Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of the Shebook The Found Child, opens up about reading disorders, “chick lit,” and the importance of imagination in her work.
Why did you write The Found Child?
I’m always looking for ways to tell stories that show—without sentimentality—how people connect rather than how they engage in conflict and dysfunction. I want to show surprising sources of love.
Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?
I think the human imagination is about the coolest thing we have going for us. That’s one of the reasons I love writing fiction. I make up almost all of my characters and situations. Of course I use my own experiences for the foundations of the stories, but I extrapolate wildly.
I also do a lot of research for every story I write. I think it’s fine to write about things you don’t know firsthand, but you have to do your homework. And then, if I’ve written about something I haven’t experienced firsthand, I always vet the scene or story with people who have experienced it.
Is there such a thing as “women’s writing”? Do you hate the term “chick lit” or think we should embrace it, like the term “gay”?
I dislike the term “chick lit” because it sounds superficial and “lite.” I write for everyone, men and women, gay and straight—whether or not everyone reads me! Reading stories is about looking through windows into other lives, being invited to look through those windows, and so I would like all curious, smart people to read as widely and adventurously as they can.
So you don’t have an imaginary reader that you write for?
I don’t have an imaginary reader, but I have a couple of friends and readers who I often think of when I’m writing, reaching for humor or emotion that will touch them.
Have you ever written anything personal that upset people who were close to you? Or shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?
Good questions! My family, particularly my parents, have not liked some of the ultrapersonal things (sex scenes, for example) I’ve written, even if they were fiction. And speaking of fiction, no one ever believes it is fiction, so occasionally people in my life have gotten hurt thinking that a character is based on them, even though it truly wasn’t.
As for the second question, I’ve thought about this a whole lot. I would like to think I’ve had the courage to write the deepest truths I know, but do I sometimes self-censor? It’s likely.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your work?
Hmm. I guess the biggest risk I’ve taken is staying true to telling the stories I want to tell, no matter how commercial or noncommercial they might be. I’ve let my own quirky interests guide me, which might not always be smart, but it sure makes my work fun.
When did you first decide you were a writer?
Believe it or not, when I was five years old I “wrote” my first book (it was all pictures and had a religious theme involving devils and angels) and announced that I was going to be a writer. Stubborn as I am, I never wavered. I suppose if I’d found something else for which I had talent, I might have done it, but so far that hasn’t happened.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
Find a way to love your work, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to work hard enough to make a writing career work. If you don’t love writing, do something else.
What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?
I write curricula and have had some really fun jobs. I wrote CD ROM scripts for National Geographic, story scripts for the George Lucas Education Foundation, and science lessons for the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute.
What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?
People always think I’m supercourageous because I do wild outdoor activities, like ski and kayak in Antarctica and Alaska. But I’m actually very cautious. I do the trips I do by planning excessively and making a bunch of contingency plans.
What or who inspires you most?
Gloria Steinem, Frances Perkins, and Rachel Carson are a few of the whos. Wilderness and great novels are a couple of the whats.
Are you or have you ever been a member of a book club? What does that experience offer you?
My book club has been meeting for 30 years. We’re all great friends by now. I sometimes wish we talked about the books more! We say we’re an eating club with a reading disorder.
Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now?
Yes. I just reread most of Carson McCullers on my e-reader, and now I’m reading An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine, an amazing novel that takes place in the head of an elderly Lebanese woman. I like to read on my device, especially on airplanes and sometimes in bed (because I don’t need a reading lamp).
Who are some of your favorite authors?
In no particular order: Cólm Toíbin, Anne Enright, Chimamanda Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Jane Smiley, Sherman Alexie, Allegra Goldman, Toni Morrison, Emma Donoghue, Ali Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro…you asked!
I’m writing a novel based on the life of my aunt, for whom I’m named. It’s a novel of Cold War intrigue, the birth of climate change research, and the foment of 20th-century queer culture.
Do you have a thought that you’d like to end with?
I just saw the Anita Hill documentary, and her example of speaking truth to power is a good life and writing goal.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe is author of the Shebook, The Found Child