When Marie Bacigalupo was nine, she read Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and was instantly hooked on fiction. She grew up to teach high school English before focusing exclusively on fiction writing, studying under Gordon Lish at The Center for Fiction, taking classes at the Writers Studio, and attending a number of university-sponsored craft workshops.
Marie won First Prize among 7000 entries in the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual Short-Short Story Competition with her entry, “Excavation.” Her other works have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Journal of Microliterature, The Examined Life Journal, Romance Magazine, and elsewhere. Ninth-Month Midnight is her debut novella.
The author is a native New Yorker who lives and writes in Brooklyn. Visit her at Marie Bacigalupo.com.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Ninth-Month Midnight. What is your book about?
After struggling for years to conceive, Dolores Walsh, a New York City schoolteacher married to her college sweetheart, loses her beloved daughter to cancer. A year later she remains consumed by grief, rejecting the consolations of her lapsed Roman Catholic faith.
The loss transforms Dolores, a once willowy brunette, into a zombie-like chain smoker who stays unwashed and unnourished until her husband, Joe, bathes and feeds her. With another pregnancy highly improbable, Dolores wants the seemingly impossible: she wants her baby back. And she resents her husband for having put off starting a family.
Enter Salvador Esperanza, a charismatic psychic who helps the grief-stricken communicate with their dead. Dolores cannot resist this new hope or the man who offers it. But in order to attend Sal’s séances, she must do battle with her jealous husband’s hard-core rationalism. When Sal decides to move on, only a miracle can save Dolores from the numbing despair that threatens her sanity.
What was your inspiration for it?
The initial idea for Ninth-Month Midnight arose out of the questions, What if the souls of the dead linger among us for a while? Would we be able to communicate with them on some level? When Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” I say, You betcha! I combined this idea with the story of a troubled woman who develops a desperate attachment to a male psychic. In general, I’m interested in the strengths and vulnerabilities of women as well as the preconceptions of our society regarding their presumed limitations.
Did your book require a lot of research?
“A lot” is relative. Here’s what I did: I researched contemporary and 19th-century spiritualism on the Web; read about Houdini, who spent years trying to make contact with his dead mother, ultimately to no avail; perused the arguments of debunkers and believers; examined the practices and rates of storefront mediums and the writings of celebrity psychics, such as One Last Time by John Edwards and Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss. I included fiction in my preparation, specifically McShane’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon and Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Yes, very well. I’ve tried to analyze the source of the anxiety. Maybe it’s a fear that I’ll sit down and discover I can’t write worth a damn any more, or that the idea I’m trying to imbue with life is garbage, or that I’ll never write another book. It all seems to boil down to self-doubt and fear of rejection.
As an antidote I re-read the following appraisal from a major publisher: “Overwhelmingly nauseating…the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. . . . I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years”.
The book under review? Lolita! Then I take a deep breath, connect butt to chair, and start writing.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
Does a routine make one disciplined? If so, I guess I’m disciplined. I get up around 7:00 a.m. and usually settle down to work after breakfast and a long perusal of The New York Times.
Then I check any notes on hand about how I might integrate a new idea or take the work in a different direction. I use the term notes very loosely. I make a habit of jotting down anything that flits through my mind with regard to a current work on stray pieces of paper—napkins, the backs of envelopes, scrap paper—so that I don’t forget them. This is the only time I use a pencil or pen in my work. I find a computer quickens the pace and syncs with my mind as I add, delete, and reorder words and passages.
I use Scrivener, a feature-rich word processing program that makes it easy to organize notes and chapters, and integrates into a single project all aspects of the writing process from research to final draft. (I sound like a Scrivener spokesperson. I’m not!)
If family obligations don’t interfere, I write for a couple of hours in the morning — sometimes productively, sometimes not. Then I break for lunch and return to the computer for another hour or two. If the writing goes very well — and this is rare — I’ll write continuously for five hours.
What was your publishing process like?
I published through Amazon and its paperback arm, CreateSpace. I had heard and read so much about the difficulty of getting past the gatekeepers of traditional publishers, who considered only agented manuscripts and were providing less and less support in promotion and marketing. As a result, I decided to try the direct approach.
From the beginning, I understood that critical objectivity would be essential to the success of my venture. After many revisions, I asked for comments on my manuscript from two trusted readers (not family members and friends — they’d worry about hurting my feelings) before sending it out to a professional editor. I made some revisions suggested by responses that seemed valid based on what I was trying to achieve.
Pretty soon I realized that I didn’t have the technical skills to go it alone on this project, so I searched the Internet for people who could assist me and who charged reasonable rates. Ultimately, I hired Polgarus to do the layout and Ellie Augsburger of Creative Digital Studios to create the cover.
The hardest lesson I learned was that the most saleable book in the world—think Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code—won’t sell a single copy if your readers don’t know it exists. And wouldn’t you know it, I happen to be an introvert. Promotion and marketing were huge challenges for me, but I bit the bullet: I established a website and blog, and joined Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.
Then I started to worry that maintaining a media presence would become so all-consuming I would have little time to write. And what would I have to promote if I stopped writing?
Now I focus on writing fiction and do the best I can to promote my book. Next time I may hire a social media publicist.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
When Ninth-Month Midnight was published, I celebrated with a friend who had gone through the same first-book angst. Together with our spouses, we toasted with a good red wine, dug into pasta and meatballs, and rehashed stories of our long adventure. After a long gestation period, we had finally given birth. It may have hurt like hell, but the baby was worth it!
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Yes, I do. The blog is part of my website—Marie Bacigalupo.com. I use it to have a conversation with my readers about fiction in its various aspects. It covers plot and other fictive elements, historical and contemporary writers like Robert Browning and Mohsin Hamid, and advice that helped me in writing fiction.
On the homepage, you’ll find thumbnail covers of my works – including an anthology and magazines in which my short stories appear — along with buttons that connect to Amazon for ease of purchase. Titles of the stories and links to the full text of some of them appear on the Other Writings page of the website.
Ninth-Month Midnight, my debut novella, is readily available on Amazon in ebook and paperback editions. The ebook can be read on any device with a free Kindle download.
Here’s the URL for both versions.
Photo and cover art published with permission from the author.