Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl: An interview with memoirist Carol Bodensteiner

Today I'm talking with Carol Bodensteiner about her memoir of rural Iowa farm life,  Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl.

1) Tell us about your book.

Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl is a memoir that captures my childhood on our family-owned dairy farm in the middle of America, in the middle of the 20th Century. Each chapter gives a peek into some aspect of rural life. If you grew up in rural America, these stories will trigger your memories and your own stories. If the rural Midwest is foreign territory to you, my stories invite you into a fascinating and disappearing world.

2) What inspired you to write this memoir?

My mother was my greatest inspiration. She was always after me to write our family stories, so I started writing about her and Dad - the jobs they had during the Depression, Dad's time in WWII, Mom's years teaching country school. But the more I wrote about them, the more I remembered my own childhood.

3) In the process of writing this memoir, did you have to do any research? For example, did you spend any time interviewing your family?

I constantly checked my memory against the memories my mom and sisters had. This experience just taught me just how personal memory is. They didn't remember most of the things I did. But there were a few important things they did confirm: we kids started carrying milk when we were 10 years old; we did sell our 4-H radishes to neighbors, and we did use a white sheet to pick mulberries one day. Wonder why we remember that! ;)

4) Is there anything that came up when writing this memoir that you'd forgotten about in the intervening decades?

Not necessarily forgotten but perhaps didn't remember as strongly. Remembering brought back (vividly!) the feel of fingers smashed in a door jam, the devastation of losing money at a carnival, the smell of new mown hay, the powerful connection to the land. I write with a lot of sensory detail, hoping readers will experience the farm as I did.

5) The world and the United States have changed a lot since the 50s and 60s. What do you think the most positive change has been?

That's a difficult question to answer because I see pluses and minuses in most everything. My world on the farm was both narrow and insulated. As a result, there was the possibility of seeing everything as very black and white, which of course it isn't. I like the openness children have today to see and appreciate different lifestyles, cultures, careers.

6) What do you think the most negative change has been?

Because everything is so wide open today, children lose their innocence so quickly. The pressure is on to "be" and "do" from such a young age. I wish children could just be children a little longer.

7) Are their lessons in your childhood experiences that you think could be helpful for people in modern times who grew up in a different sort of environment?

Though I didn't set out to do this, each chapter in my memoir includes some value my growing up experience instilled in me. Values like hospitality, honesty, the importance (and rewards) of hard work, and the the treasure of strong parent/child relationships. These values seem important regardless of the growing up environment, but sometimes they get lost since few children today have the very close family relationship we did on the farm.

8) Please tell us about any other projects you have in the works.

I'm working on my first novel, historical fiction set in Iowa prior to and during WWI. I anticipate publishing in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of that world event.


Thanks, Carol.

If you would like to see more from Carol please check out her out at:
Twitter @CABodensteiner


Carol Bodensteiner said...

Thanks for inviting me to visit today, Jeremy!

Doreen McGettigan said...

Great interview! Thank you for sharing it...

Doreen McGettigan said...

Great interview!!

Carol Bodensteiner said...

Thanks, Doreen. It's always interesting to revisit the writing process and think about what it means.

A.D.Trosper said...

A great interview. I loved this book. It written so well and the images she paints are so vivid and wonderful. It is one I plan to buy in paperback so that I always have it.

J.A. Beard said...

You're welcome, Carol.

Thanks for stopping by, everyone else. :)

Carol Ervin said...

Maybe everyone should write a memoir if only to trigger recall of events long forgotten. I find it interesting how focusing on long-ago experiences actually brings them back in greater detail. Thanks, J.A. and Carol, for sharing this interview.

Mary Gottschalk said...

A great interview ... one that nicely captures which is best and richest about this lovely memoir. Thanks to Carol and J.A.

Carol Bodensteiner said...

That's a wonderful endorsement, Audra. Thank you. Carol Ervin - I think the remembering and then the effort to write the memory so others can see/feel/smell/hear it, too, is what causes it to be so vivid.