Biography

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 918

Joan Bauer was born July 12, 1951. Growing up in River Forest, Illinois, in the 1950s, she says she seems to remember an early fascination with things that were funny. In correspondence with the author, Bauer admitted, "I thought that people who could make other people laugh were terribly fortunate. While my friends made their career plans, declaring they would become doctors, nurses, and lawyers, inwardly, I knew that I wanted to be involved somehow in comedy. This, however, was a difficult concept to get across in first grade. But I had a mother with a great comic sense (she was a high school English teacher) and a grandmother who was a funny professional storyteller— so I figured the right genes were in there somewhere, although I didn't always laugh at what my friends laughed at and they rarely giggled at my jokes. That, and the fact that I was overweight and very tall, all made me feel quite different when I was growing up—a bit like a water buffalo at a tea party."

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Her grandmother, whom she called Nana, influenced her creativity. Her Nana taught her that stories and laughter were important. She taught her the difference between laughter that hurts others and laughter that comes from the heart. From Nana she also learned that stories help us understand ourselves at a deep level.

Bauer says about herself, "I kept a diary as a child, was always penning stories and poems. I played the flute heartily, taught myself the guitar, and wrote folk songs. For years I wanted to be a comedian, then a comedy writer. I was a voracious reader, too, and can still remember the dark wood and the green leather chairs of the River Forest Public Library, can hear my shoes tapping on the stairs going down to the children's room, can feel my fingers sliding across rows and rows of books, looking through the card catalogues that seemed to house everything that anyone would ever need to know about in the entire world. My parents divorced when I was eight years old, and I was devastated at the loss of my father. I pull from that memory regularly as a writer. Every book I have written so far has dealt with complex father issues of one kind or another. My father was an alcoholic and the pain of that was a shadow that followed me for years. I attempted to address that pain in Rules of the Road. It was a very healing book for me. I didn't understand it at the time, but I was living out the theme that I try to carry into all of my writing: adversity, if we let it, will make us stronger."

In her twenties, Bauer worked in sales and advertising with the Chicago Tribune, McGraw-Hill, and Parade magazine. She met her husband, Evan, while she was on vacation. They were married five months later in August, 1981. Unhappy with her job in sales and advertising, she decided to try professional writing. It was a slow process and did not bring in much money.

In July 1982, her daughter, Jean, was born. She wrote on her typewriter while Jean lay on a blanket on the floor near her. She tore writing from the typewriter that did not go right and gave them to Jean with the words, '"bad paper' and Jean would rip the paper to shreds."

Bauer says, "I had moved from journalism to screen writing when one of the biggest challenges of my life occurred. I was in a serious auto accident which injured my neck and back severely and required neurosurgery. It was a long road back to wholeness, but during that time I wrote Squashed, my first young adult novel. The humor in that story kept me going.

When I began Rules of the Road, I was quite scared of the story. I had the subplot of an unrepentant alcoholic father, the sadness of a grandmother with Alzheimer's Disease, and to make things more complicated, I was a humorist. You don't necessarily link these things together. I was trying to go deeper with my humor, but I didn't know if I could pull it off. A big part of the reason was that I didn't want to make any of the book seem like I was making fun of difficult things. The other part was that I was mining some deep personal places. My father had died an alcoholic. My grandmother had died from Alzheimer's, although we called it 'hardening of the arteries' back then. I wanted to be like Jenna, my character, but removed. I made a creative decision very early on in this book: Jenna would have worked through many issues with her dad's alcoholism at the beginning of the story so that she could be strong and help others as the book progressed. I really viewed her as a young woman with what I call 'emotional nobility.' I wanted to show how going through great adversity and dealing with it brings courage and emotional health. I wanted to show how a blessing can come out of a very dark place. Jenna had such strength because she had gone through such trials. All the story funnels into this.

Over the years, I have come to understand how deeply I need to laugh. It's like oxygen to me. My best times as a writer are when I'm working on a book and laughing while I'm writing. Then I know I've got something."

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