Congratulations Mary Waters-Sayer on the publication of her first novel, The Blue Bath!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
From your biography we know that you worked in investor and public relations for 10 years. How difficult was the transition from the corporate world to the creative one? What or who helped you make the decision to begin your first novel?
I have always wanted to write a novel. I think it’s in our nature to want to contribute to the things that bring us joy, and books have always been high on that list for me. I have been an avid reader since I can remember. I grew up spending my summers on an island with no television and no phone, which fostered my reading habit. While corporate and creative writing are very different in all the obvious ways, I think my stint in the corporate world provided me with some valuable skills, including experience writing to deadlines, a degree of confidence in my abilities, and perhaps a somewhat thicker skin. In addition, my last corporate role was with a very vibrant, creative company, so it wasn’t as if I was writing about widgets.
Like Katherine Lind, you have also lived in London. Are there any other similarities between your main character and yourself?
There is a certain combination of practicality and passion in Kat that feels familiar to me. And although Kat’s story is not my own, she does walk the same streets that I did and she sees London and Paris through my eyes. The other similarity between us, sadly, is that I had lost my own mother before I started writing the book and so I understood how utterly devastating and unmooring an experience that can be.
How would you describe your creative process? Do you work from an outline or notes? How do you craft such smooth, effortless prose?
Thank you! In terms of the creative process, The Blue Bath started out as a series of individual scenes. Two of the first pieces I wrote were the Tuileries scene where Kat and Daniel meet and the gallery scene where Kat sees the paintings.
In the beginning, I wasn’t certain exactly how they were going to fit together, but they ended up acting as the tent poles for the story, which kind of unspooled around them. While I did outline multiple times (many an index card gave its life for The Blue Bath…), that came later in the process. One technique I used in writing The Blue Bath that I will continue to use going forward is to read the text out loud. There is something about hearing the words spoken that is extraordinarily helpful in separating the wheat from the chaff.
On page 107-112 of your novel, Thomas Lowry’s critique shows an in-depth knowledge and background in the field of art. How did you acquire that expertise?
Much of any expertise I have on any given subject has been acquired through reading. I did a fair bit of research for The Blue Bath, mostly centered on the process of painting, both in terms of techniques and materials, as well as on the sensory experience of it all. I have always loved art, particularly drawing and painting, and I indulge that love as often as I am able with museum and gallery visits. London is a great city in which to do that – there is always such a variety of types and styles and of old and new. I also did a great deal of research online. I will say that as someone whose great appreciation for painting and drawing is, sadly, not accompanied by a talent for it, it was a tremendous thrill to create paintings entirely out of words. Every single canvas within the book is entirely real to me. I can see each one of them in great detail.
We know that a face glimpsed through a window was your inspiration for The Blue Bath. What happened next? How much times passed between the inspiration and the completion of the novel? What, if any, challenges did you encounter in bringing The Blue Bath to print?
I could not get the face in that London gallery window out of my mind after I saw it. As I said in answer to the previous question, I started off writing individual scenes that felt almost like brief glimpses into a life. I love the idea that the book started from something so small and so fleeting. The first time you do anything is always revelatory and a bit scary and writing a novel is no exception. One of the main challenges for me resided in simply keeping the faith in what I was creating and pushing through the multiple inflection points at which it could have been abandoned. It’s difficult to pin down an exact amount of time from start to finish, but it was likely about five years.
What genre does The Blue Bath fall into? What would you say is its primary theme? What message would you like the reader to take away from your novel?
I would characterize The Blue Bath as literary fiction, a lovely broad swath of a genre. Themes regarding to the intersection of life and art, the subjective nature of perception, and the lingering light and shadow of young love are threaded through the narrative. There is a particular moment in the story when Kat talks about the need to recognize beauty, which is an idea that underpins much of the novel, and reflects the book’s origins in that small moment of beauty glimpsed in the gallery window. Reading is so such an individual act; it is difficult to say what I would like people to come away from the book with. I would hope that readers enjoy and are engaged in the story and that it causes them think about some larger questions.
Is the book’s cover art a replication of one of Daniel Blake’s works? If so, why isn’t Kat in the picture?
That’s such an interesting question. I have never interpreted the cover as being one of Daniel’s paintings probably because, as you point out, Kat isn’t pictured in it. I tend to think of it as a peek into the story. But now your question has me reconsidering it entirely! Creating and choosing a book cover is a fascinating process, especially to a first-time novelist. I would argue that it is definitely more art than science. I’ve received an enormous amount of positive feedback on the cover of The Blue Bath – people love it! All credit to the designers at St. Martin’s Press – David Baldeosingh Rotstein and Michael Storrings – who did a wonderful job.
What contemporary authors do you like to read? Have any of these authors influenced your work?
I think we are influenced by everything we take in – good, bad or indifferent. Of course, there is nothing like the inspiration of aspiration – of reading something that just takes your breath away. There are so many wonderful authors writing today. Marilynne Robinson is one of my absolute favorites, as is George Saunders. Other favorites include Lauren Groff, Donna Tartt, Claire Messud, and Elizabeth Strout. I just recently read and loved William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days, which is a bit of a departure from my usual fare. I love books that I miss after I finish reading them, like the absence of a friend.
Would you elaborate on your statement from your novel’s acknowledgements: “I am grateful to London and Paris for the inspiration, to California for the aspiration and to Massachusetts for the isolation—all of which proved necessary to this process”?
The Blue Bath owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the places I lived while I was writing it; each of which provided something essential at particular stages of the process. It felt important and appropriate to acknowledge them along with acknowledging the people who helped make the book what it is. To start, London and Paris provided the spark of inspiration that grew into The Blue Bath. Then, while I was in California I studied writing at Stanford and it was there that my determination to complete the book really calcified. So there you have your aspiration. Lastly, anyone who has ever been through a Massachusetts winter knows that it provides an excellent opportunity for solitary creative endeavor. And as I didn’t know many people during my first winter there it proved to be even more so, and that isolation helped me to finish the book.
Anything else you’d like your readers to know? How can your readers contact you?
I love hearing from readers. Readers can sign up for my newsletter on my website www.marywaters-sayer.com or follow me on Facebook at fb.me/MWatersSayer. I have recently started skyping with book clubs, which is great fun. Book clubs can contact me via my website to set that up. Thank you so much for your interest in The Blue Bath and for your thoughtful questions!