Audrey N. Lewis has retired after 25 years of running an International not-for-profit. Now she is able to focus on her writing and has completed two very different books.
Bonnie Ferrante: Hello and welcome Audrey. Reading through your bio I was struck with how many similar interests we have. We both enjoy furniture restoration, scrabble, gardens and nature. I don’t know if I would ever have the courage to keep bees though.
Audrey N. Lewis: Thank you for having me Bonnie. I would love to play scrabble sometime. It’s interesting that you mention needing courage when it comes to beekeeping. Really it isn’t about courage as much as it’s about the ability to keep calm. It has been a hobby that our whole family was able to be involved in. I actually discovered I am allergic to honey bees and my husband had to take over the hive care and I was responsible for extracting and preparing the honey. It’s an awesome experience and as a nature lover feels good to increase the bee population.
Ferrante: One of the characters in your short story collection, Everybody has a story… These are ours…, is also a highly creative person. Megan is an artist. But the rest, seem very different from you. When you write, do you draw on your own experiences or like to explore new ways of looking at things?
Lewis: I think that when I write it is difficult not to draw from either something I have experienced on a physical level or an emotion that an event may evoke.
When I write I think I have a tendency to throw myself into the story and that although a particular story line might not be real or something I have personally experienced I tend to immerse myself into a character or characters often letting it take over for a bit, until I can finish it and let it go.
Ferrante: At one point in Megan’s story, she draws detailed, amazing pictures on frosted store front windows that melt away with the sunrise. This is a Buddhist activity, much like water sketches, chalk drawings, or sand mandalas. It was quite symbolic of her life. If you had to choose an artistic activity to represent your life, what do you think would be most suitable?
Lewis: Since we share many hobbies, I think you might understand my dilemma in saying I am not sure I can answer this question. I feel that I have come a long way from the little girl I was when I wrote my first poem or painted my first painting. More so now as the woman I am and continue to be, there is not one activity I feel that would represent my life, but rather an ongoing living canvas that would incorporate all of the arts and senses as well as emotions, including Mother Earth and all that she bears.
Ferrante: Although Megan’s future was taken from her, most of her life really, she never lost her true self. At one point she resorted to cutting herself and using her blood in an attempt to paint. Do you feel the creative impulse is essential to fill?
Lewis: I do believe that it is essential. I believe that as a creative person it would be so difficult to be chastised, or forbidden to use my creativity in some way. In fact if I was no longer able to be creative at will in some way, I think I would just be empty and fade away.
Ferrante: Absolutely. It would be hard to get up in the morning.
The theme of parent and daughter seems predominant in your short story collection. Were they written as a group with that in mind?
Lewis: I am a mother of a son and daughter and a daughter who grew up with 3 sisters. I have witnessed myriad relationships throughout my years and with bearing witness to so many life events and experiences I felt I could draw most realistically from those. When I wrote them, they were written at different times and I did not really think about how they might go together.
Ferrante: The first story in your collection, “The Closet” had a sci-fi touch that was about a universal problem. The child in this story has special needs that her parents and teachers seem unable to fill. Because of her innate personality, she has great difficulty with self-control and interpersonal relationships. Consequently, she is excluded socially and even bullied. This raises the question of nature versus nurture. Are you coming down on the side of nature?
Lewis: This was a very emotional story for me. I think all too often we hear about children who need help but either aren’t recognized as having a problem or who slip through the system in one way or another. I believe that often times it is due to nature that problems present themselves and when this happens it is difficult not to over compensate with nurturing. But even with all the nurturing one can give without defining the nature of the problem or in the case of Lexi in The Closet, addressing and acknowledging it. I believe that you cannot nurture someone so disturbed without acknowledging that nature may indeed continue to take its course.
Ferrante: The mood of this story collection is quite sombre, even dark. Were they all written at a specific time in your life? Did you set out to explore the theme of helplessness or despair?
Lewis: It’s interesting that you ask me this question, because I have discussed this with close friends. Most of the stories were written at a different time and not necessarily shadowing where I was emotionally. I do not think of myself as a dark person, so I was surprised at how dark they turned out to be. I think that it is not so much helplessness or despair as much as my perception of the various life events and the reality of them. There are two sides to everything and I think that when I wrote them I was attempting to show the side of life’s stages that one doesn’t always look at. Thinking about these stories sort of makes me sad, because I feel that they do indeed reflect those emotions.
Ferrante: Your other book, Dreamseeker, Wish Keeper is totally different. It is a children’s book illustrated with crayon drawings. Why did you decide to switch from adult short story writing to a children’s picture book?
Lewis: Actually, Dreamseeker, Wish Keeper was written and illustrated in 1991 for my daughters 6th birthday. I have written many stories of various genre since then which includes the collection of short stories, Everybody has a story….These are ours. I don’t actually decide what I will write but rather let where I am and what I am feeling dictate my writing at a specific time.
Ferrante: The picture book almost seems as though it is written for adults instead of children, or at least teenagers. I felt the theme was to dream big, but worthy, dreams, be curious, work to fulfill your wishes, don’t give up, and share your gifts. Who do you feel you are speaking to in this book? Why did you choose this message?
Lewis: Like I said, Bonnie, I wrote Dreamseeker, Wish Keeper for my daughters 6th birthday. This was my gift to her, so when I wrote it I was speaking to her. I wrote it understanding the old soul in her and the gifts she shared with all of us. As the younger sibling of a physically disabled brother sometimes she didn’t always understand the fairness of life and yet her heart screamed the dreams I wrote about. I guess it only seemed fitting to give her messages that she might carry with her through life and remember how incredible human nature can be when we look at each other and at life itself in a positive way.
Ferrante: What is your next project going to be?
Lewis: Phew. I am working on several projects right now. I am working on a novel that has been evolving for the past 40 years, about how differently we view expereinces at different times of our lives, how they may look differently depending on where one might be at the time. It is about going back, forgiving and letting go.
I am working on a sci-fi book with several writers. It is about a parallel dimension of powerful women and what their lives are like as they create their world. It should be interesting with different voices coming together.
I am also working on what was originally going to be a short story which is becoming a novella. It was inspired after the tragedy in Orlando and I am hoping will open up some deep discussions and perhaps change some reader’s views on the human race.
Ferrante: What special talents would you like to possess?
Lewis: Without sounding too altruistic, I would like to be able to alleviate the world of diseases, hunger and the carbon footprints and pollution that are causing climate change.
Ferrante: As a child, what was your favourite game?
Lewis: I think this is another hard question, Bonnie. It depends on how old I was. I think what I remember that made me happiest was playing with my imaginary friend, Jeffery.
Ferrante: What word do you most dislike? What do you most like?
Lewis: I really dislike the word “hate” it is such an unfriendly word and always seems to instill such sad feelings. I don’t think there is ever anything good that comes from that word.
The word I like most depends on the day. But if I think about it as a word that makes me happy when I think about what it means than it would be two words, Love and Peace. These are the words I really wish we could all live our lives believing and sharing.
Bonnie, thank you again for having me and I hope we can play a game of scrabble sometime soon.
Ferrante: Thank you for participating. It’s always great to make a connection with someone of similar interests. Best of luck with your many endeavours.
The author’s short story collection was reviewed March 31, 2017.
The Three Random Questions are from a Bit of Banter, the Game That Gets You Talking