Thursday, September 20, 2018 | By: The Write Way Cafe

Meet Barbara Stark-Nemon

The Write Way Café welcomes Barbara Stark-Nemon, who brings a broad interest in life and family to her books, including her latest, Hard Cider.

When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book? 
I had taken refuge at my great aunt’s home in Germany at a troubled time in my own life. We were standing in her dining room, and I asked her about a painting that didn’t fit in with the serene antique and light-filled ambience of the room. I knew about my aunt’s life from years of her brother, my grandfather’s admiring stories about her. I asked her how she’d managed to survive her horrendous experiences during WWII, lose so many people, and still remain the witty, glass-half-full person she always appeared to be. She replied “The mouth laughs, and the heart cries.” I knew right then I had a book to write. That became Even in Darkness.

What was your path to getting Hard Cider written and published? What type of research did you do? 
After I published Even in Darkness, I had some interest from a “big five” editor, but when I submitted Hard Cider, she passed. I realized that I’d gotten such a feeling of agency and support in the publishing process for Even in Darkness from She Writes Press that I didn’t want to give that up to seek a “traditional” publication path. Having the community of She Writes sisters has been invaluable, and having a publishing team who are so experienced and well regarded in the publishing community has been invaluable. I love the research part of writing my books. For Hard Cider, I traveled to New Hampshire and to northern Michigan and visited/interviewed some of the premier cider makers in both places. I’d also fallen in love with hard cider during a year I lived in England a long time ago. I also did a lot of research into surrogacy, which is a major plot element in the book.

Where did the idea for Hard Cider come from? 
 I like to call Hard Cider a “what if” book. What if some of the experiences in my own life had happened very differently? I also guess I wasn’t done with the concept of a strong multidimensional woman having to overcome unexpected challenges with dignity and self-determination. That thematic element connects the heroines of both my novels. I also have thought a lot about how we form families— who are automatically our family and who do we make into family? And then there was that year I spent living in England and getting to know a lot about hard apple cider!

Why did you pick the setting you did? 
I’m a born and bred Michigan girl! My absolute favorite place to be is in the northwest corner of the state on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it’s covered with vineyards and fruit orchards. There’s a burgeoning hard cider industry in Michigan so that made the choice of setting easy.

Are your main characters completely imaginary or do they have some basis in real people? Do they reflect aspects of yourself?
Some are entirely imaginary, and others are hybrids of people I know. My main character, Abbie Rose, has some interests (knitting, running, growing things) that I do, and has to contend with some life experiences that I know a thing or two about, but then that “what if” concept kicks in. Abbie’s life departs significantly from mine!

Did you face any blocks while writing the book, and if so, how did you handle them? 
One significant challenge was shifting from the very literary, European, historical fiction voice of Even in Darkness to the more contemporary voice in Hard Cider. I got stuck at one point on a significant plot point, and also needed to incorporate a mystery element into the narrative, which I’d never done before. In all these cases, my wonderful writer’s group helped me get past the obstacles.

What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after? 
One surprise is how deeply early readers have responded to my creation of the northern Michigan setting. I love that! In researching infertility, I was amazed at how the landscape of the way we form families has changed in the last thirty years. Family laws, medical technology advances, and changing social norms have truly changed our concepts about families.

What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world; about producing hard apple cider, and family dynamics? 
Wow, I could write (and have!) several articles about all that I’ve learned. These are great questions and go to the heart of why I love being a writer. I have learned that what I put into my books is very important to me— artistically and emotionally. But then I have to put that aside and open myself up to what readers experience and express, which may be very different. I learn so much from my readers. It’s an element of being in the writing world that I hadn’t thought much about.

I had great fun learning about producing hard apple cider! People who do this are a whole world unto themselves, and I loved being able to join in.

Family dynamics? Abbie Rose has to contend with quite a bit in Hard Cider. We all have family dynamics, and what I wanted to feature is how a woman reconciles her dream for an encore career with her complicated family.

Tell us about your writing space and how or why it works for you. 
My absolute favorite writing space is in a comfortable chair overlooking Lake Michigan—in all seasons! I also often work at a desk, in my office looking out into a pine treetop. I need quiet and a block of time to write and am lucky to have spaces where I can get both.

What are some of your favorite books and why? 
Some of my early favorites were Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I loved the dreamy quirky kids and the sense of place in the natural world in each of them. I learned a lot about people from those books and the magic of a good book. Some of my favorite authors as an adult have been A.S. Byatt (Possession), Mark Helprin (A Winter’s Tale) and Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) I’m entranced by a whiff of magical realism, historical novels, and lush writing!

What are you working on now? Would you like to try your hand at writing a different genre? Which one and why?
I’ve just started researching and writing a new novel (or maybe a novella?) about a 14 year-old embroideress who has to find her way from Inquisition-era Portugal to Germany to reunite with her father. She’s assisted by an older woman who is an herbalist and healer. This may be a YA or New Adult book… another genre hop for me, but does go back to historical fiction which was Even in Darkness’s genre. I write the stories that demand to be written, regardless of genre…

If you were not a writer, what would your dream job be? 
Writing is my dream job! And my second one… I had a long wonderful first career working with children with communication disorders.

What aspect of writing gives you the most trouble?
Carving out the space and time to do it!

Who is your favorite hero/heroine? 
Sorry, can’t pick just one … but here’s the dedication to Hard Cider — it speaks to my heroines everywhere…

To Everywoman- maker and keeper of families—especially when it isn’t easy…

Abbie Rose Stone’s acquired wisdom runs deep, and so do her scars. She has successfully navigated the shoals of a long marriage, infertility, challenging children, and a career. Now it’s her turn to realize her dream: producing hard apple cider along the northern shores of Lake Michigan that she loves. She manages to resist new versions of the old pull of family dynamics that threaten to derail her plan―but nothing can protect her from the shock a lovely young stranger delivers when she exposes a long-held secret. In the wake of this revelation, Abbie must overcome circumstances that severely test her self-determination, her loyalties, and her understanding of what constitutes true family.

Amazon        Indiebound        Barnes & Noble

BARBARA STARK-NEMON is the author of the award-winning first novel, Even in Darkness. She lives, writes, cycles, swims, does fiber art, and gardens in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan. After earning her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan, Barbara enjoyed a teaching and clinical career working with deaf children. Barbara writes novels, short stories, and essays. Visit her online at:   Website        Facebook        @bstarknemon 


Lynn said...

I love your post. Your writing is lovely. Thank you for being on our blog. Good luck!