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A Conversation with Roberta Rich, Author of 'The Midwife of Venice'

Shalom Life has a conversation with the author of the acclaimed, The Midwife of Venice.
By: Sarah Bauder
Published: May 9th, 2012 in Culture » Books » Interviews


Do you have any advice to impart to aspiring novelists?

1. Find your genre. Writer teachers say you should write what you know. I don’t agree. Write what you can imagine. Write what turns your crank. You can fake it for awhile, I tired writing Harlequin romances. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it because I rarely read them and don’t connect with them. Just as you can fake orgasms, you can write what you think will sell. You may do it convincingly but you will be found out sooner or later.

Faking it is only going to prevent you from experiencing the real thing. But you do yourself a disservice because you deny your self the pleasure of experiencing the real thing.

2. Hone your craft. There was an article a few months ago in the Globe- ‘Writers- Twitter Less, Write More.’ Excellent advice. Don’t worry about promoting yourself until you have something wonderful to promote. Take courses, go to conference, talk to people who are better and more experienced than you are, hire a book doctor, if you can afford it. Take advantage you can of friends, colleague, and other contacts. Develop a thick skin and learn to accept criticism. Learn to tell the difference between people who are just not that into your writing and those who are but think it could be better.

3. The Market. Selling a manuscript is a lot like selling a house. In a boom market you might be able to sell a ‘fixer-upper’- a house that needs re-wiring and a new roof and a good paint job. But in a shaky market like the one we are experiencing now, your best bet is to make all those repairs yourself before you go to market. Make your manuscript sparkle, make it original, make it something people will want to read. Most important. And why do we lose sight of this most obvious thing- make it entertaining. As writers, that’s our primary job.

As an aside. Some writing teachers will tell you not to discuss your plot ideas with friends and family. I think that is true to an extent. You don’t want to get tired of the idea before you sit down and write it, but you do want to gauge people’s reaction.

When I pitched my story idea as follows. “It’s about a Jewish midwife in the 16th century Venice who violated the law to deliver a Christian baby. She does this to save the man she loves. She is the best midwife in Venice because she invented what she calls her ‘birthing spoons.” I could tell by people’s response, that the idea gripped them. Their faces light up and they wanted to know more. Or, sometimes, when I got bored with saying that, I’d say, “It’s about a nice Jewish girl form the Venetian ghetto with really poor impulse control.”

4. Once you have achieved your goal of getting published- enjoy it. It won’t last. My book, The Midwife of Venice, came out in February 8th. It hit the best seller list right out of the starting gate. Thank you, Costco and Indigo Chapters and Wal-Mart. Enjoy the speaking engagements, the congratulations from old friends, the fanfare and hoopla. Then get back to writing, and write an even better book. At one of my very first events in Toronto a woman in the audience asked when my next one was coming out. It took me two years to write The Midwife. I went through three major revisions with my wonderful editor Nita Pronovost. Then I went through two further revisions with line editors. I said to this woman-heckler, “This is a little like asking a woman who has just given birth to triplets when she is going to have her next baby.” But she was bang on. You have got to teach yourself to be prolific. And if you can’t be fast, you have to put in longer hours. Ugly advice, I know. Like the one about losing weight: eat less, exercise more. Who wants to hear that?

5. And to do that you need- discipline and perseverance. Sitzfleisch –meaning the ability to keep the flesh in the chair. Fortunately, I am a creature of habit. In fact I have to be careful what I do- because if I do something- anything from brushing my teeth, to buying a chocolate peanut butter ice cream cone at the Gelato store in my neighbourhood, it is likely to become a life long habit. This is one of the many reasons why I haven’t tried hard drugs- that and the fact that the narcos are invading our previously peaceful town in Mexico and turning it into a war zone. But that is another story.


6. Write about bad things happening to interesting characters. We came back from a trip to Istanbul a year ago where I was researching the book I am working on now. I told friends and family about what a wonderful time we had- we rented a nice apartment with a terrace overlooking the Golden Horn. The weather was beautiful, the air fresh and pure because of the constant breezes, we found the perfect carpet in the Grand Bazaar, my husband, Ken, got mugged on the Galata bridge leading into Beyoglü, the independent book stores still line Istiklal, a lovely residential area of the city.

Wait, wait, my friends would say, go back to the part about Ken getting mugged. What happened? How did it make you feel about the city and about the Turks? Was he hurt? How much money did they take? Did he lose his passport as well? Did the guy have a knife.

Major human instinct: We are all guilty of schadenfreude no matter how much we deny it. We all want to hear about disaster befalling others.

No one likes to hear the good news. We want the idyllic trip for ourselves, but we want to hear about the trip fraught with danger, menace, mayhem.

So stick to the bad news. If you love your characters, torture them and see how they get out of trouble. Make the descriptions brief (Elmore Leonard, who I am a huge fan of. once said, “I don’t write the parts the readers skip.”) and the conflict long.

There is no excuse for giving your characters peaceful lives. No one wants to read about peaceful lives. We all lead peaceful lives. And if we don’t, we are hopefully so heavily medicated we couldn’t concentrate on reading anyway.

7. So my parting words are- don’t get discouraged, or if you do, and never give up. There is always bad news. Publishing will always be a low profit, low return on investment proposition, that no sane, profit oriented person would want to get involved in.

The timing has always been bad for what ever it is that I wanted to do. I went to law school at a bad time, I had a baby at the wrong time, I started a law practice at the wrong time. I started to write at the wrong time. It is always going to be the wrong time. Just do what you want and the hell with the nay sayers, doom and gloomers, and nattering nabobs of negativism.

Check out Roberta's upcoming events:
Thursday, May 10th 7:00-7:30 Ben McNally Book Store 372 Bay St Toronto at 7-7:30.

Friday May 11th 2012, Mother’s Day in Toronto Indigo Indigo Spirit at First Canadian Place with Eva Stachniak– 12:30 to 2:30 PM.

Saturday May 12, 2012 Ben’s Birthday party, 4:30-6pm, Kidnasium.

Monday May 14th 2012 Jewish Library in Montreal @ 5:30 P.M. 1 Cummings Square Rovana Braun (514) 345-2627.

Tuesday May 14th, 2012 Montreal Jewish Digest on Radio Centre-Ville in Montreal at 2:15 pm Interview with Leslie Lutsky.

Wednesday May 16th, 2012 Talking Leaves Main Street Store @7:00 pm.

Thursday, May 17, 2012 The Buffalo Seminary chapel, Chapin Parkway Moderator: Gwen Ito
at 2:50 pm.

Friday May 18th, 2012 Buffalo Public Library, Noon to 1:00 p.m.
1 Lafayette Square
Buffalo, NY

May 18th: WKBW-TV.
Related articles: The Midwife of Venice, Roberta Rich, Venice, Ghetto Nuevo, midwife, Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo
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