I recently reviewed Dan’s book, THE CLEARING (on 10/15/13), and invited him to tell us more about himself, how he came to write the book, and his next writing project.
Dan- First off, to Beth: thank you so much for the opportunity to be a guest blogger on Beth’s Book-Book – it’s a real privilege.
The release of my first book, The Clearing, is of course a big deal to me personally, as you might imagine. And with its release have come questions, quite a few of them, actually; it’s a strange moment when you discover people are interested in hearing the back story to something you created. So on that (admittedly grand) assumption, I’ll try to answer the question I’m most commonly asked at the moment: how did you come to write The Clearing?
So much of this book is tied to real experiences I had as a boy – that’s not to say all the events in the book actually happened, but some of them are plucked right out of memory. The story itself had been rattling around in my head for a number of years, showing up in passages of other novels I’d been working on. But these interlopers never seemed to fit the current work, and just about as soon as they were written down they were cut out and pasted into a document I keep on my computer, imaginatively named “stuff”. Eventually, I pulled one of these passages out and gave it my full attention, and it seemed to take off. The trick was to let the story be set where much of it was born – in St. Lucia – rather than trying to jam elements of my time on the island as a boy into other stories where they didn’t seem to fit.
One of the advantages I found was that I had a really full and well fleshed out memory of my time living in St. Lucia as a kid, and in particular a weekend I spent at an old estate – where part of the book is set. Like the main character in the book, Nate Mason, I experienced something frightening there that left a distinct impression on me. Perhaps its fear that helped everything become so well seared into my childhood memory – and vivid memory is a useful thing when you’re tapping away on a keyboard at 3:00 am. Now, as for the Bolom: does it really exist? I know the answer to that for me. But everyone gets to make their own call on things like this.
Interestingly, one of the things I had to fight against while writing the book was the urge to fly back to the island, which I hadn’t done in 30 years. My fear was that if I went back there and looked at the “new” St. Lucia – particularly places significant to me during those early parts of my life – it would corrode the purity of those memories, and I’d lose that near photo-quality recollection that I was able to count on. The write what you know adage is certainly one I subscribe to, and that is true of most of my other novels – all of which are invariably set in countries I‘ve lived in, and centered around experiences I’ve had.
Writing The Clearing has been a real education, too, both in terms of making my way through the publishing industry, and in the research I needed to do for important elements of the story. Obeah, for example, is a fascinating and rather frightening world. I just scratch the surface of it in the novel, but as a kid it was a very real and present part of the world we lived in. In the novel the Bolom is an important actor, and as a kid it was, too. But it transcended that boogeyman role and became something real and worthy of inclusion in sage advice: be careful of snakes, stay away from big dogs, watch out for the Bolom.
But that was back then. At the moment I’m wrapping up a sequel to The Clearing, which has been a really new experience for me: all the novel-length writing I’ve done has been stand alone, and this is the first time I’ve taken characters past the conclusion of an existing story. It’s also been a really strange experience, because the story for the sequel was immediately apparent at the outset. I guess that’s the benefit of spending so much time thinking these people through (and you really do end up seeing them as people, not just characters). And in the end, it seems they quietly help you out. They’re quite opinionated, and won’t hesitate to whisper the odd hint to let you know where it is they should be going.
Thanks again, Beth, for the chance to contribute to the Book Nook.
Thanks, Dan, for chatting with us! I look forward to your sequel.