Books by
Cat Bauer

HARLEY LIKE A PERSON


Cat Bauer

BIO

Cat Bauer grew up in New Jersey but now lives in Venice, Italy. Prior to beginning her writing career, Ms. Bauer was an actress. HARLEY, LIKE A PERSON is her first novel.

PAST INTERVIEW

June 9, 2000

Like her character Harley, author Cat Bauer grew up in a New Jersey suburb very close to New York City. Now a resident of Venice, Italy; Cat was happy to discuss her debut novel, HARLEY LIKE A PERSON, with Teenreads via email. Find out what authors inspire Cat, why she moved to Italy, how she captured such a realistic teen voice, and more in this revealing interview.

Teenreads: Is HARLEY LIKE A PERSON your first novel? What inspired you to write a Young Adult book?

CB: Yes, HARLEY is my first novel. Prior to that, I was an actress and had written a couple of plays that were produced locally in Los Angeles. I'd always written for fun, and knew that after a certain point in my life I would concentrate on writing. One day I went to the library and checked out a bunch of magazines that bought fiction. I stumbled on Sassy, Jane Pratt's old magazine. I thought it was deliciously wicked and hip, so I wrote a short story I thought would fit with that readership, which included everyone from teens to women in their 30's to enlightened men. Sassy bought the story, and after it was published, I received letters demanding to know what happened to the character, so I decided to write a novel.

But I never set out to write a Young Adult book --- in fact, I'd never heard of the genre. When someone told me that such books existed, I went to the bookstores to hunt for these mysterious YAs. I made several trips and simply couldn't find them. I never dreamed of looking in the kid's section. When I finally found them among the LEGOs, I was dismayed. I knew no one who was going to read HARLEY would trip over plastic trains and building blocks to find it. I always tell people it was like looking for laundry detergent stuck inside a cereal box on the bottom shelf of the frozen food aisle.

I don't think it's appropriate that a nine-year-old has easier access to a book that raises such hard-hitting issues as emotional and physical abuse, alcoholism, drugs, etc., than a teenager or an adult. I think HARLEY is not only for teens, but also for adults who aren't afraid to remember. I'd love for HARLEY to be read by daughters and mothers and fathers, and by single adults still reeling from their own teenage years.
  
Teenreads: Your character Harley is so very real, her angst with her best friend, first boyfriend, and parents ring true in every way. How did you come up with her character?

CB: I spoke with teens all over the country, guys as well as girls. I've got a rule that I never tell their parents what they tell me, so they feel free to open up. I used the Internet and talked to kids of my friend and strangers on the street. Then I just sat down in front of the computer and let Harley talk. I'm a big fan of J.D. Salinger's CATCHER IN THE RYE, and even though the voice is very different, that was the only book I could find that was even close to what I wanted to do, so I read that a lot.

Teenreads: Harley is a gifted painter, and although her art teacher acknowledges this and encourages her, Harley's parents do not. Without giving away too much of the story line, why do you think adults sometimes discourage students in the fields of art? Is it because those fields can be so competitive, or is it that adults feel they are not "money makers"?

CB: HARLEY, LIKE A PERSON is set in the suburbs. Many people who live that kind of life have nothing within their realm of experience to make them think it's possible to live creatively. I grew up in New Jersey, surrounded by malls and tract homes. My friends' parents were electricians and secretaries and insurance salesmen, just struggling to pay the mortgage. It's impossible for many people to imagine being a doctor, let alone an artist. To live a creative life you must be willing to take risks, and that's very hard to do when you have a family to support. At one point in the book, Harley thinks: "Lenape Lakes is a sneaky little town. If you don't escape, it wraps you in its claws and the next thing you know you're living on Lenape Road with a husband, three kids and a dog."

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by people who had creative jobs...directors, writers, musicians. In fact, an art director on a television show gave me the idea for Sean Shanahan's job as a set designer. These people's children are growing up in creative households. Their kids want to be writers, actors, producers --- and they probably will succeed.

But living a creative life doesn't mean you have to be a painter or an actor. I believe any job can be creative. For instance, if you love electricity (and I do) and you're an electrician, well, you're doing the right thing. One summer I worked in a factory because there simply were no other jobs. The people working there were incredibly creative, even though they were only assembling bits of wire. The work was dull. Their creativity came out in the form of birthday parties, get-well cards, company picnics, just being human with each other. They'd bring special food for lunches...it was nice.  

Teenreads: The secrets in Harley's house are so prevalent the air is thick with them. Her parents think they are protecting her, but in reality they are making things worse. Why do you think parents sometimes hide the truth from their children --- and why especially in Harley's case?

CB: Why does anyone hide the truth from anybody? Usually because you're hiding it from yourself under a pile of justifications and hope that it will go away. It rarely does. It's a wonderful thing about truth --- it always seems to bubble up. In Harley's case, her parents hide the truth because they can't admit it to themselves.

Teenreads: Harley is a very honest character, even when she is being dishonest with herself. She knows even while hanging out and smoking with the rough crowd, it's not her. How can she be so honest growing up in a household of dishonesty?

CB: Harley is not entirely honest. It's just that you can hear her thoughts and her rationalizations because it's written in the first person. For instance, she lies to her parents about going to the Spring Ball. The reader knows why because they hear Harley think. If you could hear her mother think; perhaps then you would understand why she, too, is not being honest. The difference is that Harley acknowledges to herself when she is dishonest. She is listening to the voice inside, something we all have, and something that many people try to silence. Roger, her father, tries to silence his inner voice with alcohol. Peppy tries to silence her inner voice by avoiding reality. I think the teenage years are a special time when you first start hearing this inner voice --- that is, if the noises around you don't drown it out. There are a fortunate few that actually follow this inner voice, but most of us don't.

Teenreads: Her father, Roger, is a drunk who is often verbally --- and at times physically --- abusive. Harley's mother is either absent during his rages or silent. Why does she passively allow him to rage at her children?

CB: Because it's a dance that's been going on forever. Harley's mother probably used to try to do something about it, but has since given up. I believe it usually takes a huge shock, like a death, an accident, or a new love to make changes in one's life. Peppy and Roger, Harley's parents, have a great opportunity to make a change when Peppy's mother dies. They let this opportunity pass them by. Thanks to Harley, by the end of the book, they have another opportunity.

Teenreads: Harley has a moment where she becomes enraged herself and shakes her younger sister Lily, who she usually showers with love and affection. When she realizes that she is acting like Roger, she is sick at heart. What can teens do to combat this kind of explosive anger, especially when they are so used to being the brunt of it themselves?

CB: It's very, very difficult not to fall into the same pattern. I like to ask people to try to remember what they were like when they were three or four years old, before they built up all their reflexes to defend themselves in life. As far as what teens can do, I think it's important to channel that explosive energy into something constructive, some personal interest. If you turn it against yourself or become a druggie or start smashing things, then the bad guy wins. If you use that energy to learn karate or study your butt off to become a scientist or a musician or something, then you win. But some kids are in very serious and violent situations, and in those instances, I would talk to a trusted adult. Easier said than done, I know.

Teenreads: This book is about relationships between mothers and daughters, as well as fathers and daughters. What do you think is the turning point for Harley and her mother?

CB: I think when they both start looking at each other as individuals with real emotions and opinions, not just as a "mother" and a "daughter." It's difficult for a parent and a child to see each other with new eyes. Both people must make the effort, and each person must recognize when the effort is being made.

Teenreads: Having Harley paint the portraits for the play Anastasia is very fitting, considering she --- like the title character --- feels her true identity is not known. Is that what led you to choose this play?

CB: I chose Anastasia because I acted in the play in high school (I played the Empress) and I knew it was a play that teens performed. It was just a happy coincidence that it fit that way. Well, I sort of steered it in that direction when I realized it fit so perfectly.

Teenreads: Harley and Carla start the novel as best friends but then grow apart. Do you think their rift can ever be mended? Or are high school friends destined to drift away?

CB: I still have several friends from high school, so I think some friends are lifers. Even though we don't see each other very often; when we do, we have a rich history behind us, so we can pick right up and move forward. That kind of trust comes from years of being together, like slipping into a pair of cozy slippers.  When it comes to Harley and Carla, well, I don't think they will be best friends anymore. Losing a best friend can be just as painful as losing a love.  

Teenreads: Mrs. Tuttle, the wealthy woman who Harley works for, is an interesting character. Both inspire each other artistically and Mrs. Tuttle showers Harley with warmth, generosity and trust, three things Harley does not get at home. Was she inspired by a person who you know in real life? And, most importantly, does she attend the opening of Anastasia?

CB: That's a really good question. She's a compilation of several people, I think. When I decided to write a novel, I got a book, WRITING A NOVEL by John Braine, which is sort of like my bible. I will borrow his words: "...no character can be convincing who isn't based upon a real person. Based upon a real person: The character you create won't have the same appearance, occupation, beliefs, way of speaking, or even necessarily be of the same sex. You start from him because something about him excites your imagination or because he is the centre of some event which excites your imagination. What emerges is a new person."

To answer your other question, Mrs. Tuttle actually did attend the opening of Anastasia at one point, but she got edited out. But yes, she's up there in the balcony.

Teenreads: At the end of the novel the family secrets all spill out. Does the truth set this family free? Will we be hearing more from Harley in future books?

CB: As I said before, Harley's actions give the Columba family a new opportunity for growth. If Harley wants another book, she'll get one, but I can't force her.

Teenreads: Like Harley, you grew up in New Jersey. Is any of this book autobiographical?

CB: Writing is a very strange process. As a writer, you sort of wander through life participating, yet watching. So, there are pieces of me in Harley, but she's not me. There are pieces of me in Roger and Peppy and Carla, but they're not me. Some things in the book are based on actual events; some things are total fabrications. For example, my friends never threw me a Ball of the Misbegotten (though I wish they had). There really is a place in the town where I grew up called the Pond Hole, but there is no place where Mrs. Tuttle lives called Washington Hill. My father never hit me across the face with a belt, but I've spoken to people who have had that happen. I'm not the oldest of three children, I'm the oldest of five. It goes like that.  But the answer to the biggest question of all is, no, I am not adopted!

Teenreads: You moved from New Jersey to Venice, Italy. No one can argue the benefits of living in Italy over Jersey --- and I'm from Jersey so I can say this --- but what inspired this drastic relocation?

CB: Well, it wasn't as drastic as New Jersey to Venice. It was more like New Jersey, New York City, Los Angeles, Venice. I actually haven't lived in New Jersey since I was a teenager; I left when I was about nineteen or twenty. I fell in love with Venice the first time I was here about ten years ago, and I'm not the only one. It's haunting; it gets into your soul. It's like no place else on earth. We have no cars, only boats. We're surrounded by precious art, incredible architecture.  We have fresh vegetables every day at the Rialto market; fish every morning from the lagoon. You walk from one point to another, and you run into about five people you know, go have a coffee, say ciao. It's like living in a small village, only there are about 100,000 visitors every day.  

Teenreads: HARLEY LIKE A PERSON is an impressive debut novel. How did you find your publisher, Winslow Press?

CB: My agent, Gail Hochman at Brandt & Brandt, knew Margery Cuyler, now the Vice President of Winslow Press, when she worked at another publishing house. So when Margery moved over to Winslow, Gail sent her the manuscript. Margery was in Italy for the Bologna Book Fair last year; so I took a train to meet her, and listened to her ideas for the book which I thought were dramatic, but right on.  She really "got" the book, and I liked her immediately. Sometimes you get lucky, and I feel very fortunate to be with Winslow. Margery's a writer herself and really understands the process. And my editor, Francesca Crispino, knew exactly how to work with me. She's got great instincts.

Teenreads: How long did it take you to write HARLEY?

CB: To actually write it took maybe about a year, but it wasn't solid writing. I was still acting a bit at that point. It was rewriting it that took the time, learning the craft, learning the business, stuff like that.

Teenreads: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

CB: I've been writing since I was about six years old, so it wasn't something that I wanted to be, it was something that I was. I would write books then sell them to my neighbors, so even at that age I looked at it as a job. Don't ask me how I got that idea into my head, because there were no writers in my family. But no, first I wanted to be an actor. In fact, I wanted to be an actor because I thought writing was too easy and I wanted a challenge, if you can imagine. Ha! Little did I know. It was a lot easier when I was six.

Teenreads: Who are your favorite YA writers?

CB: Honestly, I still don't know much about YA. I can tell you my favorite writer, who is Elizabeth Berg.  I can tell you my favorite books: CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger, ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll, THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster, A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles.

Teenreads: What are you reading now?

CB: I just finished SOLSTICE by Joyce Carol Oates that I dug out of a bin at a secondhand bookstore. And since the supply of English language books over here is somewhat limited, I've usually got some trashy bestseller going that gets passed around the English-speaking community. I'm also reading Jan Morris's VENICE, and this year I'm reading Carl G. Jung, MAN AND HIS SYMBOLS over and over, alternating that with Joseph Campbell, THE POWER OF MYTH.

Teenreads: Your biography says you are now working on your second novel. Can you give us a sneak preview?

CB: It can best be described as another "coming of age" novel. I think we get a couple shots at it in life.

Teenreads: What advice would you give aspiring writers?

CB: Write, read, think, write. Believe in yourself.



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