Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently retired, Beth is enjoying having the time and energy to focus on the twin passions that have teased, haunted, and sustained her for decades. Writing has always helped her see more clearly what she is trying to see, and since she began sculpting a few decades ago, playing with clay has given her another way to see the world—and particularly the people in that world—around her more clearly. She is gratified to offer this story, originally drafted over a decade and a half ago, as her first published novel.
Facebook: Beth Franz
What inspired the premise of Ndalla’s World?
The premise of the story was inspired by the title character herself. I began “seeing” and “feeling” Ndalla’s presence in my life way back in 2003, two years before I sat down to draft the novel in the summer of 2005. Much of my journaling around that time consisted of questions—and tentative answers to those questions—about who Ndalla was and what was going on in her world. However, it wasn’t until I found Julia, the narrator, and was able to “see” Ndalla through Julia’s eyes, that the story started making its way down on the page in the summer of 2005.
Ndalla’s World can be called a coming-of-age story of sorts, even if it doesn’t follow the “typical” conventions of a coming-of-age story. Was that your intention? Can you tell us more about the process behind that development?
I agree that the story might best be categorized as an adult “coming-of-age” story. But I don’t recall having that intention when I started out. I knew that the story would focus on the two major characters and their relationship, as well as their individual struggles in life. Beyond that, I didn’t really know where the story would take me.
My process of finding the story was simple: In 2005, I found myself with an entire (glorious) summer available to me in which to focus on the story, so I committed to writing ten pages a day…no matter what. I started with the two characters I had in mind: Julia, the narrator, and Ndalla, the woman who comes to Julia’s world and ends up changing everything…both for Julia and for herself, in ways that neither could see coming. Initially, I struggled to overcome my fear: how could I write ten pages a day when I didn’t yet know where the story was going? But after several weeks of honoring my daily writing commitment, the fictional world became more “real” to me, in many ways, than the real world I tried to re-enter after I’d written my ten pages for the day!
In some ways, Julia and Ndalla mirror each other, and in others, they complement each other. How did you develop these two characters? Was it important to you that they have different qualities that worked together, or did that come about naturally?
For me, the two-year incubation period between 2003 and 2005, before I started actually drafting the story, allowed the characters to reveal themselves to my subconscious mind without any real interference from my conscious mind. Then, as the story started making its way down onto the page, I found myself just as fascinated as I hope readers will be to discover how the two characters’ individual journeys weave together (and “fit” together) in ways I could not have planned had I tried!
Your bio mentions that Ndalla’s World was originally drafted more than 15 years ago. What drove you to finally finish and publish this story?
That’s a great question. The story was already “finished”—in the sense of making its way from beginning to end—by the end of the summer of 2005. In fact, as the summer came to an end, my daily writing plan had transformed itself into something that would not stop. Before I resumed my teaching commitments in the fall of 2005, I already had not only over 400 pages of Book One tucked away in a notebook, but I also had the first 150 pages of Book Two in another notebook, and I even had notes for Book Three!
But to get Ndalla’s World (Book One) ready to go out into the world, I knew I needed to work with a developmental editor, and that didn’t happen until after I retired from a 30-year career as a full-time writing instructor at a local community college. Once I pulled that story off the shelf (a year or so ago) and read through it again, I knew it was time to get to work on “birthing” it, so to speak. Thanks to the team at Atmosphere Press, I was paired up with the perfect developmental editor for the story, and so the last year has been a real education in editing, publishing, and marketing…which are so different from the process I gave myself to in first getting the story down on the page.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
The core values we try to honor in our lives have to affect our writing, just as they affect the way we choose to live our lives. But I believe our writing is best served by a willingness to embrace the questions (about life) that our writing is bound to raise…even when that means following the writing in directions that we had not seen coming and perhaps especially when the questions challenge our ideas about what we think we know about life!
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
In order to become better writers, I’m not sure that “giving up” any part of ourselves—or our lives—is what is called for, so much as opening ourselves up more…through the alchemy that happens when we find ways to trust the process of writing, not to mention trying to become more compassionate, more empathetic, more forgiving in our lives.
What are your favorite books?
The list changes over time. Any books—whether they be fiction or non-fiction—that challenge us (as readers) to open our hearts and honor what we believe we’re here (on earth) to do, both individually and collectively—while also embracing the mysteries that we all need to find a way to move through life with—end up making it onto my current list of “favorites.” Some examples: Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer, and Betty Jean Steinshouer’s Long Road from Red Cloud.
The Epilogue to Ndalla’s World seems to suggest a sequel. When can we expect to see the next installment in this story?
Not sure at this point, but relatively soon, I hope!
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