Interview with Jeanne Bereiter - Runner-Up in the Fall 2010 Flash Fiction contest

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Jeanne Bereiter planned on becoming a writer, but life - as it often does - had other plans. After graduating from college, Jeanne decided to become a doctor instead. She earned her B.A. at Evergreen State College in Washington State, and her medical degree at McGill University in Montreal. She has worked as a family physician in the Canadian arctic and rural Alberta, and as a community psychiatrist in Anchorage, Alaska. Currently, Jeanne is an academic child and adolescent psychiatrist in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Through the years, Jeanne has enjoyed her profession and work in the medical field, and now, she is reintroducing herself to the writing life. She's published several reflective narratives in medical journals and is working on her first novel, about a group of psychiatric patients.

Have you ever made a promise to your child and then not followed through? Jeanne's story, Mother-Daughter Clothes, uses that exact premise. If you haven't read it yet, grab a drink or snack and surf over to the contest page.

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Jeanne, and congratulations on receiving runner-up honors in our 2010 Fall Flash Fiction contest. As I read Mother-Daughter Clothes, the theme of broken promises resonated. As a mother, I'm guilty. And I'm sure there were times my mother didn't meet all of her promises either. But the use of clothing as the connecting - or symbolic - item really sets your story apart. How did you come up with the premise?

Jeanne: This story was based on events from my own life. The key clothing events actually happened, and it occurred to me many years ago that they'd make a good story. Sewing has been important to women throughout history, and until relatively recently, women made all their own and their children's clothes. Sewing is a way mothers nurture their families and keep them sewn together. In this story, the mother had great intentions to nurture her daughter, but life events kept her from doing so. I liked the pathos of the daughter sewing clothes for her doll out of material that had been meant for her.

WOW: It's quite powerful. Symbolism drives a storyline. I see the idea of sewing, or not sewing, as a symbol for the unraveling of the family. Was this your intent when you began writing?

Jeanne: As I touched upon above, I saw the idea of sewing as a symbol for how women keep their families together. When the mother makes herself a sundress to go on a vacation with her new boyfriend, this is her attempt to create a new family with him, symbolically and literally abandoning her daughter who has grown too large. When the daughter grows up and makes her own daughter a playsuit, despite having a newborn to care for, she is superstitiously stitching her own family together. The family not sewn for unravels; the daughter sewing for her new family at the end of the story gives hope for the future.

WOW: Again, you create such a visual symbol with the material and clothing items. It captures my senses and lets the story play out in my mind. Kudos! Jeanne, you have a medical background. I'm curious, what elements from your professional life did you bring to the resolution of this piece?

Jeanne: The concept of breaking the cycle probably came from my work as a psychiatrist. We all repeat family patterns - good ones as well as destructive ones. It often takes a conscious decision to break the cycle - to not yell at your kids even if your parents yelled at you, and so on.

WOW: Originally, you intended to become a writer, but you chose to enter the medical profession. Now, the writing cycle has come full circle and you've started putting pen to paper once again. Why is it important to have an outlet for creativity and expression?

Jeanne: Human beings are creative animals. We all need these outlets. There is a further connection between doctoring and writing, and between psychiatry and writing. Doctors hear people's stories. We help our patients tell their own stories in a more coherent, rich, and nuanced way, to follow an event through from beginning to end. What happened next, and what after that? Does that sound like writing?

WOW: Most definitely! (smiles) Are there any current projects you'd like to share with our readers?

Jeanne: I am finishing the first draft of a novel about people with mental illness who meet in a therapy group. Apart from that, I write book reviews, journal, and work on the occasional short story.

WOW: Sounds like you lead the life of a prosperous writer! Good luck with your future projects, and again, congratulations on receiving runner-up honors with Mother -Daughter Clothes.

Interview by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's writing at her website.


Stephsco said...

What an interesting way to weave all those themes together (pun intended!). It is a beautiful story. I love that there is a resurgence of sewing and knitting among my generation and younger. Sewing is a craft, beyond the basic skills of mending a button, and I'm glad there are those working to preserve it.

LuAnn Schindler said...

I used to love to sew! When I was in high school, I sewed quite a bit. My mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine when I got married (3 years ago) and I've used it for a few household projects, but I haven't made an article of clothing...yet. :)

Isn't Jeanne's story great? Thanks for dropping by.

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