After being a highly successful psychoanalyst for 37 years, Alma H. Bond, PhD “retired” to be a full-time writer, although she still maintains a small practice. Jackie O: On the Couch, the first of her On the Couch series to be published by Bancroft Press, was published on August 15, 2011, and received a Pinnacle Book Achievement Award.
Her previous books include Margaret Mahler, a Biography of the Psychoanalyst (McFarland Press), which received both the Best Books Award Finalist USA Book News and Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist and Michelle Obama, a Biography (Greenwood Press) as well as 18 other books including a children’s book, The Tree That Could Fly. Dr. Bond also wrote the play, “Maria,” about the life and loves of Maria Callas, which was produced off-off Broadway and is currently touring Florida.
Among other organizations, Dr. Bond is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Dramatists Guild, PEN, the International Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Psychological Association. She taught psychoanalysis at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, where she is a fellow, and presently is a faculty member of WritersSchool, where she teaches Psychology and Literature. (For more information, visit her website.)
Tell me a little about yourself. What type of writing do you do? If you do more than one kind or prefer one genre over another, what type is your favorite?
I am mainly a biographer, although I have also written three mysteries, a children’s book, and the play, Maria.
Do you find it difficult to switch from one writing type to another? What techniques do you use that help you switch “writing gears”?
I don’t find it difficult at all. Like Virginia Woolf, I like to go from writing a very serious book to a lighter one.
How long have you been writing? When did you start? What was your “writer dream”—your goal— when you began to write? Has it changed over the years? What is your “writer dream” now?
I have been writing full time since 1989, when I “retired” from most of my practice. When I was 11 years old, I wrote a poem called “Ambitions.” It started, “When all the world is sleeping sound/My pencil is writing and my head’s going ‘round.”
When I was a full time practicing analyst, I wrote many articles for professional journals, but didn’t write books until I “retired.” I have always wanted to be a great writer, and still do.
Who are three of your favorite authors and why?
Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann. Freud, whose deep philosophy of life, i.e. his description of the beginning of all life in Beyond the Pleasure Principle is magnificent, and unlike anything else I have ever read, VW because she was a beautiful writer, and Mann because I read The Magic Mountain in college, reread it recently, and found I recalled it perfectly, and often think of his words such as those about time.
Courtesy of James Lipton, host of “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
If I had another lifetime, I would like to be a sculptor. If I didn’t have a tin ear, I would also like to be a violinist.
Where do you do most of your writing?
I mostly write in my office.
Where is the strangest place you’ve written?
I wrote a book about a patient of mine on the bus, going back and forth to work. The book was never published, but I used much of the material in later books.
Where was the most inspirational?
Probably The Autobiography of Maria Callas, because I got much of my insight about her from listening to her recordings over and over.
When do you usually write: are you a morning writer, late night writer, any-time-you-can-grab-a-minute writer?
It would be nearer correct to say I am a continuous writer. Even when I am swimming I am thinking about what I want to write.
How do you write: longhand, on a computer, dictate and then transcribe?
On a computer, but if I am not at my desk, on whatever scraps of paper I can find, i.e. a napkin in a restaurant. “When I’m not near the one that I love, I love the one that I’m near.”
What do you usually wear when you’re writing? Do you “dress for work” or dress for comfort?
I love the uniforms of medical technicians, and often wear them when working. They are inexpensive and the most comfortable clothing I own. They also come in pretty colors. I am wearing a pink one now. I guess they take the place of the house dresses my mother used to wear around the house.
Is writing your full-time career? On average, how much time do you spend writing a day? Do you have a schedule that you keep?
Yes, full time. I probably write 8 hours a day. I don’t need a schedule. People ask if I need discipline to write. I answer that I need discipline to stop.
What stimulates your creativity or serves as a writing inspiration?
I don’t believe in inspiration. I write just as well without it. The important thing is to write, and inspiration will come.
Conversely, what creates a major writer’s block for you?
I don’t get writer’s block. The only difficulty I have in that area is thinking up my next book, probably because I don’t want to finish the one I am working on because I get very attached to my subjects. Writing a bio is like being married: you have to love the person or it doesn’t work.
Do you have any writing totems? Superstitions? Routines? Things you do or have to have around you when you begin your writing process?
No, just me and a computer or notebook and pen, and a million books for research.
Do you keep a journal?
No. I wish I did, but it never took for me. What I do is underline important thoughts in books I am reading for research. I like to own them for that reason, for it requires much less time than taking notes. Fortunately, as I usually write about people who are no longer alive, I can get them very cheaply – often as low as 1 cent – on Amazon.com.
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? The least?
Nothing makes me happier than when I think I have written well. What I hate is doing PR and marketing. I don’t do nearly as much as I should, and would probably be much better known if I did more and wrote less.
What is your most recent book or published piece? What inspired this?
My last two books are Jackie O: On the Couch, and Michelle Obama, a Biography. Before I wrote about Jackie, I didn’t know what to write about. I told my daughter, Janet Bond Brill (herself the author of three bestoselling books), who said, “Who would you like to write about?” I answered, “Jackie Kennedy Onassis, but a million books have been written about her.” Janet answered, “But yours will be different!” And so it is! I wrote the Michelle Obama book because an agent hired me to do so. It is not my favorite.
How long did it take you to write your first (published) book? Was it easier or harder than you expected?
A year. I do not find it hard to write. When I am writing well, it flows.
Did you have an agent at the time?
No. I never found one, but sold the book, Who Killed Virginia Woolf? myself. I wrote to 20 publishers and four expressed interest. I chose the first who responded, Human Sciences Press, as I felt they were the most interested. When the printing sold out, I republished it myself though The American Society of Journalists and Authors. It is still selling. I suspect I have less trouble finding publishers than most writers do – even fine ones – because of my credentials, a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University, post-doctoral work in psychoanalysis, and many years of private practice.
What marketing strategies have you used to promote your book?
I sent out postcards to appropriate lists of readers, sent out emails to my own lists, speak at bookstores and give readings, and had some help from my son, Jonathan Bond, former CEO and co-founder of Kirshenbaum and Bond Advertising Agency. He put PR about my book on Facebook, which was helpful, but I personally dislike social media and do very little of it. I think it is too time consuming for what you get back.
Based on your own experience, what tips do you have for authors who are preparing for their “maiden voyage” on the sea of publication?
Keep writing, no matter what, and become the best writer you possibly can.
What is the next project you have in the works?
Marilyn Monroe, On the Couch, which my publisher asked me to write, as he feels it will be a best seller, as does my daughter, who should know. I took it on reluctantly, as I felt Marilyn was merely a “dizzy blond.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. I am enjoying writing it as much as I did the Maria Callas book, for similar reasons: I am spending a great deal of time watching all of her movies. In this way, I have two sources of information, which I think deepens my understanding.
What was your favorite childhood book? Is there one that, now as an adult, you read again?
The Little Prince, by Antoine de St. Exupery. I read it all the time to my grandchildren.
What type of books do you prefer: non-fiction, fiction, essays, poetry?
I read a great deal. When I was a child, I read any book a member of my family was reading. I still am interested in almost any well-written book, but naturally my favorite is biography.
Where do you do most of your reading?
What book are you reading now?
All the books and articles I can find about Marilyn Monroe.
What book—or author—do you find yourself reading again….and again?
Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
Which three authors would you love to have a “One on One” with?
Freud, Woolf, Mann. I wouldn’t mind talking with Shakespeare, either. In fact I did. When I visited his grave at Stratford-on-Avon, I asked him to share his genius with me.
Any interesting stories from book signing events?
I have sold anywhere from 0 to 100 books at a signing. I never know which will be true before I get there. There seems to be no rhyme or reason that I can see. Last week I gave a Powerpoint presentation at a retirement home. I thought I had never read or spoken better. The audience loved it, applauded wildly, and had to almost be thrown out the door. I sold three books! In contrast, I sold over 100 copies of The Autobiography of Maria Callas, a Novel, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I had been hired as a consultant for “Master Class.”
What are some irritating comments you’ve heard from non-writers when they find out you’re a writer?
They could write a best seller, but they don’t have the time. Or they will tell me a “wonderful idea” and all I’ll have to do is to write it down. My favorite is how many “friends” I have who ask for (free) copies or want to borrow my books.
How do you blend your writing life with your “real life”—do you find it challenging to make time for both sides?
My “real life” has to be very interesting, to compete with my writing. My husband is deceased and my children are grown up, so writing is my core.
What’s the worst advice anyone gave you about being a writer?
I got a letter in the mail from a publisher who said the book I submitted to him was in no way ready for publication. In the same mail was a contract for the same book from another publisher. What if I had listened to the first publisher?
What’s the best?
Write, write, write!
How do you define success as a writer?
Being a fine writer.
What advice do you have for other writers who are contemplating pursuing a writing career?
Don’t listen to anyone but your own heart.
What do you want your writer’s epitaph to be?
Here rests the finest writer in the land. (She is finally resting.)
My thanks to Alma for being part of One on One: Insights Into the Writer’s Life