Meet Carol Bodensteiner. Pershaps you already have. Fellow writer Janet Givens refers to her as my twin!
That’s because both of us wrote memoirs about being country girls and growing up on dairy farms. But only one of us is a blonde.
1. Your first book was about growing up on an Iowa dairy farm in the 1950’s and ’60’s. I loved your well-told stories and felt like we had lived parallel lives when I read your memoir. Did people expect you to write a sequel to your first book? Why did you choose not to do that for your second book?
I felt a kindred spirit when I read your memoir BLUSH, Shirley. I’m glad our childhood experiences connected us. The stories in my memoir Growing Up Country dealt with the time in my life when my world revolved around the insulated nucleus of our family, church and country school. The stories felt complete as they stood. A sequel didn’t occur to me until I heard from so many readers that they wanted more stories about growing up on the farm. But by then I had moved on to writing my novel.
Still, my readers planted a seed that may yet come to be. Should the seed germinate and grow, it would need a title something like, She Got On The Bus, because the stories wouldn’t be confined to the farm, they’d engage the broader years and experiences of high school and college.
2. When did the idea for your novel come to you?
Go Away Home was inspired by my maternal grandparents. My grandfather died of the Spanish Flu in 1918. Throughout my life, I’ve been intrigued by my connection to this major world event. Of course I never knew my grandfather and even though my grandmother lived until I was well into my 20s, I never asked her a single question about him or their lives together. And she was not the type to share. So, this story is fiction based on a few facts. It creates a life for the man I never knew and for the grandmother I only knew as a stern old woman.
3. Was the novel easier or harder to write (than the memoir) as a first draft?
The novel was a much greater challenge. My career had been spent in business writing where I communicated facts as clearly and concisely as possible. Memoir writing was an easier step because I knew the stories, the people, and the places. The challenge was to write in a way that would show that life to readers.
With the novel, I started out with a few places and dates and family stories in mind, but I eventually learned I had to let go of even those few touchstones because they didn’t serve the plot that was developing. While I thought it would be easier to start with some facts because that was what I was used to, the reality was there was great freedom in starting with nothing.
4. How about the revision process?
This novel went through at least three significant rewrites. Because I’d never written fiction before, I was learning the craft as I went. It took these rewrites to help me finally break from the starting point facts and let the story be what it needed to be.
5. Plot construction for the beginning novelist is often a challenge. Did you find it so? How did you educate yourself on ways to keep the reader turning the page?
Plot construction was perhaps my largest challenge. The thing that helped me most was attending advanced novel workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. It would have saved a lot of time if I’d taken a “plotting the novel” workshop before I even started. As it was, I retrofitted what I learned in each workshop to where my manuscript was at the moment and went from there. Now, I analyze every novel as I read with an eye toward plot construction and keeping the reader moving along.
6. You have chosen to self publish. You have rave reviews in good quantity on Amazon and Goodreads and a following on social media. What benefits have you found in self publishing?
When I decided to indie publish my memoir, a friend who’d gone that route herself said, “Well it’s not a mountain; but, it’s not a molehill either.” There’s considerable work in self publishing, but it’s not impossible to learn. I’m grateful to all the friends who’ve so willingly share publishing wisdom. I ‘m successful because of them. My background in public relations prepared me well both for managing the process of publishing and for doing the marketing. Authors who commit to writing and publishing a high quality book – and then commit to getting the word out – can enjoy the benefits of greater control over their own product and greater financial payback.
7. Like me, you’ve always been a writer but have only become an author after leaving a professional career behind. Can you comment on how your writing has changed over the course of your career and what you are still learning about the new world of books, publishing, and social media.
My writing has improved because I have more tools in my writing toolkit. As a public relations professional, I was accomplished at business and journalistic writing. Since taking up creative writing, I’ve learned the power of various prose styles, the value of a strong analogy, the importance of plot and conflict, and much more. There is always something new to learn, which is why I love writing. The changes in social media give me more to learn daily. We’re all lucky the social media world is such a helpful place.
Speaking of helpful places: here are two other posts from Kathy Pooler (with Mary Gottschalk) and Jerry Waxler (David Kalish) on the same subject of moving from memoir to novel. I think we have spotted a trend!
Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing.
She blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment. She published her memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY in 2008. GO AWAY HOME is her debut novel.
Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl is available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon.
Go Away Home will be available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon in July. Read the first chapter now.
Which would you rather read — a memoir or a novel? Of Carol’s two books, does one interest you more than the other? Why?