Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome the author of Balsamic Moon – Alan Gartenhaus, from Atmosphere Press, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.
About The Author
Alan Gartenhaus served as an educator at the New Orleans Museum of Art and Smithsonian Institution, and as a director of Cornish College of the Arts, in Seattle. A recipient of an Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellowship, he created and was the publishing editor of The Docent Educator magazine. His fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Broad River Review, Entropy Magazine, Euphony Journal (University of Chicago), Ignatian Literary Magazine (University of San Francisco), and the Santa Fe Literary Review. His short stories have been awarded with an “Editor’s Choice” distinction, and been designated a finalist in an international competition for Baby Boomer authors by Living Spring Publishers. His nonfiction has been published by Running Press, Smithsonian Press, and Writer’s Workshop Review.
You can connect with author Alan Gartenhaus here:
Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin.
Thank you for the welcome and for your interest in my novel, Balsamic Moon.
Balsamic Moon takes place in New Orleans. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are from Tulane University, in New Orleans, and my early working years were spent on staff at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I loved my time in that colorful, diverse, richly textured, and exotic city. It was akin to my “first crush,” the place that still makes my heart race whenever I think of it.
Today, many years later, I am seventy, married, and have lived on the island of Hawaii since 1995. In addition to having created, edited, and published a professional journal for museum educators and docents teaching with art, history, and science collections, I’ve spent much of my Hawaii years farming avocados, breadfruit, grapefruit, oranges, and pineapples. Rather than sell our produce, we’ve donated everything beyond what we consumed to local foodbanks.
Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?
“Balsamic moon” is an astrological term for the final phase of the lunar cycle. It’s considered a dark time of endings, dissolution, and change. I had never heard of a balsamic moon until researching the dates on which the novel takes place and discovered that it occurred during such a lunar phase. The irony of this did not escape me, and ultimately provided the story with its title.
What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?
To be compassionate and respectful of all people, regardless of how they might differ from you.
Who is your favourite character in this book and why?
I love and care about both of my main characters, but am most fond of Doreen, who struggled to succeed in life, to retain a sense of humor, and to grow despite adverse experiences.
What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the inspiration for Balsamic Moon came from watching the experiences and tragedies that befell the citizens of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck, the levees were breached, and floodwaters surged into 80% of the city. Seeing the suffering, the damage, and the ineptitude of our response to the desperation was agonizing. Writing helped me process that pain.
How long did it take you to write this particular book?
I worked on the manuscript for over eleven years, although not consistently. I would write, put it away, and come back to it months later. I reworked the text many times over those years.
What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
I want to continue writing both short stories and novels, and hope that my readership, and their interest in my writing, will have grown.
Are you working on any other stories presently?
I am almost always writing––mostly short stories. I am also working on another novel that is presently in an initial, rough draft form.
Why have you chosen this genre? Or do you write in multiple genres?
All storytelling interests me but I am most prolific as a writer of short stories. I have had about twenty short stories published. Several of them are shared on my author website: www.alangartenhaus.com.
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way?
I can barely remember a time when I didn’t write. As a youngster, a neighbor-kid and I used to write science-fiction stories, alternating paragraphs––he, then me, back-and-forth. Since adolescence, I’ve kept journals, written poems, dashed down stream-of-consciousness thoughts, and recorded personal events. I haven’t had to make sacrifices to write; it’s been folded into my life. It is an integral part of who I am.
My focus on writing fiction became more serious when we moved to a very rural environment. In addition to providing me with “imaginary friends” to play with, writing offered a balance to daily chores and the physical rigors of farming.
What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?
I am an early riser, and routinized person. I write most days, after morning exercises and walks, until lunch. If the writing is going well, I continue into the afternoons; if not, I don’t.
How do you prefer to write – computer/laptop, typewriter, dictation or longhand with a pen?
With the exceptions of making notes, or writing a journal entry, both of which are in longhand, all my writing is composed on a laptop.
What are your 5 favourite books? (You can share 5 favourite authors too.)
These are five favorites, not necessarily of all time but that I’ve much enjoyed in the recent past:
- Edgar Allan Poe: The Complete Short Stories
- Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
- The Absolutist by John Boyne
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
I wish I had a magic solution, but don’t. Mostly, I agonize, fret, and take long walks.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Give your work to readers whose opinions you respect. Listen and learn from criticisms; don’t rigidly defend your choices without understanding what has caused a reader to hesitate, question, or have difficulty. Be flexible.
Thank you, author Alan Gartenhaus, for your insightful answers!
About the Book
Within a few short hours, rising floodwaters force next-door neighbors into a desperate fight for survival.
Before Hurricane Katrina, neighbors Doreen Williams, an African American single mother, and Richard Girard, a reclusive gay man, were aloof and even suspicious of each other. But when the levees in New Orleans burst, these two are sent scrambling into a cramped attic where, together, they face tests of grueling heat, dwindling supplies, worries about loved ones, and the struggle to keep living.
In his novel Balsamic Moon, author Alan Gartenhaus explores the journeys and losses that survivors endure, the courage and persistence required to come through them, and the truth that, when our very survival depends on the formation of ties across differences, our compassion for one another is what makes us feel safe and whole.
You can find Balsamic Moon here:
Amazon | Goodreads
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