Writers on Writing #9: Dana Bath

Today’s interview is a throw back. A throw way, way back, to a large island off the East Coast of Canada in the middle of the ocean.

High school and I weren’t great friends. I did pretty well in school, but I wasn’t one of the popular kids. When you’re 15 and 16, that’s a big deal, although I now love my life, and consider myself to be very happy and successful. It wasn’t until I hit University that I really blossomed as a person and started coming into my own. I have never been good at “playing the game,” but university was a place where I was encouraged to follow my passions, and my talents were celebrated.

I had one very special teacher in high school, Art Griffin, who was a real mentor to me and to today’s featured writer, Dana Bath. Dana and I were part of a small group of friends who were all geeks, writers, readers, and drama nerds. We both pursued writing and both of us became college teachers. We connected again over Facebook a few years back, and she’s known me long enough that she still calls me “Becky.”

Ladies and gentlemen, someone whose abilities I have always been in awe of, Dana Bath.

1. I am….   Dana Bath

2. Author of…    Universal Recipients (short stories), Plenty of Harm in God (novel), What Might Have Been Rain (short stories) and a blog on education that is pseudonymous at the moment.

3. The first thing I ever wrote was…

…This is a tough one. I began writing when I was eight or nine years old, but my M.O. was to write a long elaborate chapter in which I detailed a big cast of characters (usually a family of many siblings), identifying their primary character traits and hair and eye colour, and then to abandon that in a drawer and start a new manuscript with new characters whom I now found more interesting. I think I was fifteen when I finally finished a short story.

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4. I knew I wanted to be a writer when…

It’s a bit embarrassing. Around the time I learned to read “chapter books” (I was seven or eight), I started sort of narrating my life to myself. I’d be walking around, and I’d give myself a fictional name and start telling a little story in my head about what I was doing: “Emilia was walking down the road toward school, wishing she could do something more fun today.” And then – this is a very distinct memory – one spring afternoon I was on the swingset in my back yard and I started telling myself a story about a girl named Jocelyn who was swinging on the swingset in her backyard, and I told myself the line, “Jocelyn was swinging back and forth, feeling how wonderful it was to be free.” (Remember, I was eight.) And a synapse fired that hadn’t before: the stories I was telling myself were made up of sentences I could write down; the books I was reading were written by people like me, who were making up stories the way I was making up stories. It really was like a thunderclap: I want to write stories. I was kind of a mess for the rest of the day, trying to get my mind around that.

5. My first writing success was….

That story I finally finished when I was fifteen was published in a little anthology that my regional school board put together, and I was given an award for it. Around the same time, I was in a youth drama troupe, and we were creating our own pastiche end-of-year showcase, and I decided to write and perform a poem. The first time I recited it in rehearsal, my two drama coaches just sat there for a few seconds and then asked, “Did you write that? That’s beautiful.” And one of them called my mother up and told her I was a good writer. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support.

6. Who were your influences?

L. M. Montgomery was my first and maybe my most important influence. I reread all of the Emily of New Moon series recently and I still love them; we think of her as being a sentimental writer, but her books are also wonderfully strange and imperfect. E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler changed my life, as did Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. No adult literature has influenced my writing goals as much as the books I read as a child did. More than anything, I want to create for readers that childhood feeling of the real world dropping away because you want to spend all your time with the characters in the book you’re reading. I occasionally have that feeling as a reader of adult fiction, but it’s very rare.

7. Describe your writing process. 

I am pulled in so many directions these days that writing has taken a back seat to a lot of other things. I teach college, so much of my fiction writing is done during my winter and summer holidays. By that time, I’m so out of practice and rhythm that I set myself very small goals, maybe 250 words a day. I often write on my laptop on the couch, or at my desk in my cramped little office, or, on a nice day, I might write on the deck, which always feels like a treat. Sometimes when I feel the walls closing in on me, I take my laptop to a cafe or, my favourite, a library. I can’t write longhand; I wore out my right arm doing Natalie-Goldberg-inspired free writing in the ’90s and I can’t even write a legible grocery list any more.

8. What does success as a writer look like to you? Do you think you are successful?

I am very dissatisfied with myself as a fiction writer. My three books were all important stepping stones, but they were immature works, and the last was published over 10 years ago; I’ve been struggling with another novel ever since, but at this point I’m not sure it’s ever going to come together. I’m ambivalent about fiction, both as a reader and as a writer. I feel strongly that I should be dedicating my life to some sort of writing, but I don’t know if fiction writing is it. So I guess success would mean figuring out what kind of writing I really want to be doing, and finding a way to invest most of my time in that writing instead of day-job-type pursuits, and then receiving some sort of acclaim, even if it’s just in the form of a regular and appreciative readership.

9. What does the future look like? What are you working on?

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a novel for going on 13 years now. I’m considering at this point that it might be a novella instead; I have another novella that I like a lot (it was recently shortlisted for the Malahat Review Novella Prize) and I’ve started writing a third, so there might be a collection in progress there. In addition, I’m in the early stages of a Masters in Education, and I’d like to produce a thesis that will be a good read for a general audience and not just for academics.

10. Which famous writer would you like to write your biography?

I recently fell in love with the writer Meg Wolitzer after reading her latest novel, The Interestings. I think she could write a biography that is just the right balance of melancholy and acerbic, scathing and loving. She would take all my foibles and pretentions and somehow turn me into a sympathetic character.

Thanks, Dana! 

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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