NJ Starz: Cat Bauer - Hometown: Pompton Lakes

From hardcover to paperback to library to audio to foreign translation, the many editions of Harley

NJ Starz: Cat Bauer Hometown: Pompton Lakes

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By Steve Sears

When writer Cat Bauer left the United States in 1998 for her new home in Venice, Italy, she didn’t look back.

And her life has been very rewarding. “I’ve lived in diverse places, from the suburbs of New Jersey, to the West Village of Manhattan, to the Hollywood Hills, to Venice, Italy,” Bauer says. “Each place has its own colors and feelings, lessons and experiences, loves and friendships. I’m grateful that I’m a writer, and all the doors that gift unlocks. Especially here in Venice, where it seems the entire world passes through — I’ve met everyone from fishermen to heads of state. It’s like a pawn becoming a queen on a chessboard. Challenging but gratifying.”

And then there’s this. “In Venice, we don’t have cars at all,” Bauer says, when referring back to her New Jersey days when congestion sometimes reigned on Hamburg Turnpike and Route 23 near her Pompton Lakes home. “We don’t have a traffic problem here.”

However distant she may be from her childhood stomping grounds, she will forever be entwined with her hometown courtesy her young adult novels set in a “Lenape Lakes,” a play on her community’s name.

Bauer, the oldest of five children, was born in Greenville, South Carolina, and then lived with her “beloved grandmother and grandfather – my father’s parents,” she says, in Kearny for four and a half years, prior to moving to Passaic County and Pompton Lakes, where she lived until she was 18.

The interest in literature for Bauer started at a very young age. “I could read before I went to kindergarten,” she says. “That was my big thing, I was a great reader. I was one of the best readers in my class, and I loved books very, very much. They were like candy to me.” She then started writing her own books – at age six. “It seemed like a fun thing to do.”

Bauer’s first “book” was called Children of Other Lands, which she also illustrated. The idea came courtesy of her grandmother, who had gifted her granddaughter with a deck of cards which bore the same name as her eventual creation. “I think I sold it,” she says with a laugh of that first book. “That was the whole idea. I said to myself, ‘I need some money, so I better write a book.’ It’s sort of a funny thing because there were no writers in my family. My father was an engineer and my mother was a housewife. It was just something that I could do. For me, it was so easy and so natural to do. It was something I was very confident about, and I got a lot of praise for it, and it was something I was very secure about doing.”

Bauer, 67, graduated Pompton Lakes High School in 1973, but she spent much of her time in New York City. “The thing about Pompton Lakes is it’s so close to New York City, but nobody ever went to New York City.” However, Bauer did, both during (yes, she played hooky) and after school hours. “I was a struggling actress,” Bauer says, “and because writing was so easy for me, it was not a challenge. To me, the challenge was to be an actress. That’s what I wanted to do, and I got into my mid 30’s, and I was doing a commercial, and I said, ‘No, this is not it. If you’re not a movie star, being an actor is a very difficult life.” She eventually married a television director, had additional insight into the realm, and realized it was against her nature.

From hardcover to paperback to library to audio to foreign translation, the many editions of Harley (courtesy of Cat Bauer)

She then switched to what she coins her “fallback career,” and headed to the library to get magazines that sold fiction, and submitted her first short story to the now-defunct Sassy magazine. It sold immediately, and the pay was generous. “I then wrote my first book based on that short story, and that’s how I wrote Harley, Like a Person,” Bauer says. “I fictionalized a lot of Pompton Lakes and called it ‘Lenape Lakes.”

That first young adult novel, which featured teenage protagonist, Harley Columba, was well received by the reading public, and it was awarded much. Among the accolades were a “Booklist Top Ten Youth First Novel,” “American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults” and a “New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. Afterwards, while living in Italy at the time, Bauer returned to her former but familiar stomping grounds to research her another book. “When I went to Pompton Lakes – because I hadn’t been there in years – the things I had created in my second book (Harley’s Ninth) actually existed. All this stuff that was in head that I had never seen now existed. It’s a surreal experience.”

The plan for Bauer was to write for more “Harley” books, and she still may do that. “There’s a lot of me in Harley – a lot,” Bauer says. “But because in the first book she’s 14, she can say things I can’t say that come out of the mouth of a 14-year-old girl. Its kind of cute, but out of the mouth of a 67-year-old woman, it’s kind of difficult. I do like the teenage girl voice, because teenage girls are very powerful. Their emotions are very powerful.”

When Bauer first visited Venice, she fell in love with it. She afterwards in 1998 told her agent that she needed to head back overseas to write a book for three months, and her agent agreed. When the three months were coming to a close, Bauer was in tears. “I felt very much at home in Venice,” she recalls. “I was raised Catholic, and there are over 100 churches in Venice. You can go in and feel very comfortable. I love all of the pomp, I love all the ritual, I love all the imagery.”

Cat Bauer - Photo: Roberto Silva

Bauer now blogs about the land she loves (posts can be read at www.venetiancat.blogspot.com), and she is currently at work on another offering that she says is difficult to write. “It’s real,” she says. “I don’t want to fictionalize it. I want it based on a true story, but I don’t want to use people’s real names. I have to create a new way of formatting it. That’s the challenge. I’ve been writing it by pieces and putting it together.”

When asked if there is one thing that she hasn’t done that she’d like to, Bauer’s list has multiple entries. “One thing?” she asks. “I can think of a zillion things I’d like to do. Travel to India, Africa, Russia and China. Witness lions in the wild and explore the pyramids of Egypt. I was also going to say “fly a plane” but then I remembered I did do that on August 20, 1966 when I was 11-years-old (I know this because I wrote it in my diary — that is something I still have from childhood). My Uncle Bob, who is a pilot, flew me and my sisters down to North Carolina by private plane to visit our grandparents. I sat in the co-pilot seat. As my sisters wailed and sobbed in the back, my uncle let me take control of the plane. It was thrilling. I remember the one thing I wanted to do back then was find Amelia Earhart.”

However, the writer at heart knows exactly what she’d really like to do, and what her loyal readers hope she will, too. “If I have to pick one thing to do today,” she says, “it would be to write something that endures through the ages.”

For more information about Cat Bauer and her work, visit www.catbauer.com.

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NJ Starz: Cat Bauer Hometown: Pompton Lakes