“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
~ William Faulkner
How do you write?
When I’m generating new work, I begin with a prompt – a phrase, word, image, or thought – and let the pen lead. My rough drafts are always written in longhand, in stiff-backed spiral notebooks. It’s how I learned to get out of the way, let the story emerge without judgement.
The characters show up unbidden. Like William Faulkner, I listen, follow, write down what I hear and see. The story often unfolds in pieces, out of order in random scenes, so I frequently remind myself, ‘Patience!’
Then I move to the computer, flesh out scenes and edit my rough. Connecting scenes are written both longhand and on the computer, depending on how it feels. Not until the 4th or 5th draft do I move to printing the pages, editing with a red pen.
It’s a journey I love. Both the intuitive listening and the challenge in editing. Finding the right words in right order. Linking all the pieces to the spine of the story.
What was your inspiration for Flight?
The first afternoon at my first writing retreat, I wrote my first full story. Jamie at the bonfire, running from Redmond, meeting Jack. Weeks later, curious where the story might lead, I decided to follow it. After Sarah spoke up, I quit counting the pages. I was in love with them all, even Redmond.
Were there surprises?
The entire book was a surprise. I never knew what was going to happen until I wrote it. Many scenes were written in my weekly prompted writing circle. Unrelated prompts sparking revelatory and pertinent scenes.
And except for the first two chapters of Jamie’s story, the story emerged out of sequence. Many scenes contradicting what I’d previously written. At times I questioned the historical accuracy, such as Jack’s past. Or the rightness in the images, such as Sarah’s description of the hot, dry summer and Jamie’s encounter with a luna moth in the fall. My research confirmed every one. 1952 was a drought year, and a year Jack might’ve indeed had his secrets. Both nature and teachers in classrooms can create the conditions for the moth’s unfurling in fall. The final surprise was how the pieces fit.
Once the book felt complete, I wove the chapters together, added scenes to deepen the narrative.
In short, each one – Jamie, Sarah, Jack, and Redmond – surprised me and were far more clever than I could imagine for them. Sometimes they left me in tears with emotion.
How much of you is in Flight?
Flight is not autobiographical. I grew up in cities far from Appalachia. With said, I share huge love for my son like Sarah. And there are bits of myself and experience in both Jamie and Sarah. Bits of some men I’ve known in Redmond. And Jack shares a number of traits and experiences with my father who loved to read, was a fine storyteller, enjoyed the spotlight, and seemed to know how to do anything. And like Jack, my father was in the merchant marines during WWII and the Seafarers’ Union on the New York waterfront in the early 1950s.
My descriptions of animals come from personal observation. I’ve enjoyed thousands of nature programs over the years. Love watching and learning about animals. The squirrel Max in the novel is modeled after a squirrel in my backyard who chewed the entrance of a bird house, and co-opted it as a home.
My reverence for nature and love of the mountains is perhaps what I share most with all the characters.
I never saw the connections as I wrote the book. The quiet settling of all the layers and connections of human experience in the book fell upon me after I finished writing.
“Our stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories are how we come to new understandings about each other, how we change our view of the world, how we teach, and how we learn. Each of us carries stories. Stories we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Stories we’ve been given by others.
Stories we’ve gathered ourselves along the way.”
~ Marianne Elliot