Author Interview with Sheramy Bundrick, author of Sunflowers: A Novel of Van Gogh

Author Interview with 
Sheramy Bundrick

I am so honored to bring you all an interview with the author of my #1 read of 2009, Sunflowers by the lovely Sheramy Bundrick!

If you haven't picked this book up yet, you are really missing out!  I just can't say enough good things about it!  It's brilliant!

Q: The inspiration for Sunflowers came to you while on a trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where Van Gogh lived before committing suicide. What places did you visit and what emotions did they summon?
A: I took a research trip to the Netherlands and France in summer 2007 as part of my work on “Sunflowers.” In the Netherlands, I spent time in Amsterdam and Otterlo seeing the two largest collections of van Gogh works in the world (the Van Gogh Museum and Kröller-Müller Museum), and in France, I visited Arles, Saint-Rémy, Paris, and Auvers-sur-Oise. I had been to Paris many times before, and it was my second trip to Auvers. Auvers made such an impression on me the first time – as you point out, that trip inspired the whole book! – and I was pleased to love it as much the second visit. It was, however, my first trip to Provence. I already had a draft of the manuscript, and to carry it with me around Arles and Saint-Rémy was both exciting and rather eerie. Some things were exactly as I had imagined them; others I changed or added as a result of the visit. The church of Saint-Trophime at Arles, for instance — there’s a scene with Rachel inside Saint-Trophime that didn’t exist before my trip. Something about that church spoke to me, and I knew she had to go there too. 

Cottages with Thatched Roofs. Auvers-sur-Oise. by Vincent Van Gogh, June 1890.

Q:  You’ve been a lifelong fan of Van Gogh and his work. What is it about Van Gogh’s work that has endeared you to him?
A:  Initially, as a kid seeing van Gogh’s paintings in books and encyclopedias, it was the colors that attracted me, just as I imagine they do most people. But later on, both as a student and as an art history professor, I became intrigued by the “real” Van Gogh and the story behind the paintings.

Q:  History has given Van Gogh a bad rap, in my opinion, especially in regards to the ear cutting incident. What is it that you wanted to say with your story? What message do you want your readers to walk away with?
A:  I think Vincent is enormously misunderstood, and I agree he gets a bad rap. The ear incident is made into a joke far too often – there’s nothing funny about mental illness! I wanted readers to see the Vincent I’ve come to know: the well-read artist who put far more thought into his work than he is often given credit for. Naturally because “Sunflowers” is a novel and because most of what happens with Rachel is fictional, there’s an element of romanticization. That couldn’t be avoided. But readers can use “Sunflowers” as a starting point to learn more about the “real” Vincent van Gogh and his work. I’ve gotten emails from people who told me they’ve been inspired to look up his paintings online, etc. As an educator, that makes me so happy!
Q:  How difficult was it to write a book while having a full-time job as an Art History professor? What was more difficult: the actual writing or finding someone to publish it?
A:  It was hard balancing the time spent writing with the time needed for teaching and my other research; my academic specialty is actually ancient Greek art, and while writing “Sunflowers,” I was simultaneously writing articles and conference papers in that field. It was very “Belle du Jour” – professor by day, fictional nineteenth-century French prostitute by night! Beyond time management, the greatest difficulty writing “Sunflowers” was finding the narrative voice. Rachel sounded far too professorial in the first drafts. Once I determined how she should speak, the story came fairly easily. I already had a good background in van Gogh studies, and doing further research was fun.

Finding an agent took a little time but worked out nicely: I am represented by Barbara Braun, who herself holds a PhD in art history and who represents Susan Vreeland. Finding a publisher happened fast, at least from my point of view. Trade publishing moves more quickly than academic publishing. I did feel that landing an agent and a publisher had an element of luck to it. Right story, right place, right time and all that.

Q:  I am so impressed that this was your first novel – you have a remarkable talent and it’s clear that you can only get better. Are you working on a new project? If so, could you tell us a bit about it?
A:  Thank you, that’s very kind. I do have another fiction project in its early stages, but it’s something that will require more research and time than “Sunflowers.” I’m continuing my research/scholarship in Greek art, I’m still busily teaching, so the balance issue has not gone away. “Sunflowers” was my first crack at a novel; unfortunately, I do not have a drawerful of manuscripts that I can pull out and polish.

Q:  Do you have any suggestions / advice on writing or getting published for first time authors?
A:  Ironically — don’t think about publication. “Sunflowers” started out as a fun project during the summer while I was not teaching; it was not until further along that I decided to pursue publication. Even then, I seldom felt pressured, I guess because I do have my other work and figured if it didn’t happen, fine. That lack of pressure freed me to write honestly and create the story I wanted to tell. If I had been fretting about agents and editors the whole time (“Should I make Vincent more crazy so the book will sell? Should I this, should I that?”), it would have stolen my voice away. One does have to think about the market, of course, but if you let that dictate too much, it’s stifling. Write for yourself. And see what happens.
Thanks again to Sheramy for sharing with us. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!




  1. Aaah, I will have to try and find this one. My third favorite book on my all time list is Lust for Life...

  2. I've been wanting to read this book for forever! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love Van Gogh... I need to read this book then take a stroll through his paintings at the Met...thanks for the post, Amy.

  4. This book is on my shelf and I am excited to get to read it. Great questions Amy!

  5. Thanks for an interesting interview. This will be a book tobe on the lookout for.

  6. the book sound excellent! great interview ;) she does give some good advice as far as not worrying about publication while writing.


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