We're talking to Nicole Baart today. Welcome, Nicole.
It definitely changes with every book. When I was writing After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow, books that are set in Northwest Iowa where I was born and raised, it was difficult at times to separate myself from my main character, Julia. The books are in no way autobiographical, but many of the characters in Julia’s life are drawn from my own experiences with people. And so is the setting, of course. But the book I am currently working on (as well as others I have started in the past) contains characters that are the polar-opposite of me. It’s fun to experiment with character and try to write about people who are very different from me.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Wow, that is a tough question. I have absolutely no idea… I guess one quirk that I possess is a complete inability to tell jokes. Before I make it to the punch line I always end up laughing hysterically and ruining the joke. I have a unique sense of humor and I tend to find myself much funnier than other people do. Oh! I thought of something else quirky. A few days before I started teaching high school English in British Columbia, I learned that my future students were concerned about having an American teacher. They thought I’d be some stereotypical hick-town redneck. So on the first day of school, I indulged their silly fantasy. I spoke with a ridiculously exaggerated southern accent, told them my favorite pastime was “shootin’ pop bottles with my shotgun,” and promised I’d wear my hot pink cowboy boots to school just as soon as they were repaired (I explained that the heel fell off in a “freak line-dancing accident”). Those teenagers looked at me as if I was from Mars. I dropped the charade after only a few minutes, but for the rest of the day students kept coming into my classroom asking me to “act like a redneck, Mrs. Baart.”
What fun!!! When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I knew I was a writer in early elementary school. From a very young age I knew I wanted to be an author when I grew up. My very supportive parents never flinched when I mentioned that childhood dream. In fact, both my mom and my dad would sometimes introduce me as their daughter, “the future author.” Of course, I never really believed that my dream would come true. I think sometimes I’m still coming to terms with it!
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I don’t typically read escapist books and I’m not a huge fan of biographies. Other than that, I love to read and will pick up almost anything. Since my husband is a pastor, I end up reading a lot of his cast-offs. Robb Bell, Donald Miller, C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, and Brennan Manning are a few favorites. I also read a ton of fiction--mostly award winners or anything that my friends recommend. I love Gilead by Marilynn Robinson, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, A Passage to India by E.M. Forester, and nearly anything by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. I’m a huge poetry fan, too, though I am a bit picky and tend to favor the classic poets.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I’m just starting off in my writing career and my published books include After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow. I also have a contract for two more books with Tyndale. I’m currently working on book number three, a suspense-filled contemporary piece with a literary, introspective slant. If that sounds off-putting, don’t be deterred! The book is similar stylistically to a Jodi Piccoult or Alice Sebold book. It’s written from three different perspectives over the span of thirty years. I’m loving it because it’s filled with surprises and complex motivations--it’s both challenging and exciting to write.
In addition to the books I’ve mentioned, I’ve started a number of other manuscripts that were abandoned before I could place the final period. These unfinished works include a mystery, a historical, and a fantasy novel. I guess my writing is a little eclectic. And I suppose I could do a book of short stories and one of poetry if I were to collect my other works.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I live in a small town! Believe it or not, that helps. Also, I try very hard to keep my priorities straight. Someone asked me recently if being published has changed my life. I had to think about that pretty hard. The answer was, finally, no. My life hasn’t changed much at all. I’m still just a mom and a wife, a friend, Bible study leader, a gardener, a cook, and a wannabe interior decorator. Oh, and I get paid to do something I have always, and will always love to do: write. It’s awesome! I think it also helps me to keep everything in its place. When I’m with my kids, I’m with my kids. When I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m at Bible study, I don’t think about anything else. Maybe it seems counterintuitive to compartmentalize my life, but it helps me immensely to be able to cope with everything.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
That’s an interesting question. I have to admit that I don’t really have a formula for it--for me it’s kind of like picking a name for a child or a pet. The name just fits the person and I can’t imagine it any other way. I’ve never fussed about my names and to me they fit my characters perfectly.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I have two: giving birth to my son Isaac, and traveling to Ethiopia to bring home my other son, Judah. Both experiences were excruciatingly hard and exhausting, but so very worth it in the end.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Oh man, I have to be an animal? I never know how to answer those questions… I’m sure the answer will be different tomorrow, but today I suppose I’d be a squirrel. Not because I particularly like squirrels or because I think I’m squirrelly (he-he-he), but because my neighborhood is full of them and I feel like I have come to know them well. From what I can see, they seem to have boundless energy and lots of fun. Plus, they’re in great shape, have tons of friends, and can make themselves comfortable anywhere. I like their ability to adapt. Although I’d like to avoid the road kill demise that many squirrels inevitably meet.
What is your favorite food?
I love to eat, period. There aren’t many foods that I don’t like, and I am willing to try anything once. Or twice. Maybe even three times if I’m feeling adventurous. I absolutely love gourmet food and ethnic cuisine, especially when it looks as good as it tastes. And I’ll never turn down seafood or fish of any kind. My favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants consists of baked shrimp with goat cheese, spinach salad, surf and turf (a nice sirloin steak, medium, and a lobster tail), grilled asparagus, and something chocolate for dessert--all shared with my husband. Makes me hungry just thinking about it!
My husband and I often share one meal at a restaurant. I eat a lot less than he does, so it works out just right. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
It sounds kind of cheesy, but my biggest roadblock was (and still is) believing in myself. Although I always wanted to be a writer, I very much doubted if I could ever do it. Before I wrote After the Leaves Fall, I had never completed a novel before. I had started many novels, but I never had the oomph to finish the manuscripts. Either I lost faith in myself or I started having serious doubts about the story and I just gave up. It wasn’t until I had a concrete deadline and a “do or die” mentality that I finally pushed myself to stick with it until the bitter end. I was thrilled to find that I could do it.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Experiment. Don’t take the all the advice you read to be the absolute gospel truth. Find what works for you and, if it is successful, stick with it--even if it seems ridiculous and even if it flies in the face of what some people suggest you do or don’t do. I think everyone has to have their own writing style and their own techniques. If you start to follow a formula, I believe your writing will eventually begin to feel formulaic. There has to be a certain personal flair to what you do and you are the only person who can add that individual, special dimension to your work.
Summer Snow is the sequel to After the Leaves Fall. Sometimes I imagine books are like children and you aren’t supposed to have favorites… But I kind of do! I just loved writing Summer Snow and I’m crazy about the story. From the press release:
In After the Leaves Fall, we were introduced to Julia DeSmit--a girl with big dreams to break out of her conservative small town life. In Summer Snow, we meet a more mature Julia--optimistic and anxious to begin again after dropping out of college. But the careful life Julia has begun to build falls hopelessly to pieces when her estranged mother, Janice, appears on the front porch one icy March night.
Mother and daughter have not seen or talked in ten years, and a decade of anger, resentment, and bitterness follows in Janice’s wake, along with a surprise that Julia could have never anticipated. Julia is convinced that which is broken cannot be mended, but hope blooms in unexpected places. Can Julia find the grace sufficient to live beneath the promises she is slowly beginning to believe?
I’d also like readers to know that 15% of the proceeds from After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow are being donated to Christ is Our Hope orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Thank you, Nicole, for giving us this fun interview.
Readers, check out her web site, but before you go, take a moment to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Summer Snow.