Interview with Deborah Beale
Literatopia: Hi Deborah! You are known to most only as “Tad William’s wife”. There is only little information about you and if there is, it is hard to find. Who are you?
Deborah Beale: I’m a multi-hyphenate. It means I wear lots of hats. I’m someone who invents her own work (an actor told me that, some years ago, and I puzzled about it and kept thinking about it. It turned out to be predictive.)
Oh, and a few years back I had a Big Career in book publishing. It was wonderful and it was tough, like all the best things in life, I guess. I worked across a great spectrum of fiction and non-fiction, and my experience was pretty wide. Ultimately I specialized in fantasy and science fiction. I was also very privileged to be a founding member of what became the Orion Publishing Group. And in the end I was fortunate enough to be able to leave when I needed to leave. My only regret about that is that if I’d stayed, by now I’d be a CEO. But you can’t live all the lives you want to live… Business fascinates me.
Literatopia: Does the cliché “a great woman behind a great man” apply to you?
Deborah Beale: Yup. I think... Is that immodest? I was Tad’s British publisher and, at that time, instrumental in a big breakthrough in his career – that was when I bought the British rights to The Dragonbone Chair and the trilogy. I tell people at parties that I used to be his boss.
Literatopia: What do you do for a living? You organize a lot for Tad and you are also in charge of his website and e-mails. Are you Tad’s manager, so to speak?
Deborah Beale: Manager, business partner, c’est moi. What I do most of all is strategy – for example, I catalysed Tad’s transition in Germany from invisible-and-ignored-by-his-publisher to fantasy superstar. (If you were talking to me you’d hear how I make fun of myself saying these things – but also, I sometimes appall myself with my own lack of modesty.) I work on a daily basis with our amazing agent Matt Bialer, and I’m behind all the deals, all the contracts, etc etc. Also I create and manage other non-publishing business interests.
A writing career is real business – it just isn’t always immediately obvious what it involves.
I spend the first two or three hours of every day digesting business news and book-publishing news. This morning, for example, in response to various things in my in-box, I sent emails to Tad and Matt the Wonder Agent about the following: e-book publication, sales of electronic readers, Tad’s Spanish market, and what US publishers just lately are expecting from their A-list authors. I edited a blog piece from M L Heath for our website (he’s the most wonderful rock-n-roll writer). I digested the financial news (Apple might be announcing the 3-G iPhone today -- the mismanagement of the whole sub-prime crisis is very instructive – the markets suck) and then I pecked away at this interview. We’re going to New York in a couple of weeks, so there’s been a flurry of emails about meetings. I answered a couple of fan emails. And now it’s 10.45 and I really need to go get dressed.
Plus I’m a mom. That takes up a little bit of time too (she says wryly.)
Literatopia: How much time do you spend working on the novel each day? Do you have a timetable you follow strictly or deadlines to meet?
Deborah Beale: I wish. It doesn’t work like that. That was the biggest and most painful lesson I had to learn when I transitioned from corporate life to writerly life. I can’t force it along and make things happen, like I do in business. I’ve had to learn this from Tad: you have to let it come of its own accord. So a big job of work is putting yourself in the space, mentally, for it to come of its own accord. And that means living the quietest life possible. Which is great, it’s what we want, but it doesn’t happen without a major effort in saying a nice polite No to the majority of invitations we get.
Literatopia: What makes it easy for you to sit down and start writing?
Deborah Beale: The occasional frenzy seizes me, and then suddenly it’s several pages later. Other than that, nothing makes it easy!
Literatopia: Do you need a special atmosphere or do you prefer a certain time of day?
Deborah Beale: I write mostly in the afternoons. I need to close the door and be alone. We have a busy household so I don’t always get that.
Tad goes and lies on the bed, staring at the ceiling and plugged into ambient music on his iPod. That’s where he does most of his writing. It’s an incredible feat of thinking and memory, that it’s in his head like that (then gets slammed onto the paper in a fairly big rush.) I poke around in the garden and wander the house like the Ghost of Christmas Future. Then something seizes me and I get it done. Or, somewhere round about 4 in the afternoon, there’s a rush of pages that come along.
Literatopia: Do you discuss your ideas and your writing with your husband?
Deborah Beale: All the time – we live in each other’s heads, are together 24 hours a day, and get very upset every time we’re separated. It’s as straightforward as that.
Literatopia: What inspires you; what do you mostly write about?
Deborah Beale: Mostly what inspires me is my own need to work and create. If I don’t work, if I can’t move forward every day, I get very unhappy. I’m a chronically restless person. If there was no work, I’d either become invisible to myself, or I’d explode and make a massive mess in the house.
What I mostly write about is this: I try and make stories from my own fundamental experience in life, and that comes down to: you save yourself, or you remain unsaved. (I’m quoting the author of The Lovely Bones.) Love and adventure are everything.
Literatopia: Tell us something about ‘Ordinary Farm’. What is it about? When will the first part be published? Who came up with the idea that you and your husband write it together?
Deborah Beale: As a matter of good business – maximizing our interests -- I pushed Tad for a number of years to write with me. I think he waited until he felt that I was ready – that I could do a decent enough job. Also, at any one time, there are so many variables in play as to what will pan out, and what won’t, that it isn’t always clear what direction things will take. There are always multiple reasons for any one thing.
In this house you’re walking ankle-deep in Tad’s ideas if you so much as go get yourself a glass of water. So the initial idea – a farm where the animal program isn’t cows and pigs, but mythological beasts – was Tad’s. The ideas about where they come from, however, were hazier, and I remember working that one over and feeding back to him till we’d got a certain balance that I felt necessary.
Literatopia: What inspired you to write a fantasy novel about a magic farm? Will it be more classic fantasy or will it be “modern”?
Deborah Beale: It’s post-modern, like Otherland. It’s stuffed with fantasy, science fiction and mythological tropes, from all periods, all times. For me it was very inspired by Otherland. Ultimately the Ordinary Farm series – Klett Cotta decided this, and commissioned it from us, God bless ‘em – will be five books. They’re short (relative to Tad’s other books) given the nature of the young adult market. Really they’re all-ages reading, they just happen to have a sister and brother, young teenagers (who will age with the books), as heroes.
Literatopia: How does your cooperation with your husband look like? Do you each write parts and then combine them to a full story or do you write it all together? Do you think the cooperation is going well? Have you had arguments or disagreements about the novel, yet?
Deborah Beale: It goes back and forth between us so many times that it’s sometimes difficult to remember who evolved what. It’s a true collaboration. Yes, we argue about it, because it isn’t easy for either of us. But our arguments are always a stepping-stone to solving something.
I am the journeyman writer, and he’s the resident genius, so his vision is what’s at the top of the totem pole. But I don’t think anyone, except perhaps George R R Martin or Ms Rowling for her incredible inventiveness, could be equal to Tad. Remember, I’ve worked with many, many writers and I think I say that with authority as well as wifely bias. Plus, when I disagree with Tad, he really has to step up to the plate and persuade me. Until he does that, I stick with my ideas and my reasons.
Ultimately, it’s an incredible privilege, working with Tad. It’s its own existential journey. It challenges me every day.
Literatopia: Have you thought about writing your very own novel? Is something like this planned already? If so, could you tell us something about it?
Deborah Beale: Oh, I’ve written lots, I mean, I probably have about four unpublished (rightly so) novels lying around somewhere, and lots of material besides. One of the reasons – it was right up on the surface – that I left publishing was to learn to write.
Literatopia: In his books, Tad thanks all those who have helped him. Of course, you are usually the first one mentioned. Does that touch you? What do you usually help him with? Do you proofread his manuscripts or supply ideas? Do you help him when he feels he is stuck?
Deborah Beale: Tad’s never stuck, NEVER in need of ideas. He can just switch it on – boom, it’s a flow. I mean, just look at the length of those books!
Much of what I do is a sort of conceptual editing – we discuss fiction ideas all the time, and are constantly sucking in material for the ideas machines. You put ideas in the hopper, and new ideas come out the other end. I am less involved with Tad’s actual manuscripts than his publishers at DAW, and I didn’t have as much input, say, with the Shadowmarch books as I did with the Otherland books. It depends on what else is going on in our lives. But if he wants feedback on something, I try to drop everything and give it him as quickly as possible.
He’s dedicated two books to me now – Caliban’s Hour and The War of the Flowers. The last one was a complete shock – I nearly dropped the book on the dogs when I saw it. And yes, it’s enormously special and it gets me every time.
Literatopia: What do you like to read? Do you have a favorite book or an author you look up to?
Deborah Beale: These days what I read is non-fiction and young adult fiction. My current obsession is “Seed” magazine – the slogan is “Science Is Culture” – for a science fiction fan, it’s a total dream, cutting-edge writing on all the phenomenal advances of this golden age in which we are living. I’m forever obsessed with particle physics and genetics, for example. (Have been on the edge of my seat for a long time waiting for results from the new accelerator, with its four awesome particle detectors, at CERN.) I read literary magazines, the New York Times, financial websites (super-impressed with Yahoo’s “TechTicker”, it’s a blissful start to the day, with my mug of coffee.) I used to read great quantities of art magazines and auction catalogues, but right now I’ve stopped because I get less from it these days. I’m generally working my way through four or five books at the same time, again mostly non-fiction. When I’m writing intensely, that’s when I read fiction. I’ve just read Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and Judy Blume’s Forever. I read fiction then because I sort of osmotically suck in solutions to whatever’s challenging me in my work. I was very impressed with the heroine in Forever, for example – she’s facing difficult life decisions at every turn, and she has a strong sense of what’s right and lets it guide her. So what I have taken from that novel is a lesson in characterization. I’m reading two novels by Junot Diaz and Nancy Farmer, both of which haven’t started well for me, though I have really loved other work of theirs. I’m reading some Phil Dick short stories and rereading John Wyndham’s Day Of The Triffids. Last night I read a nice lit crit piece on the uses of the fairy story Rapunzel and an incredible piece on quantum mechanics.
Favorite authors are always what I’m reading right now. I don’t watch much television. I LOVE to watch television, but if I have to choose, it’s reading every time. I can’t function without reading.
Literatopia: Why and when did you start writing? Was it through your husband? Or had you been writing short stories etc. before you even knew him? What did your first “tries” look like? Who did you first show them to and was it hard for you? Did you get a positive reaction? Do you prefer to write prose or poetry?
Deborah Beale: I started when I was a child, and I always wanted to write. But there were difficulties in my background that I didn’t overcome, and basically I sublimated it in wanting to become someone who worked with writers. Then when I was about 30 it all came back up again. It could all have ended in total disaster! But fundamentally, I’m on a very long developmental curve.
I’ve made every mistake it’s possible to make, and I’ve had lots of work rejected, and remain unsold. It’s all been necessary, really. I’ve had to have faith.
Literatopia: What do you think about creative writing classes at college, or about creative writing seminars along the lines of “How to write a bestseller”?
Deborah Beale: Writing is sooo tough – because of what it demands from you and your life – that the true lessons of it only come in the doing of it, I think. But if something works for you, then I’m all for it, whatever form it takes. The fundamental mistake people make (it’s a perfectly understandable one) is asking, How do I get my work published? – when the bigger question, as anyone will discover if they stick at it, is, How do I become a writer? Because writing will not resolve your life problems for you. It has to become your life for a long time before it can become your income.
As for how to write a bestseller – there are a handful of people in history who’ve pulled this off from nowhere, deliberately setting out to do it. I can think of two. Basically, you have a much, much better chance of winning forty million in the lottery. I’m not joking – that’s what the odds are. Bestsellers nearly always arise from a certain intrinsic authenticity – they are the right idea arising in the right person’s life, and if executed appropriately well, at the right time, then society, history, or just the entertainment industry arise to meet them. In short, the chance factors are incredible. That’s the truth that I see.
Literatopia: Of course, you must be asked about Tad all the time. Do you mind that? Do you sometimes feel you are mostly “Tad William’s wife” to all the others and not Deborah?
Deborah Beale: I never feel like that. I’m pretty secure in myself and what I do, and I’m too fascinated by the world and what happens when we’re out in public. I get pissed off if people are rude to me, and I have a unkarmic habit of getting inside their minds and screwing with the cogs, if it happens. But fortunately it’s very rare. Most people we meet are just lovely.
Literatopia: What does it feel like to be married to such a famous writer? Is there a lot of pressure on you or are you able to lead a “normal life”?
Deborah Beale: Writing is fortunately a small sort of fame, so thankfully our private lives are rarely intruded upon. But when I see Tad entertain big crowds – because one of his identities, really, is he’s a stand-up comedian – then I’m so proud of him I kind of dissolve on the spot. I’m his own personal Hallmark card – full of corny sentiment and sticky-sweet, ha.
Literatopia: Can you imagine exchanging places with your husband – you write the bestsellers and he takes care of the organization?
Deborah Beale: Ooh, that’s a good question. Yes in an abstract sort of way, because I’ve always been out in the world and I know a fair amount about How Things Work. But not really, because I can’t in my mind separate Tad and his talent. If Tad wasn’t writing bestsellers, then he’d be powering into something else. He’s a force of nature.
Literatopia: What do your children think about your writing? Are they proud of you because of it?
Deborah Beale: Yeah, I think they’re proud of us, but it’s more a matter of, it’s something that shapes their everyday lives. We’re raising them to understand how one actively works with one’s imagination, and the importance, primacy and value of ideas.
Literatopia: Would it make you proud to see your children become writers one day, too? Or do you give them total freedom concerning their career choices?
Deborah Beale: They will probably become creators in one form or another. Quite how that will shake down, time will tell. The thing that we want for them is the sort of joy and satisfaction their father and I both have in our work. But we are also telling them that only they can secure that for themselves, and that it’s tough. That’s the way life is.
Literatopia: Thank you for the interview!
Dieses Interview wurde von Judith Gor für Literatopia geführt. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.