Friday, May 25, 2007

From 19th Century Asylum to 21st Century Book Shelves

Today, I interview Alma Bond about her new book, "Camille Claudel, a Novel" a historical novel about a real woman. Read why she decided to write the book in the first person:

Tell us about yourself.
I received my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Columbia University, went on to get psychoanalytic training, and subsequently became a psychoanalyst in private practice for 37 years. Since my “retirement”in 1991, besides Camille Claudel, a Novel, I have had 12 books published. My latest book, Magnificent Monster: The Story of Margaret Mahler, is presently in publication with McFarland Publishers. My play Maria, about Maria Callas, was presented off-off Broadway a few years ago. The widow of Rudy Bond, stage and screen actor and published author, I am the mother of three children, all of whom have published books. I have seven young grandchildren, none of whom have been published yet. (It shouldn’t take long. My 11-year old grandson Jason says when he grows up he will write a book called My Life as a Professional Hockey Player.

Tell us about your book, "Camille Claudel, a Novel."
Camille Claudel, a Novel describes real-life events behind a façade of fiction. Camille Claudel was a great female sculptor whose produced most of her work in the late 1800's. She was a fascinating woman not only because of her genius, but because she was the student, lover, and confidant of Auguste Rodin. Because of her rejection by Rodin, her terrible relationship with her mother, and the insurmountable conditions women artists faced in the last century, she became insane and spent the last thirty years of her life in a mental institution. The book describes a magnificent love story in all its details, as well as a history of the lack of recognition faced by women artists at that time. Because I am an experienced psychoanalyst, I believe I am uniquely qualified to understand the origin and development of Camille’s mental illness. As I also am an experienced writer and the author of 12 previously published books I feel able to tell Mlle. Claudel's story in an intriguing and informative manner.

This is a book based on a real woman, but you chose to write it as a historical novel in the first person instead of a Biography. Explain that decision process.
I decided on an intuitive level that is how I could write it best. I have never regretted the decision.

How did you conduct your research?
I read every book and article I could find about her, including some in French. The research itself took over two years, including a trip to France to visit the important places in Camille’s life, including her birthplace, Le Geyne, and the asylum. The actual writing took perhaps a year. Since I thought about Camille all the time, the actual writing didn’t take long.

What was the most interesting fact you uncovered about this woman?
In the novel, we hear the story through the eyes of Camille herself. One of the most engrossing, disturbing aspects of the book is Camille’s gradual transformation as she becomes more and more insane. My knowledge of the human being came to me through my years of psychoanalytic experience, and underlies every book I write. In particular, with this book, I wouldn’t have been able to write the last chapter and ending, which has been described as totally original by Southern Review, without my psychological background. I think of everything I have ever written, that chapter is the most insightful. I may have written the book without my experience as an analyst, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the same book.

How did you decide which facts to blend with fiction?
The facts are all historically correct. The thoughts and feelings I attribute to Camille are fictitious.

What do you think this story reveals about how mental illness was treated in the 19th century?
It reveals how primitive the treatment was, with the exception (from time immemorial) of highly gifted and intuitive healers.

How does that blend with how women, particularly artists, were treated during that same period?
Women artists were highly discriminated against during the 19th century, and still are, to some degree. Lack of recognition no doubt contributed to the prevalence and intensity of mental illness.

When is your best writing time and where do you like to write?
When I am writing a book, I always write from morning to night. When asked where I get the discipline to write, I always say that I need discipline NOT to write. I write wherever I happen to be, so long as I have a computer to work on.

What is next for you?
I am writing a play called “Bella!,” about the great activist and Congresswoman, Bella Abzug. A first reading will be given (today) May 25, at Hunter College, where Bella was president of her class.

Alma's Web Address:


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