How much research went into writing your book, the Beauty of the fall?
I spent a year on the Bridges Board of Directors researching domestic violence, mostly by listening to the stories of many of the survivors. That experience changed my life and it’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to donate $25k of the profits from The Beauty of the Fall to Bridges. I also spent a year researching climate change and another year working through the technical details of what it would be mean to build a company like Conversationworks.
On climate change, I’ve come to believe we are at a tipping point and we all must act now to make changes that will mitigate what clearly is an existential threat. For example, last year I became a vegan and two years ago I dramatically reduced my consumption of fossil fuels. These are small things, but if the whole world did them, it would, well, save us.
On technology, it’s not possible to build a company like Conversationworks today, but I wanted to show with accuracy what will be possible in a decade or two, and show how much that could help the world.
There are many tricky subjects in the book – alcoholism, self-harm, violence, domestic abuse, and grief. You don’t label Dan with a mental illness. Was this a conscious decision?
At its core, The Beauty of the Fall is about grief. Many of the things that Dan does throughout the group are a direct result of the loss in his life. So, yes, it was a conscious decision not to state Dan was mentally ill. Instead, I focused on what happens to a fundamentally good man when sudden loss threatens his very existence. I wanted to show his external professional work ascending while he continued to descend.
I think one of the many roles of fiction is to shed light on difficult topics, and even though many writers stay away from them because they are so tricky, I wanted to tackle the ones you mentioned in this book. I’m proud of how my characters worked through them, even when things got messy.
There are many well developed characters in the book, did you ever base these on people you know or have known?
Willow was professionally based on the Director of the Bridges Center. I interviewed her a number of times as I was writing the book to make sure that those passages were accurate and unflinching.
Everyone else in the book I made up. In general, in all of my novels, I tend not to base characters on real people. Instead, I prefer to imagine the characters from scratch and make them as real as I possibly can through a long discovery process.
I do want to mention the women in the book. I wanted a book filled with strong women and I’m especially proud of how Willow and Nessa turned out. Even though the story is really Dan’s story, the women in his life made all of the difference. Some have argued, and I don’t disagree, that Willow is just as strong of a character as Dan.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
Mark Spencer, the novelist, has taught me the most about writing. I’m thankful he was around when I first started out years ago. He made a difference.
Which method do you find most effective for sharing your work?
(Festivals, workshops, social media, etc.)
I use every vehicle possible. Blogs. My website. Social media. Bookstore readings. A writers’ collaborative. Festivals. Book clubs. My publisher has been very good to me in terms of presenting these opportunities. With that said, probably the best way to share my work is through word of mouth, and that’s one of the reasons I’m thankful for interviews like this one.
Who are your favourite writers?
My two favourite writers are Milan Kundera and Walker Percy. Their novels have greatly influenced me. I especially love The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera and The Moviegoer by Percy, though I’ve read all of their work.
Other than writing, what else are you passionate about?
I love music and have written and published about sixty songs over the years. I also love poetry and am planning to publish a book of poems in the next year. And I love my family and the life we’ve built here in our lake house in Massachusetts.
Do you have any words of advice (or caution) for other writers?
Write the first draft of any scene quickly, so you capture all the emotion you’re trying to convey. Then rewrite the scene many times until you know a potential reader will feel like she is there with your characters in their world.
What are your future ambitions for your writing?
I’m currently working on my fourth novel, The Latecomers, which is about aging in a society that no longer values wisdom. I hope to have it out in a couple of years.
Read my review of The Beauty of the fall here
Purchase a copy at Amazon.com