INTERVIEW WITH SHANNON MCCLOSKEY ALLAIN, Summer 2012
Is the novel’s plot mirroring a particular Shakespeare tragedy? Even the spots of comic relief (Henry’s interrogation & the graveyard conversation with Randy) reminded me of a Shakespeare play.
You’re very right to sense this. There’s no exact plot-to-plot mirroring happening (as far as I’m aware of), but there is, let’s say, a nod to Hamlet, especially in the sense of the play’s preoccupation with self-consciousness, identity, anxiety, death, graveyards, etc., and also with Hamlet’s arguable redemption by play’s end. Randy is, essentially, the First Clown of V, i. What I was going for was for Randy to be an answer, even a rebuke, to Henry’s (and, by extension, the other characters’, except Kinnell) intense literary self-preoccupations, their harmful self-miring in language and literature. Randy is the wise fool.
The interrogation scene hopefully demonstrates Henry’s gradual epiphany with respect to this self-miring: how he just can’t buy into framing his reality in that especially academic/aesthetic way anymore. Shakespeare, his London, Jacobean tragedy, flit through the novel in various ways.
By the way, the most fun I had in the writing process was when I was writing that interrogation scene. It just about wrote itself. And it cracked me up, laugh out loud, as I wrote it.
The symbol of the butterfly appears through the book in various manifestations such as death (departed soul), freedom from torment (Moberley’s view), and change in course of Henry’s life and outlook. Perhaps you mean it to be a symbol for life in general, changing to accommodate the beliefs/situations of each individual character. I looked up the writer of the haiku (Soseki) and was not familiar with this work. Can you comment on the significance of the poem to your story?
The symbol of the butterfly (and a typical “English-man”’s relation to it) is meant to be fluid, yet the manifestations you mention are spot on. It means something different in relation to each of the characters, as you say, but it also stands for the final unknowability of life, that sometimes suffocating ineffability. Soseki’s Zen poem, for me, informs us of the folly of, in the words of a Zen koan, pointing at the moon and mistaking our finger for the moon itself (words are “shadows” not “flowers”).
On one hand, we have the representation of life that we get through metaphor, say, which we need as thinking creatures, and on the other there’s the crashing through that artifice to experience life immediately, unmistakably, unadulteratedly. Kinnell symbolizes this kind of transformation, or at least the individual on the road to that kind of enlightenment. When the butterfly consumes Henry in Henry’s dream, it’s a foreshadowing of his future consumption of life, his acceptance of what in fact is. It’s frightening, this entire giving of self.
The central theme of the novel seems to be the question of free will, how much control we have over our destinies, if any, and the acceptance of the mystery of our condition. Each character has his or her own take on this, from Henry’s belief you have some control (which exacerbates his panic when he feels he doesn’t), to Hearne’s blustery bravado & acceptance, to Kinnell’s search for enlightenment through being ‘in the moment’, to Julia’s reliance on literature and music to comfort and explain the human condition and tragically, Moberley’s descent into madness/violence. Have I missed any themes?
No, and that’s as good or better a job at describing them as I could pull off. The only thing I would add is what I was talking about before in the last two responses: the dead-end of finally relying upon language and literature to provide you with meaning — ‘in the moment’ is the only place we can actually be — instead of seeing the meaning in front of you. If this book gets picked up by a publisher, I’d like to include at the front, before Chapter 1, this quote from Morrissey’s “I Will See You In Far-off Places” –
Nobody knows what human life is.
Why we come, why we go.
So why then do I know […]
and Wallace Stevens’ incomparable “The Snow Man” –
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
These two do a good job, I think, preparing the reader for the spirit of the novel, and you can see how they fit into our themes. Unfortunately, because of copyright issues, I didn’t want to chance it for the Amazon KDP publication.
I’ll tell you one more thing. I see this book as something of a parable, even a fairy tale. When I was writing it, I found myself being pulled away from a straighter ‘realism’ and into imaginative/biblical/classical territories. I don’t think it’s a big, complex dish of fiction. It’s slighter than that, less ambitious by far; instead, it tries to be an incredibly tasty morsel, an appetizer you wouldn’t mind eating more of until it’s become your main course. It’s also obviously pretty farfetched, and that’s what it had to be: a meta-fiction of literature and literary tropes to talk about the futility of literature to take the place of life. Also, I don’t know if you caught this, but the writer of the novel is Henry himself: it’s the book he has in mind in the last chapter. And Henry is also a character in this novel, and I wrote the novel, and the “I” of Henry is, to some degree, the “I” of me, as well. So, we’re trying for worlds-within-worlds with this novel, or words-within-words, all of which to talk about multi-realities.
INTERVIEW WITH THE INDIE SPOTLIGHT, August 2012 (excerpt)
How long did it take to write the book?
The novel was written largely over a period of several years in the ’00s, with minor adjustments in the ’10s; however, the bulk of the manuscript was written in 2005-2006.
What inspired you to write the book?
The original inspiration came at me directly in the garb of horror, if you can believe it. I envisioned something of a ghoulish tale centering around two of the existing protagonists, with blood and guts galore, probably stemming from my childhood love of “Weird Tales,” the short stories of Stephen King, the television series “The Twilight Zone.” There’s a only a bit of this retained in the novel, but the vision is, in some ways, central.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
I wish I could say this was a work born of a strict routine. The truth is it was written somewhat on the run, in libraries and coffee shops, my favorite places to work, during available hours. Research was largely as needed: a name here, a detail there. Nothing strenuous.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
Difficult to answer this. Ideally, they’ll be transported to a place of their own personal imagining along with the characters, the settings, the ideas, making a world of the work on their own. At the same time, I think this novel, while not espousing any particular ‘message,’ does have something to say, hopefully of value, about life, literature, and the possibilities of a given moment. Honestly, I think there is something almost parabolic about it, as well, although that wasn’t my intention at the outset.