Robert Bausch – seasoned writer and beloved teacher of writing, has just published a heartfelt novel about a teacher becoming overly involved with a beautiful female student who has a reputation for trouble. What kind of trouble? Well, that’s the story.
I spoke with Bob about writing his latest book, In The Fall They Come Back. It’s his seventh book, BTW. I’ve included a list of his books at the end of this post. And another BTW, Bob wrote the novel, Almighty Me, which became the movie Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carrey. Yep, that’s Bob Bausch.
Bob has seen the writing and publishing world go through many changes. He’s won prestigious writing awards and continues to teach aspiring writers the craft he knows so well. From working with one agent for the past – oh – twenty-some years, to last year signing with a new agent, from publishing with a few of the big 7 NY houses to the publishing venture known as Kindle, it’s a new world for writers and readers and Bob hopes to connect in different ways. He wants what most writers want. To be read. To contribute to the wonderful wealth that is art. And to share his art with readers who hunger for meaning through a good story.
Take a look at In The Fall They Come Back. Now here’s Bob.
When his first book, On the Way Home, was released, the press was more than kind.
“It was amazing how that book did. Newsweek came to my house to take my picture and it appeared on the same page with Elmore Leonard and Ruth Gordon. I got all kinds of attention for that book so I thought the second book (The Lives of Riley Chance) was the one where I would really be established. I put everything I thought I knew about what I could do as a writer at that time into that second book.”
Bob has had ups and downs in his writing life. A great story teller with a gift for engaging his writing students, Bob recalls his frustration in the middle of writing that second novel.
“It was very painful to write. I had a pass where I was trying to write the third section of it and I got so frustrated I took the whole five hundred and twenty page manuscript and went out on the front stoop and threw it outside. Papers everywhere. Then I went to a 7-11 and played Pac-Man until two in the morning until I had no more coins. When I came home, I found the manuscript on the table next to the typewriter. My wife (we were not married yet at that time) had picked it all up and reassembled it, even with tire prints all over it. After all that, it got a really good review in The New York Times and the L.A. Times said a lot of good things.”
What was it like for books in those days? Well sort of like it is today, only different.
“A book would stay in the stores for three months. That was it. After that if you wanted it you would have to go to the information desk in the store and order it and they would call you when it came in.”
Today, of course, a book can live on the Web forever thus Bob – and a lot of other fine authors – are turning to Kindle and Nook and CreateSpace and other delivery systems.
Even so, nobody can predict or even explain why some books become best sellers while others don’t, or even why some continue to sell and others just disappear.
“It’s kind of crazy. One of the best examples of that is a really complex, hard to read, almost scholarly novel by Thomas Pynchon called Gravity’s Rainbow, was on The New York Times best seller list for weeks. I’m convinced it was because it was by Thomas Pynchon and because of the title. And I’m pretty sure the thousands of people who bought that book and made it a best seller couldn’t read it. It’s a nice book to have on your coffee table.”
I’m reminded that William Faulkner loved to read mysteries. We’ve all heard the reports that books are dying and reading is disappearing. Hmmm …
“I don’t think people read any less than they did fifty years ago. I think there are people who love having the language going on in their head and they’ll read no matter what. There are people who can’t eat their cereal in the morning without reading the text on the box or a newspaper. It’s not so much that we don’t have readers anymore but that we have an industry that has handled the reading public – an audience that’s already there – as if they didn’t count. As if they could be manipulated into doing almost anything. It’s an industry that does the worst job of selling books. If any other industry in America tried to operate the way the publishing industry does, they would all go out of business overnight.
“The business has become market driven as opposed to in the past it was at least editorially driven. Which is to say, editors acquired books and took them to marketing and said, ‘We’re buying these books. Figure out a way to market them.’ So it isn’t that there aren’t readers. It’s that the people who should be serving readers are serving marketing departments who don’t care about readers. They only care about market breakdowns and making numbers.
So what do readers want?
“What they used to get from literature. A good story. That is human beings being caught in the act of being human. Meaning well but creating trouble and pain anyway. People who love each other harming each other with their love. That’s what good fiction gives you. The truth. Not factual truth but the truth about what it means to be human.”
In his first Indie book, Bob writes about real people suffering in real and emotionally true ways.
“In The Fall They Come Back takes place in a school. The protagonist is a teacher who in the beginning of the book is thinking of going to law school. But because he’s influenced by what he does as a teacher, there’s a place in the book where he says: ‘Maybe that’s all a teacher is really. Someone who means well, who’s bearing gifts.’ It’s a book about finding out that what he thought was a temporary job is really where his heart is. At one point the character says: ‘If you could give somebody as a gift movies or music or art or literature, if you could give that only by talking to them a little bit every day, wouldn’t you want to do that?’ To him it’s the magical realization that what he’s doing is offering the world. All the things that are worthy of having in the world as a gift to these unformed young students. The book is also about the limits of benevolence. He becomes too involved with his students and gets into trouble because of it.”
Bob says he’s happy when a reader reports that his book was a great read. In fact, when one reader said Bob owed him fifteen dollars because he was so engrossed in Bob’s book that he missed his train stop, Bob was happy to send him a check.
“I want readers to be moved to tears and laughter. I want reading my book to be an experience they carry around for days, to move them enough that first it feels real to them and that they feel like they’ve come to understand a little more deeply what it means to be human and alive here and now. What it means to be a teacher; what it means to be a friend; what it means to care.”
Books by Robert Bausch
On the Way Home, 1982 – LSU Press
The Lives of Riley Chance, 1984 – St. Martin’s Press
The White Rooster and Other Stories, 1995 – Gibbs Smith Publishers
Almighty Me, 1991 – Houghton Mifflin
A Hole In The Earth, 2001 – Harcourt, Inc.
The Gypsy Man, 2002 – Harcourt, Inc.
Out of Season, 2005 – Harcourt, Inc.