Interview with The Avid Reader

Interview with The Avid Reader

What made you want to become a writer?

I became a writer as soon as I learned to write, and in the process discovered that I could think better when I wrote. So it was my drive towards both complexity and clarity, the qualities that have always epitomized the fun of thinking for me, that drove me to become a life-long writer. I’m not saying I was a wunderkind, producing great philosophical treatises as a seven-year old. The complexity and clarity achieved were age-appropriate, but fun nonetheless.

I was a social kid, and enjoyed sharing my fun with others. So even though I did considerable introspective writing in my journals, I also wrote plays, poems, and short stories that my friends and I had fun with. Recently, I reunited with a couple of grade-school friends with whom I’d lost touch when we dispersed for 7th grade. I was amazed that in our reminiscing, they both quoted passages from an epic play about Andrew Jackson that I’d written for a school project. Though I remembered none of it, they had retained quite a few of my punchier lines: “Unhand him, you scurvy knave!” was a favorite.

But I suspect this question is more geared towards what made me want to write a novel. And in this arena, the real driver was my desire to prove to myself and others, that I could produce the kind of writing that I most love: compelling fiction. It was this ego-driven challenge that drove me rather than what I wish I’d had: a need to write so visceral that I would have no choice but to honor it. The kind of “have to do it” drive that Stephen King has described so well and so often in his essays. I knew I had the technical skills required to be a novelist. But could I do it without the impetus of that need?

Though typically, I enjoy and seek out challenges, this one was so central to my sense of self, that I was afraid of confronting it. I put off the attempt throughout my professional career (I’ll write The Book when I retire) and then stalled another five years by becoming an almost full-time dog obedience coach when I retired from consulting. And then….the pandemic came and coaching went. There was no longer a stalling option.

What inspired you to write Emergence?

I was inspired to write Emergence based on an amalgam of laziness, passion, and vengeance.

  • Laziness: I did not want to spend lots of time doing research. So I needed to confine myself to a setting and characters I knew so well that no research would be required.
  • Passion: I doubted that I’d be able to complete this project unless I could harness my passion. Since I lacked the passionate need to write, I had to replace that with passions I do have. And key among those are my dogs, and the wilderness of West Quebec, where my husband and I have a log cabin in the woods, and where I’ve trekked, skied, snorkled, and kayaked with my dogs for over thirty years.
  • Vengeance: the first dramatic and traumatic event in Emergence, which catalyzes much of the rest of the book’s action, is based very closely on a real-life event. I have never forgiven the distant neighbor in West Quebec, responsible for that event. I wanted vengeance that was not legally available to me. So, as a timid, sniveling law-abiding sort, I had one of my fictional characters do what I would have liked to.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Emergence?

Emergence features two protagonists: Cass Harwood, a middle-aged dog-trainer and wildnerness recreationist, and Xavier, a “wildchild” raised in seclusion in the West Quebec woods, by an anarchist father.

Cass is modeled on me, She is designed to show a realistically strong woman – one with flaws and minor neuroses, who triumphs over those and circumstances, to take care of herself and others around her, without inevitably turning to a man to save her. Above and beyond that, Cass is basically the “straight man” in the cast. Her job, as a fictional device, is to provide context and to showcase Xavier.

For me, Xavier is the beating heart of Emergence – the character who came to me effortlessly and fully-developed, as if I were channeling rather than creating him. I love this boy, and the often unintentionally humorous but still lyric passages he brought with him. One of my favorites is his description of how he feels when touched by a character with an unsavory and unhealthy interest in him: “So here’s the thing about Jean-Luc touching me. It felt like he was leaving the kind of trail that a slug would. I checked, and there wasn’t anything there on me, even though I felt like I had slimy boogers on me. I think he must have bad hands. I assume there is such a thing as bad hands, because the day that I helped Cass with training, she taught me about good hands. She said that often you can communicate better with a dog by touching him with your hands, instead of giving him a command.

Finally, Lori, Cass’ cousin and sidekick, plays a supporting role. Just as Cass is based on me, Lori is based on my real-life cousin, who is as strikingly beautiful as Lori is said to be in the book. I welcomed the opportunity to expose readers to another strong and independent woman, and in the process, hopefully defy the prevailing stereotype which positions great physical beauty as somehow antithetical to strength of character.

You know I think we all have a favorite author. Who is your favorite author and why?

I have to take issue with your premise that we all have a favorite author. I have quite a few. They include Margaret Atwood, James Lee Burke, Kurt Vonnegut, and Louise Penny. But because I’m reading him now and am so grateful for the way he has grabbed and maintained my attention every time I’ve turned to him for almost fifty years, I’ll focus here on Stephen King, who I believe is one of the unacknowledged masters of American fiction. “Unacknowledged?” you ask. “This man who is billed as America’s king of dark fiction, who has sold more than 350 million books?” But just as in popular culture, beauty is positioned as antithetical to character, high sales are often perceived as indicative of an absence of artistic merit.

I concede that some very popular authors publishing today are indeed…..a bit short… on fluidity, depth and complexity. But I maintain that is not the case with King. I find his characters to be richly drawn, multi-dimensional, and compelling. And his narrative talent keeps pace with his brilliance at plot development, so that the two intertwine to generate more, and more consistent momentum than any other writer I’ve encountered. But he is SO not a technical show-off! In the 47 years that I’ve been a faithful reader of his work, I’ve never found a passage in one of King’s books that I thought was gratuitous, included not because it furthered the movement of events or understanding of character, but instead because it was fun to write and beautifully phrased. King is totally dedicated to doing what is necessary to move the book along, and never allowing ego to intrude on that. And because he is so massively successful at “moving it along” I think many readers and sadly, critics also, fail to recognize the extraordinary skills he exhibits in the process.

Can you tell us a little bit about your next books or what you have planned for the future?

Nope – can’t do that. Emergence was my first book, and as you’ll see when I respond to the last question, below, writing it was tremendously rewarding. But the process of marketing a self-published work takes a lot longer than writing it did, for me – given that it took only three months start-to-finish, for me to write Emergence. And, with the exception of this blog tour, marketing is considerably less fun than writing. So at this point, I have no idea if or when I’ll write another book. My fervent hope is that the marketing gains traction, Emergence returns my investment in self-publishing, and that once that starts to happen I will feel able and want to start work on another novel.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved the way it took over my life. This intrigues me, because I’ve generally resisted ANYTHING that impedes my ability to spend my time and live my life on my own terms. That’s why I rejected the safety of employment and instead ran my own consulting firm. Unlike the vast majority of self-employed people and small-business owners, I often said “No” to work that came my way – particularly if and when I thought the project in question was likely to take over my life.

I certainly had no intention of allowing my pandemic project to take over. I had fewer obligations than I’d ever had before – no consulting clients, no obedience students to coach, no competitions to prepare for. I was at liberty at our cabin, and there was skiing, hiking, and kayaking to undertake, and a husband and three dogs to keep me company. Glorious liberty! I refused to blow it by sitting in front of my computer all day. And I didn’t – I generally spent only 3-5 hours, maybe 4 times a week at my computer, throughout the project.

But very quickly, the creative musk of writing overwhelmed me. While I spent only 3-5 hours at my desk, my mind was constantly churning, spinning, gyrating with ideas, phrases and embellishments. And perhaps most to the point – remember that I started this Q&A by talking about how I’ve always enjoyed thinking? – during the period of time I was writing Emergence, I never felt more cognitively ept, more intellectually sure-footed. It was a cerebral high. I so hope that I eventually find myself willing and able to do it again. I’d love to find out if Emergence was an anomaly, or if the state of heightened lucidity I achieved while working on it is simply the way I am, when writing a novel.

To read The Avid Reader’s review of Emergence, and read an exclusive excerpt from the book, visit The Avid Reader!

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