Erica Bauermeister On The Multiple Main Characters In Joy For Beginners

Mainstream author Erica Bauermeister gives readers an insider's look at her new release, Joy for Beginners. Today she chats about the bond that she formed with each of the seven main characters in the tale as she brought them to life for the story. 

As the fourth of five deeply idiosyncratic siblings, as someone who has lived in Los Angeles, Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, and an ancient walled city in northern Italy, contemplating the world through someone else's point of view has always been a crucial life skill for me. As a result, while many people are interested in the right and wrong of someone's opinions, I have always been more drawn by the why. In college in the 1970s, two of my favorite books were Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury — both tales told through multiple narrators, with sympathy given to every one. I found the structure of those novels to be a mirror for how I saw the world, as a whole constructed of often wildly varying perspectives.

In graduate school, I became immersed in the study of how the grammatical and literary structures available to us — the very vocabulary, sentence constructions, verb forms, and genres we use — affect the way we see the world and, in fact, are often created as a response to a cultural need. I have come to see the form I write in — what I would call interconnected short stories — as a response to a desire for coherence in our Facebook culture, where we have many friends and much data but no feeling of a true interweaving of all the parts. There is rarely, as my Italian friends would say, a piazza in our lives, a place where everything slows down and comes together. We want to believe it exists, and interconnected short stories, where a range of characters, each having their own tale, intertwine through a shared experience, gives us a sense of what is possible. The structure takes a societal yearning and turns it into art. 

Which is all largely philosophical, and while I believe it, doesn't touch the joy of writing those multiple perspectives. I made a promise, when I first started being greeted by characters, that I would never write a character I could not empathize with, no matter how different they might be from me. It seemed only fair, as I had brought them into the world, to present them to readers in the best light — by which I mean illuminating the complicated and beautiful eccentricities of their very human selves. That meant using those skills I had honed as a child moving about the country, and as an adult moving to another country. It didn't matter if the character was 19 or 69, male or female, I wouldn't write them unless I could understand them, and through understanding them, I fell in love with each of them. And it makes sense, in a way. Sometimes it is easier to fall in love in a fictional setting, where we have that piazza, that time to slow down and reflect and let the pieces come together. It is just us and the words, as writers, or us and the page, as readers. Fiction is a quiet place to be our best, most understanding selves. With any luck, we take that ability back out into the real world.

- Erica Bauermeister

You can pick up your own copy of Joy for Beginners in stores now!