Interview with Barbara Monier, author of The Rocky Orchard

12 May 2020

What can you tell us about your new release, The Rocky Orchard?

All books, fiction and non-fiction alike, have to start somewhere. The starting point can be as skeletal as the broad outlines of a character, or as fleshed-out as a detailed story. The Rocky Orchard is a bit unusual in that the book started out with a place. The idea came to me when I was recovering from surgery, and I realized that recovery period may have been the first time in my life when I was completely free of responsibility. I wanted to write a story about the existence of such a place – a place where the main character felt that sense of peace. I quickly had the sense that the character would be a young woman. I wanted to put her in this setting, a setting that was nearly magical for her – and find out what would happen there. It’s a pretty difficult book to summarize or describe. Reviewers have had a heck of a time.

What books are currently on your nightstand?

I admit it; my night stand is entirely electronic. I was among the folks who declared we would never choose to forego the great pleasure of holding a book in our hands, running our finger along the paper pages, etc., and now I read everything on my Kindle. I’m actually toggling among three excellent books right now : The Understory, Euphoria, and The Water Dancer. Each of them is exceptionally well-written, with a strong story that weaves seamlessly through lyrical passages.

What advice would you give your teenage self?

There are actually a few ways in which I’ve spent my life trying to regain some of my teenage attributes! Circumstances engendered a kind of confidence in me that was well beyond my years. That said, I was in a big hurry. I went to college without finishing high school and graduated college in three years. I’ve spent a long time learning how to slow down, and that’s the advice I would give to my teenage self – slow down. Take time to notice as much as you can, savor moments, relish in small pleasures. [Before the pandemic], being crazy busy was becoming an ever-increasing status symbol. I think we should be striving for just the opposite.

If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?

At this point in my life (age 64), I don’t feel that lack of time continues to be The Issue, even though I still work nearly full-time and am writing my fifth novel. For me, it’s more a question of trying to live each day so that when I lay my head down on my pillow at night, I have the thought: this was a good day. Often that feeling comes when my writing is going well, but it can come from lots of other places as well. I’m a big fan of trying to exercise my mind, my body, and my spirit every day. Then there’s love. I try to love the important people in my life well. More time can always go there.

What makes your world go round? Why does it bring you joy?

I feel really lucky that I’m genuinely tickled by small pleasures. I lie in bed at night and get excited about my morning coffee! And, like many writers (and introverts in general), I’m highly observant. The ability to look carefully and to find joy in small things work together really nicely. There’s a lot of joy to be found if you’re open to it and looking, and God knows, those small joys are a much-needed counter to a lot of ugliness and suffering that exist as well.

When I feel like I have written something well – when I’ve found the words that capture what I wanted to express when I set out– it brings a sense of joy that is different than anything else. But lest I sound like I am 100% intentional and such, let me assure my readers that I can binge watch Netflix and play Candy Crush with the best of them.

What scene in The Rocky Orchard was your favorite to write?

There was a scene that came to me in a dream—literally — which was pretty crazy and amazing. I awakened one morning fresh out of a dream about something that actually happened with the dog my family had when I was growing up – we’re talking about more than fifty years ago. I couldn’t imagine why I would dream about my dog killing a baby bunny, and then it hit me: that incident was the perfect way to illustrate a situation I was struggling with in The Rocky Orchard. The scene I wrote was brief and straightforward and relatively free of embellishment. As I was writing it, I knew it would work beautifully and make the eloquent, compelling point I needed to make.

Barbara Monier is the author of the new book The Rocky Orchard.

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