Right Time Right Place: Nicole Baart

One of the things Monica and I have especially appreciated since moving to Iowa is reconnecting with our friends, the Baart’s, who we remember from way back when we both lived in the Fraser Valley of Nicole Baartsouthern British Columbia. Since those days, Nicole has become the critically acclaimed author of After the Leaves Fall, Summer Snow (a 2009 Christy Award finalist), Beneath the Night Tree, The Moment Between, and Far From Here. She writes literary, hope-filled fiction about beauty and brokenness. Her latest novel is Sleeping in Eden.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say the name Jesus?
“Wow!” is the first thing that comes to mind – a sense of being completely overwhelmed with undeserved grace.

What is the most exciting part of having a book published?
The truth is, it’s all exciting to me… from concept to edits to finally holding the finished book in my hands. But if I had to pick just one part, I’d say the most exciting part for me is getting my first reader email. Hopefully lots of people will read my book – some will like it, and sadly, some will not – but only rarely do readers take the time to connect with the author. At least, in my experience. Reader emails are few and far between, but when I do receive them, it’s like meeting a new friend every time. It’s hard to describe, but it often feels as if that reader has looked deep into my soul and read not just the book but everything I hoped to communicate through it. And that moment of connection, that dialogue that was spurred on by the daydreams and wonderings that compelled me to write the book in the first place, is just priceless.

You’re a mom and involved in many things. How do you find time to write? Do you have a writing routine?
I have multiple personalities. No, that’s a lie.

I don’t sleep. Uh, that would never work. I love sleep.

I have many minions…? I wish.

Actually, I don’t have a formula for writing or for “getting it all done.” I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of girl, at least, when I can be. Unfortunately for me, having three sons (and a five-year-oldOne Body One Hope daughter on the way!), a career, and a non-profit organization (One Body One Hope) requires me to have some order in my life.

I write two mornings a week while my older sons are in school and my “baby” (almost three years old already!) is at a friend’s house. But that’s not the only time that I write. Honestly? I do most of my writing in my head throughout the day. A scene will come to me, or the way a stranger sips her tea at a coffeehouse will grab my attention, and suddenly the book I’m working on will start writing itself in my head. I keep notebooks with me at all times, and try to jot down any and all ideas hat pop into my head. If I have the time, I’ll write entire scenes on the fly. Often in church. Shhh – don’t tell.

As for the rest of it (the kids, the dog, the house, the cooking, the volunteer work, the non-profit, etc.), I have an incredibly involved, helpful husband who actually likes (loves!) housework as much as I like having a full plate. I function best when I have deadlines and lots of stuff to do… I was the girl in school who could hardly sit still, who was always tapping, twitching, moving, and shuffling, and now I guess I’m putting all that restless energy to good use. Retirement sounds like a little slice of hell to me. I like to be doing something. Actually, doing a lot.

Can you say a bit about your latest book, Sleeping in Eden, including how its evocative cover came to be?
Sleeping in Eden was ten years in the making. Countless rewrites and edits. Major plot changes. And in the time it took to write, I changed just as much as the manuscript. My first son was born. And then I lost three more sweet babies. We adopted our darling second son from Ethiopia, had another miscarriage, had another baby (a third boy!), moved to a different country, started a non-profit organization halfway around the world, and got some wrinkles. (I’d like to say I love those wrinkles, but it’s more of a love-hate relationship.) Suffice it to say, Sleeping in Eden has a very special place in my heart and in my life, and when I finished the final (final-final-final) edits on the book and handed it in, I felt the need to do something. Pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, sure. But my friends are more creative than that.

One of my dear friends is an artist and photographer (Ellenvelde Photography), and after the final period was set, we spent a whirlwind evening bringing Sleeping in Eden to life. We wanted Sleeping in Eden by Nicole Baartto capture the mystery, the longing and magic and heartbreak and wistfulness and hurt and hope that is this book. (There might have been some wine involved.) Another friend’s farm was the perfect backdrop, and we shot a couple hundred photos that we hoped conveyed the emotion of the book. I ended up sending ten of those photographs to my editor, and she passed them on to the design team. The end result is the evocative cover of Sleeping in Eden. I think they nailed it.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Don’t shy away from the truth of our very complicated lives! I think women are at a remarkable place in history, a time when we are encouraged (forced?) to be incredibly independent and to take on many of the roles and expectations that were previously reserved for men. A lot is expected of us–at home, at work, in our personal lives and beyond. We are supposed to be thin and beautiful, articulate and well-educated, great with children and successful in our professional lives, and yet somehow maintain the down home goodness espoused on Pinterest boards as we make our own jam and sew handmade Christmas presents. It’s exhausting. And it’s a lie that a woman has to fit this new feminist Barbie doll archetype or turn in her second X chromosome. I love women’s fiction books that address these issues head on, and that offer a hint of hope in the midst of the broken pieces of our complex lives. I think the world is longing for honest representations of women battling these misplaced presumptions, and I think we need to take the voice we’ve been given seriously. No more Bella’s and Anastasia’s, please. We can do so much better than that.

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