Today on Tuesday Tours we’re welcomed into the writing space of author Bridget Birdsall. Bridget’s newest book Double Exposure is the story of intersex teen athlete Alyx, who after moving from California to Wisconsin, starts a new life as a girl and eventually makes the varsity basketball team. Alyx’s feelings of fitting in don’t last long when one of her classmates attempts to expose her secret. Double Exposure brings to light complex gender issues, teenage insecurities, and overcoming all obstacles. It has been nominated for a Teen Choice Book award and has been recognized by Publishers Weekly who named it to the List of Anti-Bullying Books. Hanging out with Bridget is like getting a burst of energy and sunny positivity. She has a strong belief that one of the most effective ways to cultivate connection, empathy, and understanding is through sharing our stories, and I couldn’t agree more. Bridget will be signing copies of her books at Boswell Books in Milwaukee on March 1, 2015 at 3pm.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am a multi-faceted artist. I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College in 2005. I’ve struggled with dyslexic challenges most of my life, therefore reading, writing and school never came easy. I always loved art, and though I’ve had no formal training, I do paint when I feel stuck in my writing. I also doddle a lot in my journals, but right now, my primary creative medium is words, and creating images with words through poetry and prose. Many, including myself, never thought I’d pull it off as a writer, yet it’s been a secret dream since I was eleven years old. It was then that I read the The Sojourner by Marjorie Kinnan Rawling. Not a children’s book but it changed the course of my life. While I was growing up, I was constantly told that artists starve and thus, my undergraduate degree is in Marketing Management from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. I attended on a basketball scholarship. Today, I live in Madison, Wisconsin, with my partner, Roseann and our dog, Sophie. Madison was a great place to raise my son, who is an avid reader and budding writer himself. He now lives and works in New York City.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?We’ve lived in this house for about four years. It’s a small house, perhaps, too small at times. My office is a wonderful space, but I have dreams of doing more with it. In the past, I have always had space where I could slop paint when I got stuck with my writing. This office is just off of our living room, so it is too nice to slop paint, but I am working to clear space in the basement near the laundry sink.
Describe a typical work day. Do you have rituals you do before you start creating?I’m not sure I have a “typical day” but when I get up in the morning I do start my day with some journal writing, prayer and meditation. It’s a time to get myself centered. Often ideas will come to me before or after sleep, and if I can rouse myself enough, I write them in my journal, which I keep by my bedside. I’ve filled thousands of journals over the years, most illegible to the eyes of others, but incredibly healing and creative for me. I have a fireplace in my office, which I shamelessly admit turns on and off with a switch, and puts out a decent amount of heat in the winter. Often, I turn it on before I go into my space to work. Sometimes I will do yoga. This past year I completed a yoga teacher training course and I’m proud to announce that I can now stand on my head for two minutes or more unassisted! Though, just in case, I stay near the wall. Not bad for a late-blooming baby boomer. Everyday, I do go through my schedule and cross out time for writing. Sometimes I must be flexible with this, because if my partner is home it is terribly distracting, and with no door on my office it can be hard to keep a boundary around my work. But this leads to the next question.
What’s your biggest distraction?
This is easy, my partner and my dog! Having other beings in the house, who seem to want attention every time I sit down to write has been a problem. I wish I was one of the writers who could get up at the crack of dawn, but I’m not. I’m dealing with the partner part, by getting a door on my workspace to signal a visible boundary: YES, I AM WORKING. Please stay out, even if it appears to you I am not working, or that I am doing yoga poses, or I’m taking a nap, this is what writer’s do sometimes, stare at the screen until something comes, the important thing is for me to keep focused on my work, keep my mind fertile and stay in the flow. I can get distracted enough on my own! The other big life distraction, and I’m not alone among writers, is the need to sustain myself financially. It just seems that even very successful writers have a hard time making a living with their art these days. A few do, but they certainly seem like the exception rather than the rule. Someone told me, we now live in a “gig” economy, and so today it’s more about “streams of income” so perhaps in the future my income will come from a combination of things. Hopefully advances and royalties, speaking and teaching, book and art sales, but I keep my real estate license active just in case. And I’m back in the classroom teaching high school seniors how to write plays, which I love.
Does music influence your work? What’s on your playlist now?
Huge yes! I sometimes crank the music super high (after my partner leaves for work) and I work with theme songs. For Ordinary Angels it was Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. For Double Exposure it was Five for Fighting’s Superman, and the Doggies, Who Put the Dog Out, and more recently, Lady Ga Ga’s, Born This Way. For cleaning up my office it’s usually anything by Mavis Staples, but especially, Eye on the Prize. When I was growing up I was crazy about Elton John.
Is there any special item/trinket that inspires you?
The picture of my son when he was young, the painting by my friend Ellen of the Honey Creek Owl, one of the first paintings I ever did above my fireplace called Healing Waters and a shamanic healing stone left to me from my late Aunt B.
Is there a favorite drink or food that have while you work?
Tea. Gave up alcohol, coffee and soda, when my son was born. Sometimes, pistachio nuts, however other than that, I try not to bring too much food into my office. It forces me to get up and take breaks.
What are the three best things about your writing space?
(1) I have one. (2) fireplace (3) big window, with great light.
How do you organize your bookshelves? Is there a formula?
Usually, by genre, and I learned that by stacking the books, I could fit more in the shelf while using the books themselves as bookends.My basic formula is two-fold; first I, OCD arrange them, by weight and size and of course, visual appeal. Then, I use them and it becomes interrupted chaos –until I’m inspired once again to straighten them up. Because, yes, I do use my books and I try to read as much as possible. I also read my fellow writers work, whether it’s published traditionally or independently. And I try to buy my contemporaries books and pass them along, so they don’t sit forever on my shelf collecting dust, and we keep the words flowing.
What advice do you have for people who want a creative space?
Commit to it. Don’t wait as long as I did to demand a door. Let yourself make a mess when needed. Make sure you are comfortable and it supports you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Clean it up, change it around, do whatever you need to do to keep the energy flowing and having fun. Crank the music when you want too. Make it yours. You deserve it!
What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
Please come support local authors and independent bookstores and join me at Boswell Book Company on Sunday March, 1, 2015 at 3pm where I will be reading from my new YA novel Double Exposure, about an intersex teen athlete who learns to stand in her personal power. Check out my website which I’m learning to build and maintain myself. Keep writing my friends, it’s up to the poets to save the world!
Thank you, Bridget! Congrats on your award nominations for Double Exposure! I’m looking forward to seeing you at your Boswell Books event on Sunday 🙂
Join us next week when award-winning Wisconsin author Pat Zietlow Miller shares the place she pens her picture books.