Hi everyone and welcome to an interview with Serena Bishop, author of ‘Beards’.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Elevator summary of me: I’m a scientist by day and author by night. I’m married to a wonderful woman and we have a fur baby. Aside from writing, I like nerdy things, good beer/wine, and movies…even the bad ones because then I can make fun of them.
I’m an only child, so when I was growing up in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania, I was in charge of making my own fun. This philosophy (and practicality) has followed me in life. I’m rarely bored because I know how to use my imagination to my life exciting.
As an adult, I was most affected by two events: coming out and teaching. Both have shown me that everyone has a past or struggles or thoughts they keep buried from others. I never assume I know anyone because so many keep these secrets.
2. How have these major events affected your writing?
Being in schools, both as a student and as a teacher, has exposed me to thousands of people who had different socio-economics, cultures, beliefs, etcetera than me. More importantly, I observed these people (as I do everyone) noting their backstories, changes in speech patterns, strengths, nerve tics, or anything unique I feel this helps me write very different types of characters believably.
3. What inspired you to start writing and when did you start writing?
I loved writing stories when it was required in school, but as I became older, that didn’t seem practical to me as a career. This is what caused me to pursue careers in education and science. I didn’t start writing fiction again until my wife made a bet with me—whoever wrote a novel that became a movie the fastest won. That moment was the fire I needed to motivate me to start writing again.
4. What’s been your personal biggest stumbling block when it comes to writing?
This is the easiest question for me to answer: it’s focused time to write. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and less sleep doesn’t help because then the quality of all my work suffers.
5. What is more important to you, character development or plot?
It’s funny, as a writer I think the plot is more important because I need it to structure the story I want to tell; however, as a reader I prefer characters. If I don’t enjoy the characters (love them or love to hate them), then I really don’t care what happens to them.
6. What makes your work and this one in particular special?
Other than Beards being my first published novel, I think this work is special because it takes a social issue (gay marriage) and explains its evolution in a narrative that is relatable and entertaining. This was something I wanted to read but never found. Knowing history is crucial but is often presented in a manner that is dry; I wanted to change that.
7. What happened ‘behind’ this book? Any funny stories that occurred to you?
I had a great time painting the picture that is used for the cover. I remember asking my wife, “Does it look like a five-year-old painted this?” Also, in the first draft my wife despised the character of Roni so when I revised my draft I added traits or comments that would make her more likable and Gina less likable. It was very important to me that they have equal weaknesses in character.
8. What was the most difficult thing about writing this book?
Writing the bigotry was challenging. I think it was because I needed to get into the headspace of someone who simply hates another race/orientation or who is utterly ignorant of other people’s feelings. I could have gone further with it, as many authors do, but I felt so uncomfortable using those words I didn’t feel it was worth making myself feel like that. I made my point and decided to move on.
9. What personal elements did you draw upon to write this?
This story takes place in an area and time where I grew up. I vividly remember conversations I heard about homosexuals or seeing the news coverage of Matthew Shepard or even the impact pop culture had on creating new discussions. Essentially, this first-hand knowledge is what gave me the confidence to write a story about something so emotional and complex.
10. What objective material did you draw on for this novel?
I researched items in this book to the point of insanity, including what day did L.A. Law air, did Ryan Howard ever hit two home runs in May against the Atlanta Braves, and, of course, all of the laws and significant dates surrounding gay marriage.
11. Any final takeaway lessons from this book?
I’ll never have a human baby, so this is my firstborn. I hope anyone who reads it enjoys it, and/or discovers a new perspective. Also, please review J