had.
Do you have a set routine as a writer?
I write when my kids go to school. This means I’m stealing time away from doctor’s appointments, chores, working out, grocery shopping, whatever exercise I can fit in. But I prefer this. To me it’s an ideal schedule. It leaves me just enough time, not too much and not too little. If I have a big project to work on, or if I’m at the beginning stages of a project, I try and go away somewhere for at least 24 hours. Even if I’m holed up in a local hotel. I have an apartment in the East Village that I have access to so I’ll go there. Sometimes it’s hard to get deep into a project without a large chunk of time. Then when I get back, I find I can maintain it. I work really hard when I do go away, mostly because I feel guilty about being away, and also I know I need to use the time wisely.
Did the novel have any alternate titles?
I had a terrible time naming this novel. It was really frustrating. I kept wanting to give it biblical titles and my editors and agent were really against it (they were right). I think I wanted to call it, All the World’s a Narrow Bridge, and also, Guy Gever Stands in the Fields. Eventually, my lovely brilliant agent, Duvall Osteen came up with What to Do With the Solomons and thank heavens everyone agreed.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I’m thinking a lot about my second novel right now. I’d written 70k words and was kind of thinking I would turn it into my agent right about now. I gave it to my friend to read and he felt pretty strongly that the writing wasn’t there. He kept asking if it had been written before the Solomons book and that was a pretty good sign it wasn’t ready to go. So I’m rewriting it. So that’s the greatest advice I’ve recently taken, which is to not be precious with your work. Rewrite and revise. If you are impetuous, as I tend to be, slow down. On the other hand, my friend Scott Wolven once told me you can’t take the same amount of time with a second book as you did with the first. So I’m trying to find that space between not taking seven years to write book number two and not thinking I can write a book in twelve months.