Barbara Bellman – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book is titled Flirting After Fifty: Lessons for Grown-Up Women on How to Find Love Again. It’s a realistic discussion of what women (and men) need to know in order to be successful at dating instead of sabotaging their opportunities for romance.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m originally from Arizona, and am now living in Washington DC. My entire career has been spent in advertising – specifically, marketing to women. I have been married and divorced, and am now happily married, hopefully for the last time! Between marriages, I’ve had my share of flirtations and failures, and learned what works and what doesn’t in terms of getting the sparks flying.

And something that is most exciting to me now, is that I’ve gone back to graduate school to get my MFA in Creative Writing at American University. This has been such a rewarding time for me, and I find that, in addition to learning new and better ways to communicate, I am more prolific in my writing. There’s nothing like a deadline to get the juices going. And at this time of my life, I don’t want to look like I’m taking up space, so I am very focused about earning the “A’s”.

What inspired you to write this book?

I got tired of women (and men) complaining about how they couldn’t meet anyone decent, or that men wanted younger, thinner, prettier women. But I also kept meeting new couples who defied that assumption: women over the age of 65 meeting handsome, accomplished men; women overweight finding love with great guys; women with physical ailments who found men to dote on them…so I wondered, what is the magic? What is the secret sauce that these women have that makes them successful while others aren’t? I decided to write the book as a way to learn the answers to these questions.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

Originally I had an agent who loved the book and tried to shop it around, but she found that most publishers just didn’t “get it”. It was our agent’s idea to self-publish. I had experience with iUniverse, having published a non-fiction trade publication years before (to good success), so I decided to give it another chance.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I have always been a curious person, an “interior” person, living a lot in my head. I observe, fantasize, and build stories around the smallest incidents or behaviors. I’ve always been an avid reader as well. But when I was in high school, my freshman English teacher gave us an assignment to write – a personal essay – and she liked mine enough to post it on the bulletin board an example of good writing. At that moment, perhaps, I knew the satisfaction of doing something well, and I was hooked.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

Re-writing. I have to put time and distance between me and my stories in order to come back to them and be objective enough to revise what I’ve written. It can always be improved. But when I’m writing, there comes a moment when I can’t see the story on the page anymore. That’s when it’s hardest for me, and when I need to leave it for a while and come back later, with fresh eyes.

But another discovery is one of confidence in my own voice. In order to commit the time and effort to put ideas down on the page, I need to believe I have something to say, and trust that I will find the best way to say it. Maybe not the first time, or the tenth, but if it’s important to me, I will continue to work at it until I know I’ve done my best. It can be difficult to stay committed, and when that happens, I put it aside and revisit it another time.

How do you do research for your books?

I use all sorts of ways: secondary research (library, internet), personal interviews, news items, articles, and books. Once I have something on my radar, I find source material everywhere.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

I learned what women (and men) do wrong. And why. And, importantly, I learned how they could best overcome their insecurities by re-focusing the lens onto someone else. Men and women, as they get older, can become even more insecure when it comes to dating, and that insecurity compounds itself. I meet people who are open and receptive to what the book has to say, and others who are defensive and resentful that the book challenges them to stretch. It’s like the quote: “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

But what I personally got out of writing the book is the clarity that the same qualities that help a person to be more effective in meeting new people are the same attributes that are needed to do anything in life: confidence and the courage to try something new, even when you aren’t feeling all that confident.

What are you reading now?

I’m re-reading “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo. I read it years ago, but it left such an impression on me that I am learning anew what makes for great writing. I’m also reading several books about writing musicals and plays, as that is something I am tackling now.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Some of my favorite writers are Victor Hugo, James Michener, William Goldman, Kay Gibbons, Flannery O’Connor, and Lee Childs. Each one of these offers something admirable: voice, story, setting, history dialect and adventure.  I just finished reading Walter Kirn’s “Up In The Air” and loved it at the sentence level – just incredible writing. His observations are so right-on I felt I was there.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I am beginning work on a book about re-careering in later life. It’s non-fiction and less “how to” and more “why to”. I think, as we get older, we need to think of the time we have left as an opportunity to remain productive, relevant, and purposeful. For me, and for several people I’ve interviewed for the book, retirement as we know it is an obsolete concept. For me, it’s about “retryerment”, a word I coined to describe the effort to re-invent oneself to go in a new and desirable direction.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

About writing: Never stop learning from those who are smarter than you, and never stop thinking that you can be a better writer. Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you become. Not everyone will like your work, but so what? You don’t like everyone’s work either. It’s a matter of taste. You need to find your voice, and use it.

About publishing: Don’t think that getting a traditional publisher is a guaranteed success for your book. You still have to market yourself, and your book. The business is so competitive, and so difficult, publishing companies won’t put a lot of money and PR behind all their authors. They can’t. So it is up to the author to be an assertive part of the marketing team to get the book reviewed, read and purchased.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I advertised my book in Radio and TV Interview (RTIR) newsletter and got several radio interviews, built a website, I advertise on Facebook and am building a fan base, I’ve sent out press releases and review copies, arranged book signings, been interviewed on TV, and hired a publicist to help get the word out initially.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Go to my website: flirtingafterfifty.com. The book can also be purchased through Amazon.com or other on-line retailers in hardback, paperback and eReader editions.