Can I read an excerpt of your novel?
Yes, you can. I have the first chapter available; just click here to read it.
What drives you to write?
I'm the type of person who likes to record things--and then to never throw away those records. I also tend to think in words: I'm constantly describing things to myself in my head, as if I'm planning to write everything down. Ultimately I end up writing out what matters to me--or simply what I have to set down on paper. Sometimes words are like tears or itches, and they'll only be soothed away after you write them down. That's often the first stage to my writing: words or passages that I write out just because that's what my head and my fingers want to do.
The next stage is more controlled. This is the part where I look at the material I have and think about what it can become. It can be more exciting, as well as more daunting. But it's my chance to influence and shape this random material into something worthwhile, something that I can share with other people.
What inspired your first novel, Black Tree?
Back in 2008, I found a painting of a tree at an antique store. I instantly loved it, though I wasn't quite sure why: the painting looked like it might not even be complete. And yet there was something so enthralling about its colors and shapes, its simulation of movement. So I took it home and kept staring at it. Then I wrote a description of it, thinking to make it into a short story. Eventually it grew to more than that and I added in two more narrators, but that one description was the beginning. Abigail came to me from contemplating the desert (the plants and the earth and the sky), and I dreamed a scene that I ended up writing for Julia, developing her character from there (this scene is no longer in the book: I took it out when I made major changes to Julia's story).
Basically, then, all three narrators came to me from images, of a single thing or of a single scene. Everything grows from there: setting, plot, and theme.
What's your writing process like?
My writing process changed as I made more progress on this book. I started out just writing one scene, thinking it was going to be a short story. Then when I decided to let it grow as much as it wanted to, I wrote erratically. Maybe a page, maybe a paragraph, maybe just a sentence--sometimes with months in between. I started with Section I, gradually added in Section II, and added in Section III last.
The description of the tree in IX.I is the first part that I wrote for this book. I.I is also one of the earlier sections. So the middle of the book, in general, probably contains the newest writing.
Is there anything more you can tell us about the characters in Black Tree?
I remain unspecific about many aspects of who the three narrators are because I wanted to keep a tight focus. That said, here are a couple of things that never made their way into the book. Abigail is the youngest; she is around sixteen. The unnamed narrator is around thirty. And Julia, as you know, is approaching fifty.
Abigail I specifically intend to be the innocent one of the three--though she also lives in the harshest environment. And as such, I almost consider her narrative as part of the future (the "hopeful future of youth," so to speak), though I also color it with shades of the past. Julia is, of course, the present. And the other narrator is the past--which also fits because she is the character who struggles most with regret and regret is the inability to accept the past. Because I thought of her narrative as taking place in the past, I was careful not to mention any type of technology or architecture or even habits that would align with a certain era; this is one reason why her environment remains vague.
Oh, yes, and Julia's world in Prescott, which is not only less vague--it is also real. The street with Victorian houses where she lives is real and I did base her house primarily on a particular one (the only one I've stepped inside of), though I won't tell you which one. The row of antique stores by Courthouse Square is there, too (and I highly recommend visiting them); I based Julia's store on a combination of at least three different stores because I had a specific layout that I wanted to use.
What other books or authors have influenced your writing?
I've always enjoyed reading books that are grounded in the natural world while also having some element of fantasy. So Charlotte Bronte and J.R.R. Tolkien are two big influences in regards to nature and fantasy.
My senior year of high school (around the same time that I wrote the first page or two of Black Tree) I read Between Heaven and Earth by Burghild Nina Holzer, and it really changed the way I viewed the possibilities that writing offers. She taught me that it's okay to take time to write without physically writing--and reminded me that when you need to physically write, you'd better do it before the need fades away and the words vanish. She taught me not to be afraid of drawing from emotion when you write and not to be afraid of writing whatever wants to be written (my added note: because if you're writing to publish, you can always edit later).
In college, I gained two more big influences: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and the writing of the Romantic poets. Ceremony is a non-linear novel that draws a picture of one man's post-war struggles, set against the background of New Mexico. This is the closest example I've found of what I wanted to do with my book. Though of course my book is still very different from hers (she has a wonderful way of combining mythology with her plot, for instance), both contain elements of nature, a certain level of abstractness, and a slow progression toward healing (though my book offers a different perspective on where healing comes from).
When I mention the Romantic poets, I specifically mean William Wordsworth and John Keats more than the rest of them. I enjoy their poetry but what really made me think was what they wrote about art. Though they were speaking specifically toward poetry, their comments are applicable for fiction in general (novels were still so new during their time). Wordsworth wrote in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads: "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." That is how I write. When you feel something or see something, you try and consider it to the fullest extent and memorize it and even make it bigger than it really is. And then later on, you look back on that memory and try to write it down and the space in between when you felt it and when you write it is the space in between reality and fiction and the space that gives you time to change it how it needs to be changed to become better, to become useful.
Do you have a writing playlist for Black Tree?
Yes, you can have a look at it here.
Do you have a Goodreads account?
Yes, I do. Here's the link.