Guest Sally Bellerose
For Bett LOVED these questions. I could have gone on and on. Oh, I did. Hope to read together, in public from our books, one day, and I bet we will.
Sally Bellerose’s book The Girls Club won the Bywater Prize and is forthcoming from Bywater Books In September. Bellerose was awarded a Fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts based on an excerpt from this book. The first chapter won first place in fiction from Writers at Work. Excerpts from the novel have been anthologized and featured in literary journals including Love Shook My Heart, Sinister Wisdom, The Sun, The Best of Writers at Work, Cutthroat, and Quarterly West. The manuscript was a finalist for the James Jones Fellowship, the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, The Backspace Scholarship, and the Bellwether Endowment. Robert Olen Butler chose Chapter Two as first place winner for the Rick DeMarinis Short Story Award.
QUESTION Exactly how autobiographical is The Girls’ Club? You may answer in percentages, but we won’t find that nearly as interesting. That girl next door, for instance. Real or brilliant writing?
ANSWER The Girls Club 11.2 percent autobiographical.
For example early in the book there is a scene in a high school bathroom. In this scene the protagonist Cora Rose is seated on the toilet in a stall and is spit on by a girl standing on the toilet seat in the next stall. The author (easier to use the term the author than I here) was in fact spit upon while seated on a toilet when she was in high school. This was around 1967. Actually it was several girls, a group of adolescents that the media would upgrade and refer to as a gang in 2011. And since the spitting happened more than once it would probably be referred to as bullying. In 1967 the term bullying was confined to recurring incidents that involved broken bones and bruises. None of these “real life” girls was anything like the spitting character, Bobbi Lee Paterson of the novel. Not that the author is aware of anyway. The author never got to know these girls, except in their tormentor roles. Never getting to know these girls, to this author’s mind, is the 88.2 percent difference between fiction and the alleged reality of daily life. In fiction the broad questions of why a person or persons would spit on another person can be asked directly of a character(s). And if the character won’t answer directly the writer can gesture at emotions or actions surrounding the scene, manipulate the world of the scene. Ask the story to help point out how or why or even to verify that yes crazy unexplainable shit happens. A character or an incident or a reaction can be wrung until some sense sweats out or it is dry and a bone and you at least see the unknowable parts. Manipulation is allowed, desirable: the time and place, circumstances and characters can be tweaked until they give some sense of how the world or people or God or country or a bug on a decaying log might act or react in any world. The author can view a scene from the privileged place of writer and acknowledge that, yes, things like what happened in this story can and do happen and every character in this story was a human being. So, if the author and the reader are lucky by the end of the scene they might understand the humanity of how a girl who wears tights in the middle of summer to hide bruised calves happens to be spitting on a girl who at 14 still needs to wear diapers.
Stella Kallowitz, the girl next door, was alas, 100% fiction. Her messy hair, her skinny muscled arms, her sacrilegious mouth, cow hugging hips – all made up. What I would have given as a grade school student to have had 11.2 % of Stella in my life.
Thanks for all the lovely compliments, Bett and for asking about Stella. I do love Stella.
Also, see answers to the (me me me my) self directed questions on Lindy Cameron’s blog lindycameronwrites.blogspot.com or reposted or my own blog htpp://sallybellerose.wordpress.com regarding this question.
QUESTION I found the short story you wrote for the Saints and Sinners contest so well done and moving. I have always loved short stories but have never been able to write them. Do you believe, as I do, that it is a form that requires more precision and skill than the novel?
ANSWER Short stories are in some ways easier for me to write because they are, well, short. This probably has to do with my writing process rather than precision or skill. If I stop working on a short story or a novel it is usually for one of two reasons, either I am otherwise occupied or I have come to an impasse in the writing and need distance. Either way it is easier to get back into the world of a short story because the characters are few and the circumstance necessarily contained, that is to say you can’t throw the kitchen sink into a short story unless you are writing about a kitchen. Let me contradict myself, figuring out what the story is about is where the precision and skill come in. What I mean to say is I find it easier to stick to the essentials of a small contained narrative than to stay on track with a longer more sprawling story. The emotional center is also easier to maintain in a short piece, once the tricky part of finding it is accomplished.
But oh, the places you can go in a novel. Novels are so broad and frightening and freeing in their scope. And take so long to write. This question makes me realize I need to get back to writing for a couple of hours, first thing in the morning, every damn day – blogs, facebook, and laundry be damned.
QUESTION Talk about The Girls’ Club. Say anything you like. I absolutely loved this novel, found the writing and the characters simple and simply very good, if that makes sense.
ANSWER Thank you! The Girls Club came out of my gut – every pun intended. I drew heavily from the fact that, like Cora Rose the protagonist, I was a scared kid, adolescent, adult, with a dreaded bowel disease. I was also the married-to-a-man woman who realized she belonged with a woman, and a mother who desperately wanted to be a good parent and sometimes failed, and a beloved daughter who didn’t want to disappoint her family, and a drugs, sex, and rock n roll happy dancer. I evolved with the characters, in my case into a novelist, while the characters evolved as themselves as creations sprung from my direct experience. Creating the story and characters was in itself a changing experience that shaped my feelings and understanding about my own history and identity, I hope toward compassion. I aim toward compassion.
Also, I wanted a protagonist with an ostomy, damn it.
QUESTION The whole world wants to know what is coming next from the pen of Sally Bellerose. Give us a sneak peek.
ANSWER Yipeee – the whole world. I am working on a book of linked short stories, spawns of the short story Fishwives. I have two more stories written in draft and four more floating around in my brain or in snippets on Kleenex boxes, grocery receipts, etc. The stories orbit, sometimes tangentially, around the poor elderly lesbian couple of Fishwives. ( Fishwives, the excellent short story that won the Sainst and Sinners short fiction contest and is published in their anthology: http://sasfest.org/a-page-turning-event.) Just last night a dinner companion told an amazing story. My eyes lit up and she said, “Take it. Just write something good. Don’t waste it.” I loved that caveat, because, really, if you’re going to tell stories, your own or someone else’s, you should do your best not to waste them on anything but your best shot at telling.
QUESTION In what ways are Northern Catholic guilt and Southern Baptist guilt similar? In what ways are the different?
ANSWER The answer would take a ton of self reflection. I think I need to discuss this question, perhaps on a writing panel Bett? with a boa-fide guilty Southern Baptist. I have noted that Southern Baptists don’t seem as snobby about or as proud of their guilt as Northern Catholics. In both populations guilt and anger seem to go hand in hand. Also sex and guilt. How do folks without guilt retain enough libido to even have sex? Am I displaying too much Northern Catholic? I think there may be more similarities than differences between NC and SB. Do Baptists ever go to hell for lack of guilt? Bett, we may have a whole conference here.
QUESTION Why don’t we see you on TV? Wouldn’t you feel comfortable talking about books with say, Chelsea Handler or maybe Fran Lebowitz?
ANSWER I am available. I am so available. I would be so uncomfortable. And yet, I am available. firstname.lastname@example.org
Since I got my hands on an advance copy of The Girls’ Club, I can speak with complete honesty and recommend it to everyone. Sally Bellerose is an author you will want to read and The Girls’ Club is a debut novel you will savor.