The Writer's Life Chats with Barbara Ardinger Author of Secret Lives



About Barbara Ardinger 
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Secret Lives, a new novel about crones and other magical folks, and Pagan Every Day, a unique daybook of daily meditations. Her earlier books include Goddess Meditations, Finding New Goddesses (a parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Quicksilver Moon (a realistic novel … except for the vampire). Her day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 250 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. Barbara lives in southern California with her two rescued Maine coon cats, Schroedinger and Heisenberg.




Welcome to The Writer's Life, Barbara. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: I have memories of writing a story for my father when I was in the second grade and writing a puppet show version of The Littlest Angel when I was in the fifth grade. In high school, I was the only member of the Creating Writing Club who had a new piece to read at every meeting. My brother, father, and mother were all involved in the Boy Scouts (I think my brother reached the rank of Eagle Scout) at the time, so I wrote a piece called “My Life as a Boy Scout” and submitted it to the Scout magazine. It got rejected. I was heartbroken. I was also rejected by some of the popular teen magazines. Since I’ve been in California, however, I’ve written numerous articles, stories, and book reviews that have been printed in magazines, both print and electronic.

I’ve been a scholarly type all my life and completed my M.A. and my Ph.D. (English Renaissance literature, emphasis on the drama—that’s mostly Shakespeare) with straight A’s. I also majored in theater as an undergraduate, and now one of my favorite things in the whole world is go to the theater. I manage to see at least one musical every month. Sometimes more!

My day job is editing for smart people with nifty ideas but few writing skills. I use my expertise in English grammar, punctuation, syntax, and usage to help them write better books. I’ve edited about 250 books to date, and I make friends with many of my authors. Editing is how I pay the rent and buy cat food for the two rescued Maine coon cats I live with. Yes, Schroedinger and Heisenberg are named after famous quantum physicists.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A: Secret Lives is a big novel about big issues—aging and death, the way our society treats its senior citizens, women’s friendships, the powers of love, the theory and practice of magic, the rebirth of the Goddess and Her ancient religion. It’s about the untidy mysteries of human life. As the baby boom generation ages, the issues addressed in Secret Lives become more significant to readers. Also more recognizable. Issues that used to matter only to their parents are now starting to pop up in the boomers’ own lives. This novel will thus appeal not only to the large audience that reads pagan fiction, but also to mainstream readers who love a good, complicated story and may be curious about pagans and gods and goddesses. As they read, they will learn a great deal.
Set in Long Beach’s historic Rose Park neighborhood, this novel tells the adventures in a year in the lives of a circle of crones, mothers, and a maiden. Among the other characters are the Green Man, an ageless Neolithic shaman, a ghostly inquisitor, the Norns gone mad in the modern world, and a lost goddess who reminds us of Red Riding Hood. And then there’s Madame Blavatsky, the talking cat that is the circle’s too-familiar familiar. There are both love and cosmic war in Secret Lives, and there are also 15 rituals in the 27 chapters. The book is written in the style called magical realism in which surreal and magical events seem perfectly normal in the context of the book.


What kind of research was involved in writing (please italicize book title here – no caps or quote marks)?

A: My primary research came from the works of the late Professor Marija Gimbutas, the authority on the Neolithic settlements in the area she called Old Europe (near the Black Sea—primarily Romania, Bulgaria, the other Balkan lands). This is where the prologue of Secret Lives is set, and the details of the town, the shaman’s house, her altar, the Goddess, and the townspeople come from Gimbutas’s Civilization of the Goddess and The Language of the Goddess.

I first wrote Secret Lives in about 1990, so most of the books about the Goddess, the old gods and goddesses, Wicca, and pagan issues that are popular today had not yet been published. Books I used, many of which are mentioned in the book as the women recommend books to each other, include Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, Vance Randolph’s books on the customs of the Ozarks, books on the Victorian language of flowers, the works of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (who appears in the novel as a talking cat—more magical realism), various books by Joseph Campbell and Robert Graves, William Anderson’s Green Man (an archetypal figure that appears in human guise in Secret Lives), and Patricia Monaghan’s Goddesses and Heroines.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

A: Getting my nonfiction books published has been pretty smooth. Seeing Solutions, a book of guided visualizations, was published by Signet (New American Library) in 1989. Practicing the Presence of the Goddess and another book were published in the ’90s by New World Library, which has recently asked if they could reissue the books on Kindle. (I said yes!) Goddess Meditations was published by Llewellyn in 1999. One of my favorites of my books, Finding New Goddesses, was published by a small Canadian publisher in 2003; this book is a pun-filled loony version of goddess encyclopedias, which I wrote because I don’t think there’s enough humor in books on spiritual topics. My last nonfiction book is Pagan Every Day (RedWheel/Weiser, 2006), a daybook of essays for a year and a day on pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other topics. People have told me they just keeping reading it, year after year.

I couldn’t sell my first novel, Quicksilver Moon, which is set ten years later than Secret Lives and is very realistic … except for the vampire, so when Marilyn Dillon was founding Three Moons Media and she asked a dozen authors to be her guinea pigs, I was glad to submit my novel to her. A friend read my mind to see what the characters looked like and painted the cover, then Marilyn did a terrific job of designing the book. People who have read it really like it.

All my books and their covers are posted on my website, http://www.barbaraardinger.com/readbuybooks

When my literary agent submitted an early version of Secret Lives to Harper & Row in 1991, the acquisitions editor said she loved the writing (I have her letter), but no one would ever want to read about old women. I’ve rewritten Secret Lives several times to add more stories and make the writing better. My hope now is that people will want to read about these charming, magical elderly women, even if they’re not always politically correct. (That’s a privilege of age: stating honest opinions.) Twenty years ago, no one cared about aging, but now with the boomer generation reaching retirement, the topics and issues I address are more important.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

A: This book was not published by one of the traditional publishers. I sent queries for 20 years and finally decided to publish it myself. Sherry Wachter designed and typeset the book, my daughter-in-law constructed the little witch on the cover and took the photos, and then I took the book to CreateSpace. Dan Poynter and other experts are right—the big NYC publishers don’t want us. The new publishing trend is self-publishing. Some of the details of publishing and the Kindle conversion are making me crazy, but I’m with the trend!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is?  If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A: I have had three literary agents, two retired and one deceased. Although my first agent had retired, she helped me negotiate the contracts for two or three of my books. It’s good to have friends who are experts.

Do you plan subsequent books?

A: I have the covers of all eight of my published books in plastic box frames in a column on one wall of my office. Seeing Solutions is about six inches above the floor, Secret Lives, about three inches below the ceiling. I take this as a sign that I don’t have to write any more books. Nevertheless, a friend and I are talking about creating a book or two out of the revisionist fairy tales I’ve been posting—with her illustrations—on the Womens Radio website. People always seem to love fairy tales, and my versions are certainly not the old Grimm versions.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

A: I sit at my computer! It used to be the couch, with a cat snuggled up beside me. I wrote in pencil. But now I can’t read my handwriting anymore.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A: Interviews on the PBS Newshour and Fresh Air on NPR. I’d also buy great big ads in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post and other major papers, also national magazines. I’d also create Secret Lives T-shirts and mouse pads and other goodies. I’d invest in plane tickets to do a decent book tour.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

A: I write a blog every month and post it on my website and send links to nearly everybody in my address book. I have two Facebook pages. I’ve been on one blogtalkradio show and will be on another before the end of October.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

A: I never gave up. Many writers give up, I suspect, because the traditional publishers are so inaccessible and uncooperative. Mostly, inexperienced writers learn that writing a readable book is very hard work. It takes more than one draft, and even in fiction, there’s a lot of research to do to achieve verisimilitude.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

A: Hire a competent editor like me who has experience not only in writing books but also in dealing with traditional, small, and print-on-demand publishers. Understand that writing is hard, repetitive work. Be persistent.

Thank you for your interview, Barbara. I wish you much success!

A: Many thanks! These bloggish interviews are fun.


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