Sharon Bially lived for twelve years in Paris and Aix-en-Provence before settling with her family in Massachusetts. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, she’s a public relations professional and leads seminars for the Boston-based, nonprofit literary arts center, Grub Street Writers. She’s also an adult student of ballet and modern dance. You can visit Sharon’s website and blog at www.veronicas-nap.com.
Visit her at Twitter at www.twitter.com/@sharonbially and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sharon.bially AND http://www.facebook.com/pages/Veronicas-Nap/240292619323500.
About Veronica’s Nap
Veronica Berg has everything she needs to achieve her dream of becoming a painter including a charming home studio in Provence, a hard-working husband and a nanny who watches her two-year-old twins. Yet instead of painting she spends her days secretly indulging in lengthy naps. When her Moroccan-born, Sephardic husband grows impatient and challenges her to sell one painting, Veronica must find a way to break out of the seductive rut that’s overtaken her life. Against the backdrop of the impending Iraq war, her journey reveals depression’s sunny mask and the dark side of privilege and security. With a cast of Moroccan, Sephardic characters, Veronica’s Nap also gives a rare look at contemporary Jewish life in France.
Sharon: I lived in the south of France, where Veronica’s Nap is set, for four years. While there, I met dozens of fascinating women in positions not unlike Veronica’s — American, Canadian, Irish, British and Australian expats who’d come to France on their own, met and married French men, then stayed and raised families there. It sounds glamorous, but in fact it isn’t easy at all. For many of these women, the usual identity crises that come with being a new mother were intensified by the challenges of living as a foreigner, often not speaking French well and not being able to fully integrate into society. All of which is pretty overwhelming.
Several of them did actually take regular naps while their kids were off at daycare — which is super-cheap and high-quality in France, so a no-brainer choice for moms looking for a little free time. I couldn’t help wondering about the connections between this napping routine and the underlying challenges they were facing: Were they overwhelmed? Depressed? Or just taking care of their needs as moms of young kids? A few also had other aspirations like writing, becoming artists, opening businesses… But they never did anything about it. I wondered what was holding them back. I’m the total opposite — hyper-busy and driven, always worrying about providing for myself and my family while trying to make some of my own dreams come true, too. The idea of feeling secure enough in the knowledge that somebody else is doing the providing, while at the same time not worrying about my own future, intrigues me. At some level, I wish knew what that was like! I also wonder what it does to a marriage when one spouse has to work super hard and the other gets to reap the benefits without the same sorts of pressures.
To explore all these questions, I imagined Veronica and her situation…. Voila.
Is this your first book?
Sharon: Technically, yes, since it’s the first one I’ve published. But I’ve written three books since 1993, the second and third of which were signed on by literary agents but didn’t get publishing deals. Eventually I lost faith in one of those books, and cringe now when I think of it, but the other — actually a series of three chapter books for children based on the legends of the Marshall Islands, where I grew up — is still very close to my heart. I’m considering dusting that one off and publishing it at some point, too.
What were your thoughts and feelings when you held your book in your hand for the first time?
Sharon: Sigh. This might be hard to believe, but after just a couple of minutes of feeling awed and amazed to see the results of so much hard work (as an independent author I also handled cover design and every single other aspect of producing the book and getting it out into the world), I immediately looked ahead to the huge amount of work still ahead and felt…overwhelmed! Like I said, I’m hyper-focused on goals, and writing and publishing are huge goals of mine. I want people to read Veronica’s Nap and be touched by it, which means I need to spread the word about it. There are also at least two other books I’m dying to write. So holding that first copy in my hands was very much about marking the moment yet looking ahead to next steps.
You serialized your book and blogged it at your website at http://veronicas-nap.com/ before the book was published. What do you feel you gained by doing this?
Sharon: Having had two separate books under agency contract yet no publishing deal, and having worked with many authors as a publicist, I was bursting to talk about some of the things I’d learned about publishing and writing by the time I was ready to publish Veronica’s Nap. I was also bursting to talk about the issues in the story, which may have been inspired by the expat community of Provence but which I’ve found reflected everywhere from Italy to the Boston suburbs, where I now live. So when I decided not to seek a traditional publisher for the book, the idea of a blog including the book’s text seemed like an ideal way to both publish the story and talk about all these issues.
The experience has been tremendous. I’ve built a solid community of online readers and friends, gotten some press coverage — which I feel is an important part of any broad conversation — and gained a voice within the broader writing community. The blog also doubles as the book’s web site now that it’s in print, and I like that element of continuity. Plus, I’ve really loved the blogging experience, and am thrilled to finally be able to publicly express the ideas the blog focuses on.
What things do you believe you have in common with your protagonist, Veronica?
Sharon: Ha! Very little, aside from having lived in Provence and married a Jewish French man. (Although my own husband is neither Moroccan nor Sephardic.)
Veronica is pretty much my polar opposite. More than anything, she stems from my curiosity about how it would feel NOT to be at all driven or focused on goals. And to live in a state of “blissful denial.” I blogged about these differences in November, in a post called “Me and My MC.”
What is your favorite part of Veronica’s Nap?
Sharon: The humorous side, which I didn’t realize was even remotely present until I’d finished the writing. Veronica has a self-depreciating sense of humor, saying things like, “I look like a sausage in my Speedo,” and the storyline has all sorts of funny and sad-but-funny irony. I don’t think of myself as funny at all — I tend to be more of the dark, serious type — but when I realized that I’d written something that people were getting a laugh out of, I was pleasantly surprised. As a writer, I love that sort of discovery.
Do you wear multiple hats? What do you do for a living besides write books?
Sharon: How I wish I made a living from writing books! By day, I’m Vice President at a boutique PR firm based outside of New York City and telecommute from my home in the Boston area. Working from home sure does make it easier to squeeze in writing and blogging time, especially since I don’t have to get myself anywhere other than down a short hallway. As for other hats, I wear many: mom of two energetic, busy boys (ages 8 and 12), instructor at Boston’s literary arts nonprofit, Grub Street, Inc., and blogger, including several stints a year at Writer Unboxed.
What are your hobbies and passions?
Sharon: Writing! (Oh — I guess that goes without saying.) Reading. And when I’m not in front of a computer, at my kitchen sink, folding laundry or carpooling my kids to soccer and gymnastics, I’m an avid student of ballet and modern dance, taking classes 2 – 3 times a week. Movement’s my drug and it’s a great way to counteract all the hours of concentrating and sitting still, so I also run year round, cycle, swim and ski seasonally and try to catch a yoga class every weekend.
You must make a guest appearance on one of your favorite shows. Which show would that be?
Sharon: Oh, dear. I was afraid you’d ask about this. I don’t watch TV. Ever. It’s just not a priority as far as how I spend my time, and frankly, I have no desire to.
If your book was made into a movie, who would play Veronica?
Sharon: Renée Zellweger — as long as the movie were made soon enough for her to pass for early thirties. If not, Scarlett Johanssen. Either way, though, hair color would have to change. Veronica’s hair is “the color of a freshly paved driveway.”
What was the most challenging part of writing Veronica’s Nap?
Sharon: Having first found inspiration in characters and their inner conflicts as opposed to action and external events. Once I felt the characters and their conflicts coming alive in my mind, it was hard to know what exactly was going to happen. Which is just about the most important element of a book these days! It was often a real struggle to imagine what specific events would spring from the characters I’d imagined and their particular set of conflicts while allowing me to express what I hoped to. I wound up changing the story’s events over and over, almost giving up many times.
Thank you so much for this interview, Sharon. Do you have any final words?
Sharon: Just thank you, Dorthy! And happy reading.