Interview with Sharon Bially, author of 'Veronica's Nap'


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.

Her latest book is the contemporary women’s fiction novel, Veronica’s Nap.

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.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Sharon. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Veronica’s Nap?

Like most writer’s I’ve been crafting stories and playing with words since I was five or six. But I never thought of becoming a writer. Lawyer, doctor, engineer -- these were the fields I was supposed to want to choose from when I grew up. Safe, practical fields that would pay the bills.

I kept my love of language and stories alive by studying French literature along with international economics -- the practical, bill-paying choice -- and ultimately wound up working in Paris, marrying a French man and settling with him in the south of France. By then, I’d already written an early attempt at a first novel.

While living in the south of France I met dozens of women not unlike the main character in Veronica’s Nap: American, Canadian, Irish and British expats who’d married French men and were raising families in France. Many led pretty leisurely lives and actually did take regular naps while their kids were off at daycare -- which is top quality and super-cheap in France, so an easy choice for moms looking for some free time. A few also had other aspirations like writing, becoming artists, opening businesses... But they never did anything about it.

This got under my skin. My own life was far from leisurely as I struggled to help make ends meet by balancing work and writing with raising two kids. Over the course of ten years I’d written a second novel and and a series of three chapter books for children based on the legends of the Marshall Islands, where I grew up. For each of these, I had a contract with a literary agent that didn’t pan out into a publishing deal. Each new disappointment made me hunker down and work harder. Fascinated by the contrast between this and “napping,” and curious about whether perhaps napping was an escape from reality or even a symptom of depression, I imagined Veronica in order to explore these questions and a new book was born.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

The word “nap” has so many layers of meaning. Taken at face value, we all know what it is. But more figuratively, it implies drifting off to sleep while most of the rest of the world is awake. Shutting out reality. Escaping. And by definition, a nap always comes to an end... In every sense of the word, Veronica’s Nap is a story about napping. The protagonist, Veronica, does take daily naps. But she’s also brilliant at shutting out reality. And ultimately, she must wake up.

The name Veronica also has multiple layers of meaning. There’s a parallel with the Latin word for truth, veritas -- or vérité in French. There’s also a Catholic Saint named Veronica, a woman who walked behind Christ while he carried his cross. She offered him her veil to wipe his brow. When he did the image of his face was branded onto it, creating a sort of photograph of him. I love the symbolism of combining truth with the face of God, and both of these themes are woven into the story -- and the awakening -- in Veronica’s Nap.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

The identity crisis new moms go through is universal in our culture and others like it, and Veronica’s Nap addresses a side of it that’s so rarely talked about but merits exploration: how, paradoxically, the privilege of having all of your needs provided for can actually hold you back from growing and evolving. So often young moms at home struggle to decide who, exactly, they are outside of motherhood and marriage. Veronica’s Nap offers a candid, in-depth look at the assumptions one mom had to strip away and what she had to give up to answer these questions and realize her full potential -- a story many women can relate to, and learn from.

The book also highlights an important demographic group that’s too often overlooked: the Maghreban Sephardic Jewish community in France. A major part of France’s overall Jewish population -- which happens to be the third largest worldwide after Israel and the U.S. -- the Maghreban Sephardic community is made up of emigrants from France’s former colonies Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria and their descendants. Its amazingly rich culture includes Arab-style customs filled with symbolism like pre-wedding henna ceremonies that we hardly ever hear about here in the U.S. Yet these are actually much more globally widespread than our own customs are. I feel passionately committed to increasing awareness of this dynamic -- which ties directly into the Arab-Israeli conflict -- and am all the more eager to share Veronica’s Nap as broadly as possible.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

Like the vast majority of authors, I handle every aspect of publicity myself. I blog about Veronica’s Nap and related issues at www.veronicas-nap.com, and am active on Twitter and Facebook. I’m active in the broader writing community, too, which helps keep my name out there. For example, I lead seminars and conference sessions for Boston’s influential literary arts nonprofit, Grub Street Writers, where I’m also a spokesperson for alternative publishing options and founder of the Grub Self-Publishing Network (GSPN). In 2010 I was named honorary guest contributor to the popular blog Writer Unboxed, where I now post about three times a year.

But that’s just the routine side! On top of it, every day I try reach out to all sorts of other venues: news outlets, where I’ve gotten a bit of coverage, reviewers, book stores and libraries (including in France), bloggers, book clubs etc. Since I do have a day job and a family, it’s hard to do everything, and the promotion work has to get done whenever I have a spare moment. So it tends to be slow. But as a professional publicist, I know that promotion is a marathon, not a sprint.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

The Ten Year Nap (Meg Wolitzer) meets A Year in Provence (Peter Mayle)” -- that’s my best attempt at describing Veronica’s Nap in terms of other titles out there. But those comparisons don’t really do justice to any of the books they mention.

Veronica’s Nap is unique in having a heroine who is not perfectly likeable, but whom readers can instead both love and hate. Or love to hate! This makes for a richer, more complex and stirring reading experience. The very close, interior look it gives at Veronica’s psyche brings her more self-centered motivations and desires into the spotlight along with her soft-heartedness and loveable self-depreciating streak. Her husband, too, is somebody readers can both love and hate. The result: an intriguing dynamic where neither is the clear-cut “good guy” -- which creates a good deal of tension and suspense.

Finally, the narrative offers not only a storyline, but insights via the characters’ thoughts and realizations. This is something I fear is becoming increasingly rare in books.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

Veronica is lamenting to her husband, Didier, that the women at the pool club near their home in Aix-en-Provence wear g-string bikinis without tops and that compared to them she looks like a sausage in her Speedo. That’s why she doesn’t like going there, she explains. It’s also why she’d rather spend the summer with her parents in New Jersey -- where she can shamelessly wear shorts over her suit at the pool club to hide her spongy thighs.

This is just one of the many glimpses the book gives at how life as an expat in Provence is not at all as easy and romantic as it sounds.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Absolutely! I’m currently working on a novel called Henna, about a forbidden love story and a fiery attack on a synagogue in Paris.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Sharon. Do you have any final words?

Just thank you! And happy reading.

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