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An Interview with Louise Nayer, author of Narrow Escapes

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Louise Nayer has written two books of poetry and co-authored How to Bury a Goldfish about rituals for everyday life (Rodale). The award-winning Burned: A Memoir, an Oprah great read and winner of The Wisconsin Library Association Award in memoir, is a family story about a gas explosion in Cape Cod that burned her parents when she was four years old. She is also the author of Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen and Narrow Escapes, her latest memoir. Louise is a member of the Writer’s Grotto, a long-time educator, retired City College of San Francisco professor and now teaches through OLLI UC Berkeley and at The Grotto. She has done numerous radio spots, including on NPR. Learn more at

You can buy Narrow Escapes here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

In fifth grade, my beloved teacher Lois Carmen, taught us poetry and I got the writing bug. I wrote a whole book of poems and gave it to her and memorized Whitman’s “O Captain My Captain.” I loved the sound of words and how much I could express my innermost feelings.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Along with being a writer, I’ve been a teacher my whole life, community college, graduate school and most recently small memoir classes. I love inspiring people from many backgrounds to love reading and writing. I also love helping people find the stories they want to tell and feeling it is okay to express their deepest feelings. I also love language and teaching students how to stretch their imaginations.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Titles are tricky and often take forever. I had a few different titles with the word “Journey” in them until Narrow Escapes seemed right for both my inner and outer journey. The inner journey dealt with a traumatic event—my parents narrowly escaping death in a gas explosion when I was four. The outer journey takes place in a time when women were breaking free from prescribed norms. I even hitch hiked in Morocco back then. Of course there were many adventures and narrow escapes from danger. It was an exciting and scary time but ultimately liberating.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

Originally I didn’t like my book cover! I had imagined something else. But it grew on me and now I love it and get so many comments from others about how they love it. Of course holding a book in your hands that you’ve written is similar to holding your baby in your arms—a beautiful creation.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Wild World” by Cat Stevens

“California” by Joni Mitchell

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

First of all, as a poet to begin with, I hope readers will be swept up by the language and engaged with the landscape and the characters. I also hope they will learn more about the late 60s and early 70s and the youth movement to change the world for the better. I also hope they will see that it is possible to create your own life and follow your dreams. I followed mine as I wanted to be a writer, even though it was not an easy path. I also created a life as a teacher.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Telling a story I’ve wanted to tell for many years and when I give readings—having others relate to my story and feel moved by it. I love connecting with audiences, one of the most wonderful parts of getting your story out into the world.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I started a novel years ago and I’m now just going back to it. I’ve written poetry, non-fiction, memoir and I’m excited to revise and complete my novel. There is something liberating about writing fiction as you can use your imagination in creating characters. In memoir, though it is similar to fiction, you have to stay true to facts, or at least the basic truths. Also, you need to be aware of how others might react (like family members). I’m excited about this new genre for me!

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.