Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Interview with Richard Dansky

I'm doing my first book signing this afternoon, and I'm already tired of talking about myself.

Thus, today, I have a special treat: author Richard Dansky took time out of his very busy schedule to answer questions about his excellent Gothic horror novel, Firefly Rain!

Joe McD: This book is really about the strange struggle between men and women - whether fathers and mothers, sons and mothers, friends, lovers, enemies... all primarily in a binary as male and female. The men are merely actors in the struggles of the will of women. Was this accidental or intentional? Is this something you've noticed as a resident and student of the south? Who are these women, and where did you go to come up with them?

Richard Dansky: I don't actually view it as a male-female dichotomy. To me, Firefly Rain is much more about definition by opposition, and the fact that the narrator has been identifying himself by who he's not for his entire life. So in that sense he's placed in opposition to some of the strong female characters and presences in the book, but he also defines himself as an outsider to the town when he's dealing with the men of Maryfield, and as a Southerner when he's talking to Jenna. If there is a male-female dynamic in the book, to me it's part of the much larger question of who Jacob Logan is versus who Jacob Logan isn't.

As for where the women in the book came from, the answer is "everywhere" Рobservation, extrapolation, memory, and anything else that seemed to come together to make the people who inhabited the book. None of them are based on anyone specific, and only one had her personality in part defined by her role. That would be Officer Hanratty, and with her I started by simply trying to take the hoary clich̩ of the small-town southern cop and turn it on its head. In any case, as the book went on and she got her own voice, that element of her genesis proved less and less important to who she ultimately became.

Joe McD: Groovy. How do you allow other characters to define themselves? Do you think other characters define themselves by what they aren't and come to any revelations?

Richard Dansky:
This is probably backwards from what your average creative writing teacher might tell you, but generally my characters define themselves through their dialogue. The more I write in their voice, the better a sense I have of their diction, their idiomatic usage, their sentence structure and patter. All of that helps me figure out more and more about who they are and where they're coming from. I guess in so many words, I let them tell me who they are, and work out the details from there.

As for whether any of the other characters define themselves in Firefly Rain, well, that would be their story, not Logan's. Though I have to confess, Jenna very clearly knows exactly who she is, and that makes her an eminently suitable rock for Logan to cling to in this storm of his own devising.

Joe McD: I've met your wife, recently, in New York and I have to confess that I hear very much of Melinda in a few of the female characters in this book. Who is Melinda's favorite character?

Richard Dansky:She tells me that it's the author, and I really know better than to argue.

Joe McD: The nature of the curse on the one hand seems self-inflicted on the one hand, and imposed on the other. On the one hand, the son is responsible for his sins. On the other, the curse he experiences - and the town experiences - seems to vastly exceed the crime. Can you tell us about curses, and what they mean to you?

Richard Dansky: It's a question of perspective, I think. Is Logan actively cursed, or is he reaping the consequences of his own actions? He did promise he'd come back and he did break that promise, and so if you turn the logic of the situation around you can see why there might be some strenuous efforts taken to make sure he doesn't get a chance to break that promise again. Then again, it's the letter of the promises that are made – and not just by Logan – that causes the real problems. It's the adherence to the absolute ideal of "I'm never going back" or "I made a promise that I'll keep no matter what" without the tempering of human conversation that leads to the conflict at the heart of the book.

Joe McD: Even the curse seems to extend beyond its own intent in many ways. Where did your inspiration for this particular curse come?

Richard Dansky: You can probably take it back to a couple of different sources. On one hand, it's a much-chewed over riff on something my wife said to me about the farm where she grew up – "You don't sell family land." Eventually, what came out of that was thinking that if you made that commitment to the land, what if the land made a commitment back to you? And, of course, things went just horribly wrong and twisted from there.

The rest of it, I think, you can just trace to living in the South and looking around. The plant growth down here is so lush and so all-encompassing, when something's abandoned or not cared for you can see the ground take it back for its own. That's a motif I've played with a lot in my writing, in places like Shadows in Green and elsewhere, and this is another way it's manifested itself.
For my part, I find I'm not hugely interested in "curses" in the classic sense, particularly now that the Red Sox have won a couple of World Series. I guess it's part of my peculiar tastes in horror writing – I'm not entirely interested in "Evil" with a capital "E", because big-letter Evil never made much sense to me. The stuff that really moves me is the writing about people, their motivations and choices, and the consequences of those choices coming into collision. Supernatural elements, then, are a way of calling that out and highlighting the conflict. They're an element that I enjoy hugely, both reading and writing, but I find them – curses included – more interesting when they're a manifestation of what the characters have done.

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