Barbara L. Baer talks with Book Glow about the writing of The Ballet Lover. The book is available from Open Books Direct.
Describe The Ballet Lover in one sentence.
The Ballet Lover exposes the beauty and cruelty of ballet, the performances, back stage moments, and the personal dramas of the Russian stars Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova as seen through the eyes of an American female journalist
What led you to write it?
The Ballet Lover began when I was caught off guard by the drama of Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova whose brief partnership in the early 1970s went from tension during rehearsal to the ultimate insult when Nureyev let the ballerina fall on a dark stage in Paris. I considered his negligence an act of betrayal. My reportage and interviews I had with the dancers fulfilled a professional duty but didn’t get at what haunted me about the night in Paris Only by creating a fictional narrator, a vulnerable woman who lived for ballet and was drawn too close to its flame, seemed a way to tell the story.
How long did it take to write?
Ever since witnessing Nureyev let Makarova fall in Paris in 1971, The Ballet Lover has gone through many incarnations, grown longer and shorter, ebbed and flowed in my imagination over the years, including time away from before I could come back to where the story was waiting for me to finish.
Do you prefer writing in one genre over another?
I write both fiction and essays though I read more fiction than non-fiction because characters are what I delve into. I love the way memoirs and essays develop into studies of the person and the times. I read European writers, particularly the French, during a formative period in my twenties: their inventiveness gave me permission to write more freely, to riff on ideas, while the emphasis on style in English-language writers who I’d read for my college graduate classes seemed almost too high a bar.
What book most influenced you as a writer?
No single book though I remember being carried away by the Americans Hart Crane and E.E.Cummings and William Faulkner before discovering the Europeans. Books that inspire me, which I could never aspire to creating, keep me at work, Anna Karenina the most of all.
Where do you write?
First scrawls on legal pads and notes wherever I am, then scrawls over scrawls, finally into my study and onto the computer, and there I have to stay. I still jot notes when characters suddenly say something to me as I’m driving or even watching a movie.
Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
The time it takes to get inside a character and how that sometimes doesn’t happen until long after the novel is completed and you understand what you failed to get.
Any advice for novice writers?
Novice and seasoned writers alike have to persist.
Open Books is publishing The Last Devadasi, a novel set in South India; final months of completing an historical family saga, Silver Dreams and Copper Panic, about thwarted love amid the precipitous rise and falls of New York and Western Jews in early 1900s; planning one last collection with my own small press, Floreant Press, revisiting the lives and writings of local women who were part of Cartwheels on the Faultline and Saltwater, Sweetwater published two decades ago. We persist and collaboration is wonderful.