Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with B.G. Arnold, author of Bone Deep Bonds.
FQ: Have you always enjoyed writing or is it something you’ve discovered recently?
ARNOLD: I've always enjoyed writing, the original stimulus being that I loved being read to as a child, then acquired my own reading skills early and continued to read voluminously, beginning with fairy tales. By the time I was in my teens, I remember reading The Communist Manifesto while riding the train to downtown Chicago. I got looks of disgust from other riders who saw the title, as it was clearly anti-American, but this did not discourage me from reading informational books about other people, places and philosophies. I also remember reading War and Peace as a freshman in high school, not as an assignment, but because I wanted to. My teachers were impressed that I accomplished that, because it was an extremely lengthy novel. In my early twenties I remember reading Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak, titillated by its having been banned from English publication for quite some time. I guess I've always been a 'rebel reader' since I saw myself as a 'maverick' who didn't fit into the popular 'social grooves.' A reaction against my abusive authoritarian father, no doubt. But that's 'reading,' not 'writing.'
My first writings were topics assigned in school and I was recognized for having a talent for it in high school when I was elected as Associate Editor for the school newspaper, having displayed my abilities as a 'columnist' in earlier editions. Then at home, I did what would now be termed, "journaling." Unfortunately I no longer possess any of those writings.
True to form, while I was at college, I again wrote in the school paper as a 'rebel.' The college’s roots were in Methodism, and weekly compulsory chapel had to be adhered to, or the penalty was an additional credit hour required for every unexcused absence. I balked at their restrictions, and wrote an article for the school paper (which I was surprised they published) about the fact that smoking was allowed in the boys’ dormitories, but not in the girls’. I was a smoker at the time and broke rules to exit the dorm after-hours, smoking outside their doors. I was put on 'strict social probation,' which essentially meant I had to return to the dorm after every class and sign in, and could not receive any 'social' phone calls through the desk, except from my parents.
So, my earliest writings were in the form of speaking out for what I considered 'my rights.' Then when I was a young mother, (three children born within four years), as they developed interests, I would sometimes make up 'fairy tales' for them, usually with an incorporated 'message' about what behavior was in their best interests to maintain.
It wasn't until my return to college where I was encouraged by my English Lit professor, that I began writing essays, short stories, poetry, for submission to college publications. This followed me into my professional career as a Family Therapist, wherein I wrote a weekly Q & A parental advice column in the local newspaper. Following that I turned to creative writing, sporadically writing and submitting various forms to area contests and literary magazines.
FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ?
ARNOLD: I've tried to establish a discipline of designated writing times, but that doesn't seem to work for me, so I write when I'm inspired to do so. However, once I've got a good start on a 'project,' I can urge myself to go back to it in a more disciplined fashion, carrying it through until it ends.
FQ: Which do you find easier, starting a story, or writing the conclusion?
ARNOLD: Starting a story, like a bud bursting forth on a tree. It just 'happens' in the course of nature. I don't have in mind a conclusion until I write myself into a 'logical' ending that evolves from all that transpired in the plot and its characters before it.
FQ: Do you have any plans to try writing a book in a different genre? If so, which genre and why?
ARNOLD: Yes, I have in mind a 'fictional memoir' written in chapters with different animals representing different character traits and times from my life. The chapters could be read separately as "Animal Tales." Such as timidity - a squirrel, playfulness, an otter, not fitting in - zebra with stripes running the wrong way, etc.
FQ: As a writer, what famous author (living or dead), would you like to have dinner with, and why?
ARNOLD: That's really hard to say, because as different stages of writing emerge from me, I gravitate toward writers in that genre. Although I'd say that presently, my choice would be Jodi Picoult, in part because I find similarities in our writing styles and subjects, so that my reading of her numerous successful novels serves as a model for what I hope to achieve. And she's contemporary, has written 12 million dollars’ worth of novels, proof that she reaches many readers, which is what I'd like to do - not for the money, but for connecting so strongly with potential readers.
Though, let's face it, as an emerging author at 83, I won't have the time left in this life to write many more novels. Which is an incentive to write more poetry, less storytelling. If I could have dinner with a famous poet, I would choose W.B. Yeats, as he had a tremendous impact on my reading and writing poetry from college age onward.
FQ: If you were to teach a class on the art of writing, what is the one item you would be sure to share with your students and how would you inspire them to get started?
ARNOLD: I would direct them to a 'self-inventory' about what they find they have the deepest passion about. Then play with a structure that best conveys their feelings about that passion. It could be anywhere from haiku poetry to novel-length prose. Then I'd have them exercise with each of their possible chosen forms, and find what best expresses what they hope to say to their readers. Of course, for longer literary forms, they would only write the very beginning, whereas they might contain all of their passion in a short form, such as a poem. To me poetry is the best form for conveying 'passions,' because the use of metaphors distills the passion more immediately, much like a visual artist does. I have written a memoir in poetry form, and might seek its publication. We'll see.
FQ: Was the plot of Bone Deep Bonds worked out completely before you started or did it evolve as you wrote?
ARNOLD: I definitely don't have the plotline worked out before I start, although I have the major characters 'semi-defined' in my head as I start. But then the characters take me places I never imagined. In Bone Deep Bonds, for example, my characters wound up taking me to Baltimore, MD, where I had never been. I tried to 'get out of there,' but my characters had the upper hand. Unfortunately that led me to having to do some research; I'm certain the geography isn't accurate, although my Chief Editor (Nick) and my first assistant editor (Kyle) felt that I didn't need to give 'real' information about where the characters were in the city, how to get there, etc.
FQ: Tell us about your favorite character and why that person is your favorite.
ARNOLD: That's the hardest question to answer. As the characters developed, they came to mean a lot to me, for different reasons. Jane, the social worker, is the one I most identify with, as I was a social worker (counselor) and once worked in a Battered Woman's Shelter as the Children's Specialist. And like her, I continually try to create 'order out of chaos,' for myself and others. The 'savior complex.' I came to admire Dave, the 'rescuing father,' for his Christian kindness, perseverance and zeal in finding his son, and Brian, for his innocence and forbearance of being a 'prisoner,' with no understanding of what was unfolding in his life, for Owen because of his quirky fortitude in taking one step after another, in spite of not knowing where he was going, David (Hopkins) for really trying to help Dave, in spite of his transgressions which sometimes collided with what was best for the 'good guys,' and more... The only character I have no sympathy for is the arch-villain, Phillip, who very seldom exhibited kindness, unless it paid off for him, such as with 'his boys.' I really don't have a favorite. They're all interdependent, so that the lines between them sometimes blur, and no one wins the contest for me.