An exclusive Authorlink interview with Beverly Bartlett
Author of Princess Izzy and The E Street Shuffle (5 Spot/Warner)
by Ellen Birkett Morris
Every writer has heard the adage "write about what you know." Beverly Bartlett took it seriously and parlayed a passion for all things royal and a love of Bruce Springsteen music into an amusing first novel, Princess Izzy and The E Street Shuffle (5 Spot/Warner). ". . . part of our culture's fascination
with royal women has to do with
the fact that they have all the same
social expectation of women
everywhere . . ."
As a young girl, Bartlett was captivated by the nuptials of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Royal watching became something of a hobby for Bartlett. She absorbed news accounts and read royal biographies.
After earning a bachelor's of journalism at the University of Missouri, Bartlett penned a regular column for the Louisville Courier-Journal, where she addressed our culture's fascination with Princess Di.
"I brought up the fact that men watched sports and celebrated baseball's opening day, but when women got excited about royals people thought they were silly," said Bartlett. Those columns consistently drew the largest response from readers. Bartlett knew she was on to something.
She contends that part of our culture's fascination with royal women has to do with the fact that they have all the same social expectation of women everywhere, in terms of child rearing and appearance, but live out their lives on the world stage.
Princess DI and Anastasia biographies were always a "guilty pleasure" for Bartlett. After Diana's death, Bartlett read even more of these biographies and began to notice a pattern.
"There were several clichés that show up again and again. One is that the princess always gets bad advice (intentional or otherwise) and that the narrator presents themselves as the only objective observer but has an agenda," said Bartlett.
Her idea for a comic, fictional biography about a princess who follows the advice of Bruce Springsteen lyrics was born. She stared the prologue in 1997. She continued work on the novel on and off for a series of years in between job changes, moves and having a baby. "One of the things I like best
about the book is that it explores
how people try to control
their public image."
In spring of 2003, she quit her job as a journalist with the goal of publishing a book and began writing in earnest. Working as a freelance writer by day and stealing a few hours writing at night, while her husband watched the baby, Bartlett completed the book. She argues that in many ways this approach forced her to be more productive in the face of "deadline pressure."
Making the transition from journalism to fiction was a bit difficult at times. part of our culture's fascination with royal women has to do with the fact that they have all the same social expectation of women everywhere, Not being bound to the facts was both liberating and constraining," said Bartlett.
She relied on feedback from a small group of friends who met once a month to discuss writing.
"One of the things I like best about the book is that it explores how people try to control their public image," said Bartlett. She believes we all share this desire to mold how we are seen and cited "man on the street" interviews she conducted for a small town paper and the reluctance of her subjects to admit their preferences for fear of offending their neighbors.
Bartlett's big break came while attending the Green River Writers' Novels in Progress workshop. Green River Writers is a not-for-profit organization founded in Kentucky in 1984 to support writers through education, promotion and fellowship.
She attended the workshop in 2003 and got advice and encouragement from romance novelist Elizabeth Beverly. The following year she showed twenty pages of the manuscript and a synopsis to agent Scott Hoffman, now with Folio Literary Management. Amused by the novel, he requested the entire manuscript. After reading it, he decided to represent the novel. He offered Bartlett suggestions to tighten the book including deleting a chapter. "I thought if I cut this the whole
book will fall apart. I let myself cool
off and I cut the chapter."
"I thought he was crazy. I thought if I cut this the whole book will fall apart. I let myself cool off and I cut the chapter. I read the last paragraph of the chapter before and the first paragraph of the chapter after and saw it wasn't needed," said Bartlett.
Hoffman sent the book to 25 publishers and one of them, the 5 Spot imprint at Warner Books, bought it.
Bartlett worked with Editor Beth de Guzman to keep Princess Izzy in the forefront of the plot.
While she admires many writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Dorothy Parker to name a few, Bartlett believes this novel is in the vein of Christopher Buckley. "Buckley takes real world stories but takes them to a level that is whimsical and not quite real," said Bartlett.
She cautions first time novelists to not be overwhelmed by the size of the task in front of them. "You don't have to have all the answers in advance. For me, it helps to just get something o paper, even if I only use one page out of 20," she noted.
She also advised writers to write regularly. "Stephen King said you have to wait for the muse but they need to know where to find you."
When it comes to dealing with agents, Bartlett shred something she had learned at the Green River workshop. "Agents know they are intimidating, but they told us they really want to like our books. They want to find good stuff and sell it," shared Bartlett.
Bartlett is now at work on her second book to complete the two book deal she signed with 5 Spot, a fictional autobiography of a celebrity morning talk show hostess who is facing deportation.
Beverly Bartlett lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and son. She is currently at work on her second novel. About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.