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Audrey Couloumbis Biography

Audrey Couloumbis

*Birthplace: Springfield, Illinois

*Education: high school

*Past occupations:sweater designer, working freelance for woman’s day, ladies home journal, good housekeeping, fiberarts, handmade—when knitting and crochet were part of the art-to-wear movement in the 70’s. This led to opening a yarn shop.

Then when I started writing in the 80’s, closed the store and worked as a custodian in the school system, and eventually did housekeeping. All that walking was a very nice antidote to too many hours in front of the computer.

Now I write. I’m a reiki practitioner. I try to put enough time into the garden to benefit it, but not so long—it’s easy to go from one necessary task to the next, losing all track of time—that I have to, as another gardening friend says of herself, crawl up the back steps at the end of the day.

*My husband has been the biggest part of my writing success, always supportive, got me my first computer (and every one since then, save one that came from a writing project), is very good abt trudging out at all hours and in all weather to get paper, toner, repair services. Never complains too loudly abt evenings spent at home nearly alone, since I am in another room and mentally, emotionally, out of touch. Never complains at all that the dishes aren’t done, dinner isn’t served, and vacuuming is a lost art around here. Although I’m not sure it’s the writing that’s responsible for that—once you’re paid to do housework, it’s very hard to do it for free. And he’s the always so proud to tell people there is a new book in progress, a new book on the shelves. He greets librarians like a fellow conspirator and tells them what I’m up to.

*Hobbies: garden. Two of them. Largely weeded by that understanding husband. Stone walls are nice additions to gardens, but I don’t have time to do them anymore due to:

Dog. She was not meant to be a hobby, but a poodle takes a lot of grooming time, even if she’s shorn to Velcro status. I’m her hobby too. She makes sure I walk a thousand miles a year. Literally.

*Travels: I traveled a great deal as a child, less as an adult. We went to Germany last year as part of their Bookfest program, along with Virginia Euwer Wolff and Karen English. Then on to Greece, where my husband was raised for part of his childhood.

*Community activities: just now, I do library visits here and there. I’ve encouraged other writers into becoming a resource for each other online, which was more time-consuming than it sounds, and more reward lay in the success and sharing than I expected to find. It’s hard to get into any other kind of volunteerism and not have to feel torn about leaving my work “at home.”

*I never wrote for magazines, unless you count knitting instructions. Never wrote short stories, although I tried my hand at it for a collection Stephanie Owens Lurie put together (Dutton), Twice Told.

*Anecdotes: I had trouble figuring out just to put here. So I’m offering twoof the interview questions I get most frequently, and the answer I (ideally) give.

Q: Family life seems to figure prominently in your two novels.  The families are generally in some kind of crisis and, frequently, the young characters must ‘step up to the plate’ and deal with situations on their own.  Were you conscious of this connection between your two books?  Why do you think that emerges in your writing?

A: I hardly know anyone who didn’t come out of a family that lived mainly in crisis. Mine certainly did and I stepped up to the plate more than once. And despite my best efforts to have it be otherwise, so did my kids.

It seems all families have a crisis in the wings, either just departing the stage, or waiting to step into the spotlight. I’m sometimes conscious of that brief moment of quiet and contentment that is the breathing space some of us are fortunate enough to get while the stage stands empty of a drama, but that isn’t the stuff of novels. Readers don’t want to read about how Cinderella’s sisters were sooooo good to her.

I do realize that people live a lot of their life outside their home, outside the observation of family members, but it seems to me that even though we might cross and re-cross the borders, we never entirely remove ourselves from the confines of family relationship. What interests me, ultimately, are the interdependencies of people. That’s usually set up in the family, then plays out in other settings in interesting ways. That’s what I like to look at.

Q: Where do you find the idea for a book?   Do you begin with an image, a character, a central idea or plot?

A: The character. His or her voice. In the books that will be easy to write, the voice comes quickly, character and voice arrive together. Some characters have to be coaxed into speaking a little louder. And then there is the occasional withholding type that has to be wheedled, browbeaten, snuck up on from behind, bribed, or battered lightly about the ankles with something prickly. Even more rarely than that, thank God, comes the character who has to be treated to a combination of all of the above.

A couple of years ago, I listened to a writing teacher advise that if a character wasn’t cooperating, the writer had to ‘just throw that one away and put another in place.’ I thought that was particularly flawed thinking to come from a teacher who was also an actor. It should have been perfectly clear to him what kind of impact changing an actor in a given role could have on the overall production. When it is done really badly, there’s a term for it, and we have all heard someone say, “so-and-so was sadly miscast in the role of,” as often as we’ve heard someone say, “the casting was brilliant.”

In writing, I haven’t heard a term for it, but I know that if one character is exchanged for another, I am working on a new story. Each character comes with a story, the one only they can tell. Or, more to the point, the only story they will tell.

If even the name is changed, a new vibration will be brought out in a given character,

I decided that it wasn’t worth driving an hour and a half to listen to anything else he had to say, and then spend the same amount of time to get back home, even though I could listen to several chapters of an audio book in the car. I figured I could sit in the driveway and get the same benefit.

I can tell you right now that this kind of attitude is shared by my family and it’s why they frequently found themselves in crisis.

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