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A Conversation with Erica Bauermeister

I’ve been a fan of local author Erica Bauermeister for years, from The School of Essential Ingredients, to The Scent Keeper, to House Lessons. But when I first sank into the pages of an early copy of No Two Persons, I knew I was in for a singular reading experience. Releasing on May 2nd, No Two Persons is the story of a novel and the people it impacts. Topping my personal “Best Books of 2023″(and a perfect Mother's Day gift!), I’m so happy to give you all a sneak preview of this amazing book in a conversation with Erica Bauermeister herself:

Lori: Welcome Erica! It’s such a pleasure to speak with you about your fabulous new book. But before we start chatting about No Two Persons, I wondered if you have fun memories of Island Books to share, in this, our 50th anniversary year?

Erica:  I remember the first time I went to Island Books. I was on a tight schedule, there to sign books, but I found myself instinctively slowing down, looking around. You know that feeling when you enter a bookstore and you just know this is the kind of place where you’ll find a book you’ll love but hadn’t known existed? It’s such a rare feeling. Is it how carefully the inventory is curated? How well the staff knows the books? The way the customers seem to have taken the place into their hearts? All I know is that Island Books is one of those rare stores.

L: I love those places and I feel very lucky that I get to work at Island Books every day. Now, onto No Two Persons! I was so taken by the structure — it's markedly different from your other books. What was your inspiration?

E:  I have long been fascinated by the power and potential of interconnected short stories. Each story is its own separate world, and yet together they create something greater. In a way, most of my novels have been some variation of interconnected short stories, but you’re completely right; No Two Persons is different. The connections in No Two Persons are both gossamer and profound at the same time. Most of the characters will never meet each other, and yet they are connected in ways they will never know, as well as by the act of reading itself.

The inspiration for No Two Persons came from meeting with book clubs, actually. It fascinated me, how the various members could interpret the same story in such different ways. I loved the way the book created a safe place for people to talk about those differences of opinion, and I thought how good it would be if we as a society could remember how wonderful differences can be, and how important it is to learn from each other.

The idea sat in my mind for years, and then, not too long before the pandemic started, that idea evolved into a structure—one fictional book, nine readers. Ten changed lives. Then my job was to find the characters and figure out how the book, Theo, would affect each of them.

L: You managed it beautifully! I found myself looking for those “gossamer” connections, as you said, and discovering them was so satisfying. What was your favorite part to write? And on the flip side, what was the hardest part to write?

E:  My characters usually start with a single image and then grow into fully-developed human beings. Sometimes that process is easy and organic, and sometimes it takes more time. Ironically, or perhaps not, my favorite part to write was also the hardest — William’s story. I could feel that he would add an important element to the book, but I didn’t know what it was. What would Theo mean to him, a grieving man who didn’t like fiction? Why would he read it? What would it teach him? I worked for months on his story, trying it from one angle and then another. And when I finally understood the answer, it felt both unexpected and preordained, which is just how I wanted it to feel.

L: I had to take a break after reading William’s section because I was so emotionally invested in him and his journey. Which, for a reader that usually can’t turn the pages fast enough, means it really impacted me. Is there a particular character you identify with more?

E:  I agree with the authors who say all of our characters are us, and none of them are. I’ve never been an artist or a free diver. I’ve never fenced or lived in New York or been an audiobook narrator or a homeless teenager. And yet, there are emotional aspects of each of these characters — an insecurity, a love, a moment of insight — that are the parts of me. I never set out to write about those things, and I'm generally surprised when they show up in the stories—often because of what I learn myself in the process. But perhaps that is the point of writing, as well as reading? To learn what we didn’t know we needed to learn?

L: Yes. So many moments in No Two Persons articulated something deeply personal and unspoken in me until you put words to it. I love that the writing of it brought you to a similar self-recognition or self-knowledge. The ending was absolutely masterful. How hard was that? Did you have it in mind from the beginning or did it come organically as you wrote?

E:  Ah, the ending. I didn’t know what it would be for the longest time — and that was terrifying. But then one morning I was lying in bed, half asleep, and the idea floated into my imagination, and I thought Yes. That’s it. And as a writer, that's when you thank whatever busy little part of your subconscious sent the image your way, forgo your coffee, and start writing.

L: I thought it was perfection — an ending that has you turning back to the beginning again. Thank you so much, Erica, it was a delight to chat with you!

To celebrate the publication of No Two Persons, Island Books will be hosting Erica Bauermeister in person, at 6:30pm on Wednesday May 17th. Please join us to hear Erica speak and get your own copy of No Two Persons. Mark your calendars now -- it’s going to be a wonderful evening and we’d love to see you!

— Lori