Giving In To a Creative Impulse
An interview with Bee Ridgway
by B. Lynn Goodwin
Imagine you are one of a few gifted people who can travel through time.
What would you take with you if you were visiting the past, and who or what
would you seek out when you arrived?
Bee Ridgway’s exciting debut novel, The River of No Return, takes the
imaginative concept of time travel to new heights when Lord Nicholas Falcott
wakes up in a hospital bed in twenty-first century London. An organization
called The Guild, whose members hold the secrets of time travel, helps him
adjust to the twenty-first century, because he cannot return to the
Napoleonic battlefield where he was about to die. But when Nick discovers
that The Guild’s rules are made to be broken he’s ready to leap back to his
ancestral home and the love he left behind.
Ridgway, a professor at Bryn Mawr College, combines adventure, romance,
and time travel in her exciting and original tale, The River of No Return. Here
she tells us about her personal history, her advice, and much more.
LG: Tell us about your background. When did you know you were a writer?
BR: In retrospect I guess I was destined to be a writer all along. My father
was a minister and my mother was a minister's wife (which is, by the way, a
full time job!). My mother was also a poet and a playwright, on the down-
low. My early days were spent surrounded by poetry -- hymns -- and drama
-- Bible stories. Then, my father left the church, having lost his faith in
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Judge B. Lynn Goodwin has been the owner/editor of Writer Advice since 1997. She is the author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, plus a YA, Talent (forthcoming in 2015), and numerous stories and articles in print and online.
organized religion, and my mother went back to school to get an MFA. Her life as a poet became very public, and across the later years of my
childhood she began teaching creative writing workshops and eventually founded an organization called Amherst Writers and Artists. Now, at 80, my
mother, Pat Schneider, is a much-revered teacher of writing and the author of many books of poetry and guides to the writing process.
LG: Has any person or writer ever made you doubt your writing skills?
BR: No, but then again, it was the family business, with my father having to write sermon every week and my mother working on her poetry and
helping my father. With everyone around me banging away on typewriters all the time, I think writing was pretty demystified for me from the very
beginning. I had a teacher in elementary school who didn't like my writing, but my mother marched in and read her the riot act!
LG: I can imagine your mother doing that. Why are stories about time travel and other worlds so fascinating to contemporary readers?
BR: I think time -- the fact that we live and change across time -- is fascinating in every era. The idea of time travel is both fairly new and very old.
In my own upbringing, the religious stories I was raised with are very time travelly, actually. Adam and Eve inventing death between them.
Methuselah living to be hundreds of years old. The idea that certain prophets will return. The notion of eternal life, or eternal damnation. These are
all strange temporal stories that connect our time to big cycles of meaning, that make us think that our lives are part of a bigger, longer story, and
that we will participate in that story after we die.
In terms of our contemporary world, we are living in a period of such dramatic change, that anyone who has lived into adulthood has experienced
something like time travel. The world has changed so much since I was a child, and so much more since my parents were children -- we actually all
ARE time travelers across big changes, some good, some terrifying, and I think we like to read stories that theorize that for us, dramatize it, make
some sense of it.
LG: Very insightful answer. What are your tricks for tapping into your imagination?
BR: Just sit down and write. I know that doesn't work for everyone. But if I can make myself sit down at my computer, make myself begin, the ideas
flow. I'm writing fun stuff, of course, page-turner adventures, secretly seeded with citations and images from my academic research. It would
probably be harder if I were writing a different kind of fiction.
Of course some days forcing myself to sit down is hard! Anthony Trollope recommended using cobbler's wax -- a very sticky substance -- on the seat
of your pants.
LG: Who are your favorite writers? Did any of their stories inspire The River of No Return or did your inspiration come from some place else?
BR: The novel is heavily inspired by the books I read as a child. Many children's books are time travel novels, whether or not you think of them that
way. The Narnia series, for instance, or Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. I read a lot of mid-twentieth century popular fiction. Agatha
Christie, Georgette Heyer, P. G. Wodehouse. I love their light touch, their sparkle, their wit -- and their dedication to plot.
But the story itself is inspired by my own obsession with the past and the way it penetrates our present. I've always lived in old houses, just by
accident of fate.
I live now, for instance, in a row house in Philadelphia that has stood here for nearly 200 years. It was not a fancy house when it was built, and the
doorknobs must have been the cheapest possible, some sort of thin brass or tin. Now they are all bent and pitted and they don't turn easily. And
every day I put my hand on them and turn them, feel the cool metal under my hands, just as generations of strangers have done. If I think about it
too much I get the chills.
Everyday thoughts like that inspired my novel -- but the writing of it, the multiple layers of citation in it -- that is entirely dependent on a lifetime of
LG: What was your greatest obstacle as you wrote this book and how did you overcome it?
BR: The book came roaring out like water from a burst dam.
The year I spent writing it was the happiest and easiest of my life, because I was giving in to a creative impulse, doing something for sheer joy, not
allowing myself to second guess anything but purely creating, purely making.
Now that I'm on to a new book it's a little harder not to hear the voices in my head, the critics, the naysayers. But I'm pretty good at shutting them
up. Writing is so pleasurable to me that I find I don't think about the bad stuff while I'm doing it.
LG: What do you advise your students at Bryn Mawr to do in order to learn to write better?
BR: I tell them that they have to follow their passion. It's no use writing about something that bores you. Search for the silver thread of interest, of
sparkling question, and follow that. It's the same for creative writing.
LG: How did you find your agent and how did she find your publisher?
BR: I sent my manuscript to an agent I'd researched on the Internet, but I also asked the advice of an agent I know who doesn't handle fiction. She
agreed that the agent I was interested in was the best for my book.
I was very very VERY lucky and that agent liked my novel and accepted it. She worked very hard on the manuscript with me -- she had lots and lots
of ideas about how to improve it. When she deemed it ready, she sent it out to fifteen publishers at once, and they bid on the novel. It sold in
LG: Wow! You were very lucky and you clearly know and appreciate that. How/why did you pick your pseudonym and what’s Bee Ridgway working on
BR: I use a pseudonym because the first thing I wrote down when I started my novel was a pen name. I needed that name to write -- a name that
was not the name under which I write everything else. The new name gave me permission to have fun! Ridgway is my grandmother's maiden name.
She was a remarkable woman, very difficult and unhappy, but also wonderful and full of sparkle. I've written a short piece about her, and the pen-
I'm working now on a sequel to RIVER, and on a YA novel about the three fates. So stay tuned!
LG: Every time I hear about someone else with a YA novel, I want to compare notes. But in this interview, I want to focus on you. Thank you so
much for all you shared. Your answers are wonderful.
Bee Ridgway is a skilled, sophisticated author with so much to share. You can keep track of her on http://www.beeridgway.com and you can get a
copy of her book online or in your favorite bookstore-maybe even a local, independent one.