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Interview: Carole Waterhouse, Author of The Tapestry Baby

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Carole Waterhouse is a creative writing professor at California University of Pennsylvania, as well as the author of two novels, The Tapestry Baby and Without Wings, in addition to a collection of short stories, The Paradise Ranch.  Ms. Waterhouse’s fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines.  Her book reviews have also appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Press, and The New York Times Book Review. 

Readers can learn more about Carole Waterhouse and her works by visiting her her website.

Please tell us a bit about your book, The Tapestry Baby, and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

The novel focuses on Karin, a single mother who has recently given birth to a baby girl after a one-night stand with a mysterious tattooed man. Throughout her pregnancy, she imagined her child would be born with skin that was a multi-colored tapestry. When Anna is born normal instead, Karin still remains convinced that her baby is meant to fulfill some special destiny, one she’s afraid she can’t provide. She and her writer friend Vonnie engage on a trip waiting for a sign to tell her whether or not to keep Anna. The book shows how the decision isn’t entirely her own, that her life is intertwined with six other people in ways none of them will ever understand.

The book focuses on the parts of our lives that we can and can’t control and raises the question of what destiny is, whether it’s something we determine or whether our lives end up defining us. While it raises these questions, it also suggests not taking them too seriously. I want people to examine their own lives when they read my book, but with a sense of irony. My one clear message is that life should be lived with a sense of humor.

Who are your favorite characters in the story?

I have a special fondness for Mrs. Brown, the quiet librarian with a secret past. So many of us end up becoming what people imagine us to be. I also like Reggie, because he tries so hard to live his life correctly but can never quite get his perspective right. When we were working on final edits for the book, even Liz Burton, my publisher, commented at the end of one chapter, “poor, misguided Reggie.” The one I identify with most may be Clarissa, the fake fortune-teller who tries to put everyone else’s life right, and then, when all is settled, goes off in search of her own. She seems like so many women I know who struggle to find the balance between caring for others and themselves.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

There is a scene in the middle that focuses on the birth of a foal. I’m an avid horse-lover and after breeding my mare several years ago, spent three weeks sleeping in my barn when the baby was due. Watching him being born was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life and this section of the book always takes me back to that moment.

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

I think John Malkovich would make a wonderful Reggie because he’s a remarkable actor and has the right body type. I can just see him covered in tattoos. Amy Adams would be my choice for Karin. She’s good at playing characters who seem innocent on the surface, yet have so many more levels of depth underneath. Meryl Streep would be my choice for Clarissa, even though I imagine Clarissa as being a larger woman. I grew up loving every film Meryl Streep was in and when I write and fantasize about my books being turned into films, she always appears on my imaginary screen.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

I love the moment of inspiration, where one idea seems to build on another and everything is full of possibility. I also like the last few drafts where I actually begin to believe this just may work.

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

The most challenging is the middle part of the process. I do extensive revisions and always seem to end up with everything in fragments that I have to piece together again. This book was especially challenging since I had to intertwine so many different characters’ perspectives. One agent referred to it as a 350 page riddle and there were times when I was writing that it felt exactly like that.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

Books I’ve loved enough that I’ve bought copies to give to people include Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, Ann Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars, and Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House. My favorite authors include Jane Austin, Orhan Pamuk, and Richard Russo.

What are you reading right now?

Richard Russo’s The Bridge of Sighs

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors – dead or alive – who would they be and what would you serve them?

I’m a dreadful cook (they would have to eat vegetarian as I do), so I would have to make sure there was lively discussion to keep my party going. I’d invite 19th century poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine because after their stormy and bawdy relationship where one ended up shooting the other, I suspect they’d have lots to say. I’d also invite Gustave Flaubert because I love Madame Bovary and with his power of observation and understanding of the human condition, he’d enjoy watching Rimbaud and Verlaine. Finally, I’d invite Jane Smiley and Laura Hillenbrand, because they’ve written some of the finest horse books I know and I’d like nothing better than to chat with them about the subject closest to my heart.

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow. I was completely mesmerized by the incredible beauty of Pamuk’s language. Last year I traveled to Turkey on the power of his prose. I simply had to see the Istanbul that he described.

What is the greatest piece of advice (for writing and/or just living) that you have heard?

That reading has a tremendous power. Writers are more influenced by what they read than any other factor. And reading, I firmly believe, also affects the way we live our lives.

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