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Author Q&A with
Cat Bauer

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.
see photos from Cat's home in Venice.

We burned up the international phone lines with Cat Bauer, who spoke with us from her palazzo apartment on the Grand Canal in Venice. Read on for Cat's take on Harley, Hollywood, Mexican food, and la dolce vita!

Can you give us some background on your life in the pre-author days?

I grew up in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, and in the early '80s I moved to New York City to the West Village. In New York I studied theater with the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, then moved to Los Angeles to start my acting career. I did some soaps, commercials, a little TV, and took screenwriting classes at UCLA Extension. I also wrote plays, a couple of which were produced locally. L.A. is actually taking over Venice right now - they're downstairs from my apartment shooting "The Bold and the Beautiful" today.

So it sounds like you were pretty focused on acting - what made you turn your attention to writing?

Well I've been writing for fun since I was six years old. In grammar school, I was always the one picked to write the essay for the fire department. When you get that kind of encouragement when you're young, I think you develop a confidence and willingness to take risks that you really need to ride the ups and downs of a writing career.

Do you remember anything you wrote when you were a kid?

[Laughing] Yes, my first lesson in marketing! When I was six I organized a book sale with the other kids in the neighborhood. My book was called Children of Other Lands and I put a lot of effort into it. It was very thick, about 10 pages, well researched, and complete with illustrations. It cost 5 cents. Cookie, an older girl who lived down the block, just scribbled on a couple of sheets of paper, but she stuck two lollipops on the cover and charged 6 cents. Everyone wanted her book and no one wanted mine.

Our readers might not know that Harley, (Like a Person) began life as a short story. Can you tell us about that?

I always told myself that when I got too old to act, I would write. Because you know in Hollywood, actress years are like dog years. One day I decided it was time.

Uh, how old were you in dog years at this point?

Let's just say I wasn't eating Puppy Chow anymore. Anyway, so I went to the library and got a bunch of magazines that bought fiction. I chose the late, now defunct, Sassy because I thought it was wickedly hip - they'd do things like ask supermodels when was the last time they ate. I wrote a short story called "Run Away" that was basically the first chapter of Harley (Like a Person), and they bought it. After it came out I got a lot of fan mail demanding to know what happened to the character. Here's one of the letters: "Dear Sassy: I just wanted to let you know that the fiction story, 'Run Away' was the absolute best story I've ever read in Sassy. It had me cryin' halfway through. It was just so phantasmagorical." So I decided to write a novel based on that short story.

Hmm, that is phantasmagorical. What made you want to write for this age group?

I didn't intentionally set out to write "young adult" books. I set out to write for Sassy's audience, which to me meant 13 through 30 year old women (and incidentally, a large gay male audience). I'd actually never heard of the young adult genre. At the time I was naive enough to think I was writing in a completely new voice. I was shocked to find out there was this whole category out there, and even more shocked to find out that's where my book belonged. In fact, I feel really strongly about this - someone pointed out to me that the young adult genre existed and this person suggested some titles for me to read. I looked and looked, and finally found them in the children's section with the kiddie chairs and the stuffed animals! I thought, "nobody that I'm writing for is going to want to trip over the Legos to get to these books." So I'm glad that this issue is getting some attention now, because there's so much wonderful literature for this age group, I see it as a genre that's really ready to explode.

Now the big question on everyone's mind - since you're a child of the New Jersey suburbs yourself - are you Harley?

A piece of me is in Harley but she's not me. She doesn't feel like me. She feels very separate, like a different person. The biggest similarity between Harley and me is feeling like a stranger in a suburban town. I took parts of Lenape Lakes directly from the town where I grew up - like the Pond Hole. That's real, it really exists in Pompton Lakes. One of my favorite parts in the book is when Harley and Carla are looking through the old yearbooks, because those entries, you know, like "aspires to be a secretary," came out of actual yearbooks from Pompton Lakes. The low aspirations are real. Growing up I felt completely out of place, like nobody in my town knew what I was talking about. Then I got to New York and thought, "aha, here are all the other space creatures!"

Harley has a teacher, Miss Posie, who believes in her. Did you have a teacher like that who encouraged you?

Yes - Miss Posey! That was her real name, but she wasn't an art teacher. She was an English teacher and an advisor for the drama club. But she has nothing in common, really, with the fictional Miss Posey in terms of character, except that they were both very supportive. I absolutely believe that one teacher can make a difference.

Why did you decide to leave Hollywood and move to Italy?

I had a really comfortable lifestyle in L.A., but I felt like something important was missing. I've always loved Venice, and I wanted to go someplace where I didn't know anybody and I didn't speak the language, so I could see where I was in life. I couldn't see clearly in L.A. Life in Europe is completely different than life in America. It's so much less insular. The pace of life is different to Italians. Relationships with other people are really important. We're losing that sense of being connected in America. It's all out of proportion - lots of money, very little connectedness. There's still a strong sense of the family here, you know, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, all yapping around the dinner table.

What things about the United States do you miss?

I miss my writer friends, just sitting around talking about everything and analyzing everything to death! Books in English - that's a big one. Also Mexican food, Purpose face lotion, and zip lock baggies. But my friends come over and keep me supplied with the essentials! And I don't feel like I'm so far away because of the Internet.

So has the Internet affected how you write, too?

Absolutely. I'm a real computer person - I had a KayPro computer back when it was the only thing available. I used Word Star (ancient word processing program) and loved it but finally had to give it up because I was compatible with no one except maybe one guy in a basement somewhere. I'd still use it if I could. It's the computer equivalent of the yellow legal pad. Then I fell in love with e-mail and have been using it from the beginning. I'm aware of the dangers, language-deterioration and all that, but I just love being able to edit myself! We couldn't have done Harley without the Internet, we were e-mailing every single hour at one point. I absolutely love that I can stay here in Venice and still be connected to America.

Where do you do your writing, and what's your typical work schedule like?

I live in a 17TH century palazzo. It's a bit crumbling on the outside but inside it's beautiful. My apartment is on the second floor but Venetians call it the first floor, and there are offices and shops on the ground floor. I have 15-foot ceilings and a balcony that looks over the Grand Canal. There are Murano glass lamps and the whole place is very open and beautiful. I've set my office up so I can look out onto the canal, and when the sun is shining, the water from the canal reflects the light onto the ceiling. It's mesmerizing. But Venice goes against my ideal writing schedule, which is from about 10:00 a.m. until 2:00, then a break, and then coming back to rewrite and edit in the late afternoon. Here everything closes from 12:30 to 3:30 P.M., so you've got to run your errands in the morning. So now I start at about 9:30 to 11:30, then start again at 4:30 and work until 7:30 in the evening.

What are you working on now?

Something in a slightly older voice that right now I'm calling, Mrs. Elder. But who knows how long that title will last. Harley, Like a Person used to be called Zee!