Mike Bayles sees his work as an opportunity to use his experiences and observations to help others. In this e-interview, he discusses “Breakfast at the Good Hope Home,” a book in which a son watches his father’s decline from Alzheimer’s disease. The book — part prose and part poetry — is, according to Bayles, a literary collage. That might be a description of his writing career to date, as well.
Q: When readers engage with a book like “Breakfast at the Good Hope Home,” one of the first questions that pops to mind is whether the book is autobiographical and to what degree? Is this a fictionalization of your own story? If so, tell me about the process of creating the book from such difficult memories. If not, tell me about the spark of an idea that led to this book.
A: I wrote “Breakfast at the Good Hope Home” as a work of fiction, but it’s loosely based on my experiences visiting my father, Robert, in the nursing home when he had Alzheimer’s disease. After he died in 1993, I decided to seriously pursue a writing career.
I’ve long wanted to fictionalize how the loss of my father affected me, so the event would make sense to me emotionally. I also wanted to reach out and help people experiencing great loss in their lives.
In a way, writing the book was a cleansing experience for me. In a way, writing the book was a way to reclaim memories, such as the page where I’m talking about a building, once called Old Botany, on the Iowa State University campus.
The book started as an assignment in a Literary Collage workshop at the David Collins Writers’ Conference, where the instructor, Erin Bertram, asked participants to start writing collages about important things in their lives.
Q: You wrote the book in an unusual format, blending prose and poetry. What led to the decision to use different forms of writing to tell the story? What were the challenges of doing so?
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A: For a long time I’ve been both a published poet and short story writer. When Erin Bertram asked participants to start writing a literary collage, I gladly accepted the challenge. I like the idea of writing multigenre pieces.
The biggest challenge was at times I was unsure of what a literary collage was, but Erin and a critique group, Writers’ Studio, said that my writing was going well. The other participants in the Literary Collage workshop were also encouraging.
Q: One of the strengths of the book is the connection forged between the narrator and the nurse. Tell me about shaping that portion of the story and how you think it connects to the larger story of a son losing his father to Alzheimer’s.
A: One thing I’ve learned is that different people come into your life during difficult times, although they might disappear later. Also when writing fiction I like to include the story of a man and a woman. I believe that love or affection gets us through rough times and helps us make sense of life.
Q: You’ve published with a fairly new, small press based in Iowa. Tell me about working with 918studio Press.
A: I’ve found 918studio Press to be a friendly press and encouraging to its authors. I enjoyed working with both of its owners, Lori Perkins and Jodie Toohey.
I’ve known Lori Perkins for a long time, ever since she was a customer service agent for a printing company that some authors would use to self-publish. Later, she also started a service I used to self-publish my third book.
I know Jodie from my long-term involvement with the Midwest Writing Center, a valuable resource for writers in the Quad Cities. Jodie is involved with the Midwest Writing Center and runs an editing service. She did a great job editing my third book, and she was very helpful with “Breakfast at the Good Hope Home.”
Q: What are you working on now?
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A: I have a collection of poetry I’d like to get published. It is about places where I’ve worked, mostly in Iowa, but also in Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Currently I’m working on another literary collage, where the main character, who graduated from college with a degree in philosophy, has an emotional breakdown, and is searching for some kind of meaning in life. Like “Breakfast in the Good Hope Home,” it blends poetry with prose.
Q: What do you think are the important themes in your work?
A: In my first two books, collections of poetry, I wrote poems about human connections with nature, time and other settings. In my third book, a book-long poem, I started writing more about the human experience. I feel that connecting with readers, and in turn, helping people, is the best thing an author can do.