I was honored to read Barbara Stark-Nemon’s debut novel Even in Darkness, and it was beautiful. . . the kind of story that settles into you with hope rather than blowing your mind in a fast moment.  I highly recommend it, and I’m thrilled to host Barbara here today. 

1. Tell me about your latest project.

Don't Settle for Almost Write: An Interview with Barbara Stark-NemonAfter writing my heart out with Even in Darkness, which is historical fiction set in Germany over the 20th century, my novel in progress is a real shift. It’s contemporary fiction about a woman with a complicated family life which gets more complicated just as she is trying to start a hard apple cider business. Researching hard apple cider production has let me tap into my wannabe orchardist fascination, and the issues of who counts as family and how do we make and break family ties plays heavily in this book

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book, and my grandfather was a master storyteller and expected us to tell them right back. So early on I paid attention to how to narrate experiences. I started writing stories as a teen, became an English teacher and then a speech-language therapist so I was always working with people’s language and communication and the connections to reading and writing. I finally realized I needed to write full time and that’s when Even in Darkness came into being.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

It’s always a struggle between getting to the computer early or working out early. Each produces a different type of day, but if I don’t do either first thing, my day is sunk. I am not a disciplined writer, but if I really want to get something done, I drive to our cottage in northern Michigan and sit in my chair there and work. I can put in a 10 hour writing day there with no distractions other than the lake out the window. It’s a dream writing spot.

4. Who are you reading now?

I’ve just finished reading a ton of historical fiction and memoir around WWII in preparation for my book tour. Anthony Doer’s All the Light We Cannot See, Elizabeth Rosner’s Electric City, Alyson Richman’s The Lost Wife, Charles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect, Dara Horn’s The World to Come, Mary Doria Russell’s A Thread of Grace, Sande Boritz Berger’s The Sweetness, and Carole Bumpus’s A Cup of Redemption are just a few. In between I’m reading totally fascinating works out of this genre like Andrea Cumbo-Floyd’s The Slaves Have Names, and Susan Cain’s Quiet ? and I just re-read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those? 

To Kill and Mockingbird, Dandelion Wine, All the Light We Cannot See. To Kill and Mockingbird and Dandelion Wine were sentinel reading experiences because in each, I had the experience not only of loving the books, but understanding that I was learning something important about people, and the world and myself as I was reading them. I read them both when I was 11 or 12 years old and it changed the way I thought of myself as a reader. All the Light We Cannot See is just simply one of the best books I’ve ever read. How love and devotion come into our lives in unexpected ways and the choices people had to make to survive and find meaning during WWII have been such deeply felt themes as I wrote Even in Darkness, and All the Light just presents them masterfully.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

That is truly on my mind right now as I am feeling very out of that balance with a book release and a second novel trying to get written at the same time! All the platform activity was new and somewhat foreign, so my learning curve was pretty steep. I think we all struggle with it and I’m just hoping for more equilibrium after the book launch activities slow down. Travel, and going to the cottage where the internet is glacial and cell phones don’t work helps!

7. What is a typical day like for you?

I am so lucky! I don’t have a typical day! I have writing days, gathering with friends and family days, traveling to see my kids days, more writing days, gardening days, and now I’ll have book event days. I do run, swim, do a yoga class or bicycle nearly every day.

8. Describe your dream writing space?

BSN1Barbara Stark-Nemon's Dream Writing Space


9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond???

When I was in undergraduate school, I had a class in teaching English from a wonderful professor and poet whom I truly admired. I was just starting to think of myself as a writer who would also teach as he did. I submitted an assignment and it came back with thick red pencil marks everywhere and “Fat! Fat! Fat!” written all over the margins. I was devastated and began learning that you don’t write yourself to the sentence. You think, you draft, you extract and then you polish. I’m still learning that! And then there was the agent I submitted the first 50 pages of my novel to who wrote five wonderful sentences about what she liked about my work and then “Unfortunately, I did not feel as drawn into the story as I had hoped.” It took me a week to get over that, and I re-wrote (again) the first chapters of the book!

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Trust the story. Work on what you’ve written until the story you really wanted to tell finds its form. Don’t settle for almost right, because you’ll be living with that story for a long time if you’re going to try to get it out in the world. Write the story you can fight for and ask someone else to believe in. Rewrite it, get it edited, put yourself through the refiner’s fire.

Put Yourself Through the Refiner's Fire: An Interview with Barbara Stark-NemonBarbara Stark-Nemon grew up in Michigan, listening to her family’s stories of their former lives in Germany, which became the basis and inspiration for Even in Darkness, her first novel. Barbara holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan. After a 30-year teaching and clinical career working with deaf and language-disabled children, Barbara became a full-time writer. She lives and works in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.