“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. It’s how I learned to write without judgement, to get out of the way, let the story emerge.
The characters show up unbidden. Much 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!” I love the journey.
What was your inspiration for Flight?
I wrote the first story from Flight spontaneously one afternoon at a writers’ retreat: Jamie at the bonfire, running from Redmond, meeting Jack. Weeks later, curious where the story might lead, I decided I’d follow. 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. Seemingly unrelated prompts sparking revelatory and pertinent scenes.
Writing Flight required a lot of trust. Except for the first two chapters of Jamie’s story, the book emerged out of sequence. Many scenes appeared as contradictions to 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 overwhelmed, in tears with emotion.
How much of you is in Flight?
Flight is not autobiographical. I grew up in cities and towns far from the mountains. And I see bits of myself in both Jamie and Sarah, bits of some men I’ve known in Redmond. Jack shares a number of traits and experience with my father though I promise it was not intentional. My father was in the merchant marines during WWII and in the Seafarers’ Union on the New York waterfront in the early 1950s. He loved to read, was a fine storyteller who enjoyed the spotlight, and seemed to know how to do anything.
I love watching animals, learning about them. Have enjoyed thousands of nature programs over the years. My descriptions of animals come from my own observations. Max is modeled after a squirrel in my backyard who co-opted a bird house, chewed the entrance to accommodate his furry body.
My reverence for nature and love of the mountains is perhaps what I share most with my characters. The quiet settling of all the layers and connections of human experience in the book fell upon me after I finished writing. This is where I write what I know.