His home is the open road, but he keeps a change of underwear, some soap and a clean towel on his small farm in Clever, Missouri.
1. I noticed some similarities between the background of Brian’s character and Ryan himself. How much of the story was autobiographical?
For me there is a thin line between fiction and nonfiction. As a better writer than myself once wrote, you must write what you know. Thus I’ve always put a little of myself and a little of the life I know into my stories, but with one overwhelming difference: My characters can live parts of their lives in ways I haven’t, or couldn’t. So when a man returns home and is forced to confront a person he once loved deeply but who devastated them, I write having experienced the loss but not the closure. I leave my characters to experience things that I haven’t been able to.
2. The sad truth is that we’ve all known a person like Jackie. Was it difficult to get in the mindset to write her scenes?
The sad truth, I think, is that we all have a person like Jackie inside of us. For most of us the struggle to suppress her isn’t difficult, but for others it is. For me, writing about someone as detached from feeling and morality as Jackie is, again, an extension of a somewhat darker side of my own personality. When it came time to write her scenes and dialogue – difficult though they were to construct – I had only to conjour my inner asshole to bring them out.
3. There is a lot of comparison from a big city to small town. Having traveled so much, and undoubtedly experienced both settings, which is your preference? Where do you have an easier time writing?
I mention in the book a scene where the main character Brian, who is a writer himself, struggles with this very thing. If you want to write about home, go out into the world. If you want to write about the world, go home. You need the juxtaposition of looking at your subject from the perspective of its antithesis I think.
4. The love Dabney and Brian had for each other was so wonderful to read, it seems like there isn’t a lot of genuine friendship and love between male characters in fiction. Why do you think that is? Or, am I wrong in that statement, and I’m just not reading the right books?
Maybe both. I think those relationships exist in literature, but not often. We’re only now getting to the point where those feelings are alright to explore in mainstream literature. Oscar Wilde spent a long time in prison for the “immoral” crime of having romantic feelings for a male friend.
When I think of Brian and Dabney I think of Hamlet and Horatio; two men who have very deep feelings for one another but don’t understand exactly what to do with them.
I think the human experience is about following the emotions and attachments a person naturally develops. (this, of course, doesn’t include predatory or illegal attachments)
Hamlet says “there is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Brian and Dabney have an intense struggle stemming from their feelings for one another; yet another aspect of a lack of freedom that these characters face.
5. I felt a little like the story ended abruptly, like now that Brian had finally gotten some things worked out, I wanted to see where he would go from there. Do you have any plans to continue his story?
I’d like to see where a lot of things in this story would end up, but ironically I have no intention of continuing the story. Life is, after all, often just a big question mark. Some questions and experiences will never be resolved either physically or psychologically. We’re primed to desire a definite end to certain interactions, but these things are always protracted.
There are a lot of aspects of my life that I am satisfied I will never resolve; my love for and subsequent rejection by a person not unlike the character Jaqueline being one of them. I don’t feel like the reader should have definite closure available, when in reality life just doesn’t work that way.
6. My Grandfather died of cancer a little over a year ago, and it was both difficult to experience at the time, as well as difficult to read in the case of Dr. Morgan. At the same time, I loved the descriptions of how full a life Dr. Morgan had, and reading his last time on the boat was very fulfilling. Have you had the misfortune of experiencing this in your family? Was this particular section difficult to write?
It was very difficult to write. Cancer has carved Swiss cheese-like holes in my family over the years. In describing Doctor Morgan I was constructing a metaphor for someone in my life who has shuffled off this mortal coil. As a doctor, Morgan was given the task to aid in the health of others but not his own. Rather he has the unfortunate end, as a lot of us won’t experience, of not fully being appreciated or understood in life. Yet, we somehow feel like he lived a righteous life; which is all any of us can really hope for.
7. While Dabney and Jackie were mentioned quite a bit, I had a difficult time understanding why Brian had loved them so much, and was still harboring feelings for them. It almost felt like we’re meant to see that Brian’s love for them was unfounded from the start. Is this the case?
Definitely unfounded. I don’t know about you, but when I first fell in love it wasn’t with a particular person. Though I had a girl who was the object of my affection, my real interest was in the experience and emotion of a new, powerful and recently developed part of my mind. The attachments we make to those people who we first love romantically are like computer viruses. We loved the feeling, not necessarily the person.
That’s why, for me, the first person I loved has such a strong place in my memory. If I went back and tried to be with that person again, what are the chances that things would work out? Very small, I imagine.
8. What is your writing style like? Do you take a lot of notes and make a bunch of outlines? Or does the story come to you in bits and pieces, similar to how Brian’s novel came to him throughout the story?
Outlines don’t work for me, I’m way too disorganized. I write a draft, then go back over it with a red pendozer and try to fill in the inevitable gaping holes in the plot. Big picture stuff; look at it with a telescope first, then the microscope. After the plot is tied together I work on character development, then clarity, followed by grammar, and then the dreaded punctuation. It’s about a year to year.5 process for me.
9. So much of this book is related to boats and sailing. Is this something you have a lot of experience with, or did you need to do a bunch of research for it?
Love sailing, but I’ve never built a boat in my life. Most of that part was research. But I have definitely had a romantic adventure or two on a sailboat. One of those was actually on a stolen sailboat that I “borrowed” from a harbor in Florida. But that’s a different, 5th amendment kind of story.
10. What can you tell us about your next book?
In 2008 I started at the Missouri River’s headwaters in Three Forks, Mt with a canoe and paddled for two months and 2,341 miles to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi. I just finished a third draft of a creative nonfiction piece about that trip.
Aside from the tried and true travel motifs (adjusting to life outside the modern world, learning to live with the self, and adapting to the trials of the natural world) I tried to really get into why a person is mentally and emotionally drawn to wander. To figure out why people are drawn to the adventure, and to the adventure story. Joseph Campbell, says that “the adventure story is the symbolic expression given to our unconscious desires, fears and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior. We have only to read it, study it’s constant patterns, analyze its variations, and there with come to an understanding of the deep forces that have shaped man’s destiny and must continue to determine both our private and public lives.”
The stages of a person’s journey, being for the most part universal, exist because they are components of our psychological makeup. That’s why people are drawn to the adventure story. That’s why we are drawn to write about them. We are attracted to adventure stories not necessarily because of what they say about the characters in them. Rather it is how those aspects relate to the reader’s own experience and journey.
For me, as both a traveler and writer, the draw is not only to take part in the adventure as an experience; but also to work to impart that experience to others. To make my experience in some way relatable to theirs. If we are all really drawn psychologically to the adventure story, and if the adventure is a lens that give us an alternative perspective through which to view our own lives, then perhaps travel stories and memoirs can act in part as a cloth to polish that lens.
This book, and this experience, really sing to me and I can’t wait to finish it.