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New Worlds to Conquer

Teri Currie

Most writers would be happy to form just one literary identity, but Barbara Chepaitis can honestly say she has two. As B.A. Chepaitis, she has written a series of sci-fi adventures starring a futuristic heroine named Jaguar. And as Barbara Chepaitis, she has written two mainstream novels, 2000’s Feeding Christine and the newly published These Dreams.

“I had someone ask me when Christine came out, ‘Are you any relation to B.A. Chepaitis?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, she’s my evil twin,’ ” the author says, laughing. “I’m fine with any way the world wants to put me out there. I don’t make any distinctions. I just write.”

Published by Pocket Books, the new tome explores a series of transformations in the life of Cricket Thompson, a woman whose roles as a wife and mother are shaken by unexpected trauma and temptation. Woven into the book are vignettes depicting the place that dreams have in Cricket’s life—and, in a larger sense, depicting the place that dreams have in all of our lives. Chepaitis says that the unconscious realm is fertile ground for her creativity, and that dreaming was as important to the conjuring of her new book as it is to the novel’s content.

“When I write, I don’t mess with my consciousness,” says Chepaitis. “I go into the world that I’m writing about and I work from there. It’s not rational. I just sort of dance with the energies and see what happens next. When I edit, I come back to consciousness, and I’m often rudely awakened—‘Shit, what’d I write? And how am I gonna deal with this now?’ My copy editor’s training comes back to me and I try to make this kind of dreamworld available to people who might be conscious while they’re reading it.”

Chepaitis also can speak authorita-tively on the subject of transformation, which is essential to Cricket’s journey, because the author has evolved from a teacher to a sci-fi writer to the scribe behind two literary novels. While she acknowledges that moving from genre fiction to straight fiction was a change, however, she says that her process is the same no matter what sort of book she’s writing.

“I’ve actually always written mainstream as well as the genre stuff,” she notes. “It’s just that now I’m getting the mainstream [books] published. . . . It’s kind of nice having a double identity. I’m enjoying that in a gleeful, sort-of- mischievous way, being two people and sort of shocking people with that.”

Chepaitis, who teaches at the University of Albany, says she plans to continue occupying both literary personas, adding that although her most recent contract for books about Jaguar expired, she’s currently negotiating with a new publisher to put out the next two Jaguar adventures—both of which are already written. As her productivity suggests, Chepaitis still derives immense pleasure from the act of writing, which she likens to exploration.

“I think people who write fiction are kind of like shamans—they go out into this weird world, they grab some stuff, and they come back with it, and then they try to make it available to other people,” she says. “In all my novels, in genre and mainstream, my characters do that: They go back and forth between worlds.”

Chepaitis says that occasionally, moving back and forth between different types of writing can cause a kind of authorial whiplash. While writing These Dreams, Chepaitis was forced to engage a character’s personal tragedy on a more intimate level than she had before, because the heroine of her sci-fi books has resources of which realistic characters can’t avail themselves.

“She doesn’t have superpowers,” the author says of Cricket, “so there’s things she can’t do that Jaguar can. So in that sense, I feel the frustration of that—the sort of pitiful human condition—more strongly with my mainstream characters. [Cricket] is a lot more innocent, as opposed to Jaguar and people in her world, who are edgy and so cynical. But [tragedy] is harder for her to bear, and therefore harder for me to bear. There were some hard scenes for me to write.”

Even harder, perhaps, is the activity that’s keeping Chepaitis busy right now: the draining, repetitive process of giving interviews like this one to promote These Dreams. “There’s a great beast leaping up from my belly telling me to drink beer,” she says, her longing for liquid refreshment palpable. “You write in this very warm, intensely wonderful, blissful space—or at least I do—and then you have to bring that to an industry. It’s a machine, and you have to have a whole different set of costuming to deal with it. The transition is difficult.”

—Peter Hanson

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