Author Interview – Session 3
The View from Inside My Writing Process
Note: As I continue to push through my final, smoothing edit, I’m concurrently working on a number of marketing and branding tasks. In order to help book reviewers, I’m making ready an interview to which they can refer. I sat for long sessions with a person named Q, and will post our discussion here in small sections as I go along.
Q: So apart from cats, dogs, and aliens, there’s the Fisherman, who first appeared in the final pages of All of the Above, and who plays a central role in Rumi’s Field. Did you know, at the the time you wrote Book One, what his role would be in the second book?
A: I didn’t know much, no. Both All of the Above and the third book, Imbolc, began downloading into my conscious awareness back, oh, almost twenty years ago now. I’d written the first few chapters of both, though All of the Above was called The Black Box back then. But while it was time to start viewing and pondering these stories, it wasn’t time to finish them yet. I wasn’t ready. There were things I had to go through first – information I had to acquire and ideas I had to grasp – in order to become the proper channel for these tales, so to speak.
It wasn’t until maybe seven years ago that I realized that the two books were connected, that they were really stories about the same characters at different times in a longer narrative. And it wasn’t until All of the Above was almost finished that I really understood that there needed to be a third book that sat between them. The Fisherman’s brief phone call at the end of Book One was a nod to that. I knew there had to be another story. The Fisherman spoke up and laid claim to being a part of it. Beyond that, I really didn’t know anything more about him than Cole or Linda did. He called in the middle of the night, disturbing their sleep. I listened in on the call. That was it.
Q: To the extent that it’s true that every great story revolves around a conflict, and that every conflict requires some sort of protagonist, then the Fisherman showed for the the auditions and nailed that part.
A: Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself. The Fisherman is to Rumi’s Field who Agent Theodore Rice was to All of the Above. But while Rice was a nasty and dangerous sociopath, the Fisherman is a gentler sort, operating more from necessity and forethought than reckless impulsivity. He tells Linda, early on in their conversation, that he hopes she will one day understand and love him. Agent Rice did not care about such matters.
Q: So in writing the Fisherman character, you’re giving voice to “one of them,” somebody on the inside of the elite, wealthy, secret layers of societal management or control, a “one-percenter” who bears at least some portion of the responsibility for the exploitation of the planet and the misery of Earth’s living creatures, humans included. Do you fear any blow back from having done so?
A: How so?
Q: Well, to the extent that you’ve worked to make him a sympathetic character, somebody whose goals and motivations and values can be understood. Isn’t that like writing a biography of Hitler or Pol Pot or Idi Amin and focusing on their love of music, their care for their families, and how they stopped to pet every dog they saw?
A: Hmmm… Well, I guess the Fisherman spoke up to challenge the human (or this culture’s) tendency to create labels, assign blame, and paint the many facets of a complex phenomenon with the same brush. In observing people’s conversations about the current state of the world, and especially how the blame and responsibility for our collective predicament is so often put on “them,” I became fascinated with the prospect of getting a glimpse into who “them” really was. The Fisherman showed up to give me a guided tour. “A primer, of sorts,” as he says.
Q: So your goal is to view the wealthy elite, the “one-percenters,” as more complex creatures than our simple labels might imply, both as a group and as individuals?
A: Right. That feels vitally important to me. In Rumi’s Field I call these secrete elites, collectively, “The Families.” Like all families, they are a varied and unruly bunch.
Q: Why is it so important, to understand them?
A: If we don’t seek to deeply understand the complexities of others, then how can we hope to fully grasp the complexities of our own selves? And if we don’t understand our own selves – our thoughts, our reactions, our motivations, our values, our reasons, our hopes, our fears, our felt responses to the world, our hidden shame and our unacknowledged woundedness – how can we hope to become the more conscious, mature individuals these times seem to demand of us, or play our part in creating a more conscious, mature society?
Q: Wow. You’ve thought about this a great deal, haven’t you?
A: Sure. I think many people have thought about this. I know I’ve had the experience of not being understood, that I’m far more complex in terms of my values, goals, motivations, beliefs, and actions than can be captured by an easy label or quick judgment. If you were able to look at the world through my eyes, I think you’d come to see that I’m operating from the best of intentions, that I’m doing the best I can with what I have, and that my actions make sense, given my experiences in this life. I think there are lots of people who feel this way.
Q: So the Fisherman is here to tell us that, seen from the inside, from his point of view, the actions and goals and values of these “Families” make sense?
A: Right. If we want to be understood, then do we not have a responsibility to try to understand others? Let’s work that muscle a little harder, by applying it to a group of people that are generally scorned or hated, at least in certain circles.
Q: What fun!
A: I thought so. Now, that doesn’t mean that, just because they can be understood, those actions, goals, and values should always be condoned, or allowed to cause harm to others. The Fisherman himself would agree that many members of “the Families” are as bad as the genocidal maniacs you mentioned earlier, and with the notion that their actions in the world should be stopped or contained. He’s just saying that their actions make sense when viewed from within, and that their containment, should people wish to try to contain them, should proceed not from hatred or easy judgment, but from deep understanding, even compassion.
Am I worried about blow back? Maybe. A bit. From some quarters. I know that Rumi’s Field does challenge some societal assumptions. But I’ll also be interested to learn whether the Fisherman pulls it off, so to speak. Whether the readers end up understanding and loving him, which he so desires from Linda Travis. The proof will be in the pudding, as they say. This is fiction, you remember. It’s all “made up,” the meaning of which would be a fascinating discussion in and of itself. But it’s not made up from “whole cloth,” I don’t think. It feels like I was in touch with something real when I wrote it.
Q: So how would you like to be more deeply understood?
A: To put it in the terms we’ve been using, I would say that I, too, love music and “stop and pet every dog I see.” But I’ve also got my own set of limitations, confusions, quirks, blind spots, and differences that set me apart, my own shadows, my own unconscious aspects, my own seemingly incomprehensible actions, when viewed from the outside. There’s a part of me that feels as nasty, impulsive, fearful, and judgmental as Agent Rice. There’s another part of me that’s more mature, gentle, reasoned, and hoping to connect and be understood, like the Fisherman. I can be moved by the intelligence and goodness of President Josiah Bartlet and revel in the evil scheming of President Frank Underwood, to bring a couple of other fictional presidents into the mix.
Q: So, does it make sense to say that you are the Fisherman, that you are Agent Rice?
A: It’s never so simple as that, I think. There are pieces of all of my characters that I resonate with. Not just Rice or the Fisherman but Linda, Cole, his kids, Mihos, Gabrielle, Mary, Zacharael, others. That’s one of the great delights of writing fiction: I get to meet characters and see the world through their eyes, and find places of alignment and resonance between them and myself, as well as differences.
Q: So being a novelist is a way of “working that muscle” you spoke of a moment ago, a way to train yourself in understanding others.
A: And of understanding myself. I’m a lifelong student of the human heart and mind and spirit, an “alien anthropologist” come to study these strange creatures amongst whom I walk. Having had to take on human form myself in order to do so, I get to study humanity from the inside as well. It has been… fascinating.