Erica Bauermeister, bestelling author of THE SCENT KEEPER, returns with NO TWO PERSONS, a sweeping and beautiful love letter to reading and books, filled with unique characters that readers everywhere will relate to.
Scroll down to learn more about Erica and NO TWO PERSONS with this author letter and Q+A.
NO TWO PERSONS is available for download on Edelweiss here. LibraryReads votes due by April 1st.
What’s something that made you smile today?
My morning started with a photo of my new granddaughter. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Favorite writing snack/drink?
I write first thing in the morning, preferably as the sun is coming up. I make a very tall latte and take it with me down to my writing studio in the orchard. It warms me up until the heater kicks in.
Book[s] you always reread?
A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES (Diane Ackerman), BLACKBIRD HOUSE (Alice Hoffman), THE ARCHIVE OF ALTERNATE ENDINGS (Lindsey Drager), ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES (Charlotte McConaghy)
Next on your TBR pile?
Adrienne Brodeur’s LITTLE MONSTERS, coming out July 2023. I snagged an advance copy and am hooked one chapter in.
The title NO TWO PERSONS comes from the quote “no two persons ever read the same book.” Your book is a novel about a novel, which we follow from its creation and then through the reactions of a disparate group of readers who encounter the book in various ways across the span of almost a decade. How did the idea come to you? Why do you think it’s important?
NO TWO PERSONS was inspired in large part by talking with book clubs. As an author, it was initially disconcerting to see how one novel could be interpreted in such a variety of ways. I soon became intrigued by the discussions, however, and I loved how books created a safe space to talk across and about differences.
We need those discussions, because—just as no two persons will read the same book—no two siblings, or spouses, or friends, or enemies, will view the same event in the same way. What we see has everything to do with who and where we are in our lives at that time. Books are a microcosm of the world in that regard. And yet, the beautiful thing about books is that in the end, no matter our interpretations, we still share the common experience of reading.
I wanted to write a book that would celebrate differences while reminding us of our shared humanity. I chose to focus on reading and books because that is where my heart lives, but I hope its message will be taken in a wider sense as well.
There’s the old saying “form follows function.” NO TWO PERSONS has the arc of a novel, but its chapters could also easily stand alone. How does the form of your novel affect the story?
NO TWO PERSONS is really what I would call interconnected short stories. Each chapter focuses on one character, a deep and immersive dive into a particular life. There are connections between the characters, but they may never know them. It is the reader who sits above the page who gets to put all the pieces together.
For a book about readers and the shared experience of reading it is a perfect form, as the structure subliminally reinforces the message. Because the stories are self-contained, there is a little jolt when each chapter ends, and the reader must move on to the next character. That moment is a reminder that each of these characters is an individual—separate, never completely knowable. But the structure also gives us connections between the characters, slipped into one chapter after another, made even more exciting because they help us cross those boundaries and create a whole where before there were parts. The ending brings it all back around, not just to close up shop, but to encourage us to rethink all that came before—which makes the plot not a straight line but a circle, encompassing all the characters, and us.
Your characters range widely – a free-diver, a homeless teenager, an intimacy coordinator for movies, a literary agent, the caretaker of a ghost town. Where did these characters come from? And what is your research process like?
I love research, and that moment when a fictional story shimmers up out of an odd fact. Sometimes it feels like fishing. I wander the non-fiction sections of bookstores, read everything from the New York Times to Atlas Obscura each morning. You just never know where a character is going to come from—and in NO TWO PERSONS I had a lot of characters to create. One day in a wonderful old used bookstore, I saw a book about free diving. The cover was a mix of deep, intense blues, and in its center was a slim line of a human, no tanks or gear, swimming head-first down into nothingness. I looked at that diver, and I wondered “who the hell would want to do that?” And suddenly, there was Tyler. Then I read an article about intimacy coordinators, and it got me thinking: what would intimacy mean for someone whose job was making it look real? I came across a book of strange animal facts and that inspired Nola, a homeless teenager who uses those facts to make a difficult world a little easier. An article about leap seconds turned into Annalise—who would never read fiction, so it only made sense that she was the girlfriend of the quirky bookseller. And what a pair they turned out to be.
Once I had the characters, the fun and challenging part was figuring out how each of them would end up reading the same book, what they would learn from it, and how they were connected. Because they were, and it seemed as if they knew it even before I did.
In one of the chapters, a bookseller is having a debate about the value of fiction with his fiancée, a scientist who studies leap seconds. He thinks to himself “And that, perhaps, was the difference between the two of them. Science heard that fragment of a second and wondered how to make it fit into a whole. Fiction wondered what hearing it felt like” (page 206). What do you see as the power of fiction?
I grew up the daughter of a scientist. I watched his fascination with technology, but I was always more interested in the cultural and emotional effect of each innovation. I think it was one of the reasons I was drawn to writing, because fiction was all about exploring those more subliminal issues. Rather than asking “CAN we go to Mars/track our child’s every move/change a photo so we take out the parts we don’t like,” fiction asks: “how will that change us?” and “who do we want to be?”
These are critical questions, and they are what makes fiction such a powerful and necessary part of our lives. Sometimes a fictional character can teach us things a real person cannot, in part because that character is not constrained by a life already lived. Fiction, like science, looks at what might be, and we need both those kinds of imagination.
NO TWO PERSONS ends in December of 2019, at the beginning of the pandemic. How did the pandemic inform your book?
I don’t believe it’s coincidental that each of the characters in NO TWO PERSONS is relatively isolated, and sometimes remarkably so. I didn’t set out to make that happen, but what is occurring in the larger world usually creeps into our writing in one way or another.
And yet, I think the beautiful thing about NO TWO PERSONS is how, in the end, these characters are not alone. They are more connected than they will ever know, just as we are. And I think this, too, came from the pandemic, and those moments when a meme, or a book, or a social movement brought people together. Even in the midst of our isolation, there was still a collective desire to connect.
You wrote for over twenty years before your first fiction was published. How did that affect you as a writer, both before and after?
I’ll be honest, those years were terribly difficult. It is hard to be rejected, manuscript after manuscript, year after year. And yet, I will always be grateful to those books. They taught me the craft of writing. How to hear the rise and fall of a sentence, or a word, or a plot line. How to open your mind to a new image. How to listen to characters and let them in.
Those years also taught me that the story is always more important than the author, and that good writing starts with a question, not an answer. When you’re young, you often think you need to have an answer if you want to be taken seriously. But an answer is already finished. It lies there flat on the page. A good question, on the other hand, is open-ended, light on its feet. It takes you places you didn’t know you needed to go. And that’s where the interesting stuff is.
NO TWO PERSONS by Erica Bauermeister; 9781250284372; 5/2/23