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Author Interview: Scott Fad

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Rebecca Jane Johnson is talking with Scott Fad, author of King of Nod.

FQ: This amazing epic novel is over 700 pages long; how long did it take you to write it? What did your writing process look like? Do the story ideas come to you as scenes; or, do the characters speak to you?

FAD: I originally spent a year and a half working on nothing else but the book and then an additional few years in my spare time editing it into shape. The first draft was about 2,000 pages long, so it needed quite a bit of trimming. A lot of reshaping.

The writing process itself evolved over time. I started out writing in long-hand on yellow pads and then transcribing to the computer. Eventually, I got comfortable creating directly on the screen. And finally, I started formatting the screen to look like an actual page from a book. Writing the original draft was something I just treated like a job. Get up, do the morning routine, and then sit down and get to work writing – sit and make yourself do the work. Get your thoughts on the page and don’t worry if it’s good because you will certainly be coming back to it and either keep it, reject it, or work it into shape. When I needed a bit of inspiration I’d either go on a hike with a cigar or read something or go hit the punching bag. Anything to get the brain out of its rut.

The creative process is an interesting one – and I think will always be something of a mystery. The ideas come from just about anywhere – and at anytime. You get an inspiration out of the blue and make sure you jot it down. I worked with an outline, but the outline was constantly changing as the ideas developed. New characters emerged. New story lines. And yes, the characters spoke to me – though I didn’t always listen to what they wanted. They definitely became real people. They still are real people.

FQ: The epic nature of this novel allows you to cover so much ground; it contains a sweeping variety of themes, histories, dramas, and situations; what topic comes easily to you to write, and what topics feel more challenging? For instance, was it easier to write the romance between Boo and Gussie compared to writing Laylee Colebriar’s run-in with Klansmen?

FAD: What’s easiest – if any of it could be called ‘easy’ – are the conversations and other interactions between the characters. You know them, their personalities, their desires and fears, weaknesses and strengths – and so, when they interact with each other it’s just a matter of letting your imagination run with it. How is so-and-so going to act in this situation?

More challenging for me was stepping into geographies and cultures that are more outside of my personal experience. I didn’t know the Carolina low country that well. The Gullah culture and it’s history. Local politics. Local flora and fauna. Things like that required extensive research. You want to get it right. You want to honor it. And you want the reader to stay engaged because you’re making it as authentic as possible.

The Boo and Gussie romance was very personal to me. Writing about it was emotional. I felt what they were feeling. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I certainly felt very connected to it. The violence that Laylee and others faced was challenging – but necessary. The “magic realism” in the book was maybe most challenging – creating situations and actions that maybe fall outside our normal day-to-day experience and doing so in a way that maintains that suspension of disbelief for the reader. Looking for that balance of the believable and the unbelievable and always giving the reader the chance to grab hold of a plausible explanation to even the most bizarre of happenings.

FQ: What, if any, ethical standards are important for fiction authors to consider when writing about violence?

Author Scott Fad

FAD: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think ethics have anything to do with. I do think there is a standard; however, and that is to be authentic. There’s violence in the world. There are vile people. Unless you’re living under a rock, at some point you’re almost certain to be confronted with it. If you’re trying to write an authentic book – and not some Disney cartoon – you don’t shy away from it. What you don’t do – or, at least what I didn’t do – is glorify it. You don’t present it as an acceptable way to behave. You present it in all it’s blatant horror and vileness and honestly address its consequences. As much violence as there is in the story, it’s a very anti-violent book. Violence is rightly vilified.

FQ: This novel confronts the history of racism and how it impacted Sweetpatch Island, and characters in the novel express their perspective on this question, but for you as the author, do you feel that race relations have improved, worsened, or stayed the same since you wrote the first edition of this novel?

FAD: I think it’s gotten better in some ways and worse in others. I’ll be 64 next month. I’ve seen a lot. I am hugely gratified to see the paradigm of our society is now one that recognizes racism is a poison, and we rightly vilify those who embrace racism – we’ve marginalized such people. They exist, but the mainstream rejects that thinking. That’s worlds better than when I was young.

What’s gotten worse – or at least what’s still left to be done – is that race is frequently and freely used to beat each other over the head. My hope had been that we would have achieved that color-blind society we all expected by this point in our history. But, that’s not the case.

Since first writing the novel, we’ve now had a Black president. You can’t deny that kind of progress. But it’s a slow progress. The work continues.

FQ: Who are some of your favorite authors, or favorite books, especially those writing in the Southern Gothic genre?

FAD: Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon was a significant inspiration. Same with Cormac McCarthy. I never purposely sought out Southern Gothic works. I haven’t read much William Faulkner or Flannery O’Conner, for example, but I suppose I’ll get around to it. I didn’t start King of Nod with the idea of writing a Southern Gothic, it just turned out to be one – or so they tell me.

My tastes are all over the map. Some favorite writers are Pat Conroy, Nelson DeMille, Peter Straub, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury. I loved the Harry Potter books. In my early years, I read every Steven King book as soon as it hit the stores. I still read Steven King. Steinbeck and Fitzgerald and Hemmingway. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. All of Ian Flemming’s James Bond novels. Anne Rice. Kurt Vonnegut. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Chales Dickens. Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Shirley Jackson. Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone.

FQ: Today’s readers are often characterized as having short attention spans; do you agree with this, or do you feel there is an enthusiastic audience seeking to read epic novels?

FAD: Does size matter? Look at the length of the Harry Potter books and several of Steven King’s books. I think there’s an audience, but yes, I’ve gotten flak on the length – which honestly mystifies me. There’s been some on-line chatter about it that frankly comes across as moronic. The reasons people cite, the rules they’ve made up. These are people who claim to be avid readers and book lovers. I don’t know, maybe they’ve had some bad experiences.

We talked about splitting King of Nod into multiple books – and I actually re-wrote it into three separate books at one point. In the end, we decided it works best as one big fat epic. If someone would rather read a shorter book, then by all means go for it. I don’t get it. But, it’s great to have choices.

In my own experience, some of the longer books I’ve read have tended to draw me deeper into their world. You get through it, if it’s good, you don’t want it to end. I didn’t want Steven King’s The Stand to end. I loved those people. That’s what I was hoping to achieve.

FQ: If this novel were made into a film or a streamed series, what actors could you see playing the roles of Boo Taylor, Gussie Dutton, Royal Goody, and Laylee Colebriar? I can clearly picture them in my mind, but would love to know what the author imagines.

FAD: Those conversations are actually happening – we’re in the early stages with some heavy-duty film people, so I really can’t reveal too much just now. I might piss somebody off. Although, like you, I have my thoughts on the matter.

I suppose I can tell you that very, very, very early on – back in the 90’s when the ideas for the book first started to take shape - I was seeing Bruce Willis as Boo and Renee Russo for Gussie. Denzel Washington for Royal. Cicely Tyson for Laylee. But like me, we’ve all gotten older.

I’d be very interested in hearing your ideas!

FQ: One of your characters, Royal Goody, at one point in the book contemplates what it might take to be a peacemaker in a world that seems to have no desire for peace. Can you reflect on this sentiment here for us in today’s real world? Outside of the world of fiction, is there hope for the peacemaker?

FAD: The book is hopeful. I’m hopeful. It feels like the divisions are tearing the world apart, but maybe that’s just the media – social and otherwise – doing their best to rile us up. And maybe the wing-nuts at the extremes are just yelling the loudest. The vast majority of people I know are not idealogues. They’re practical and peace-loving and just want everyone to get along. When you get in a room together and have a dispassionate conversation, most (but not all) of us can reach common ground pretty much on anything. I believe that.

FQ: This novel portrays characters who are burdened with family legacies of hatred and violence. What do you hope the reader might take away from the ways this novel handles the topics of vengeance, forgiveness, and social justice?

FAD: Honestly, I view the novel first and foremost as a love story – one that just happens to be occurring in the backdrop of a particularly tumultuous time in a particular geography. It’s a story of redemption – which can be both personal and societal. There is a path to healing age-old wounds. The misdeeds of the past don’t need to define us. They don’t need to doom our futures to more of the same. I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but when you get there (if you do) you should have a clear idea of what I hope you take away.

FQ: Are you working on another epic novel? If not, we know you are also a blackbelt, a boxer, and an accomplished artist, enough pastimes to keep you quite busy—what brings you joy these days?

FAD: Right now, I’m working on the screenplay. And fishing and working out and spending time with friends and family. I’ve got a few more books lined up – one of which has got a good head of steam to it. Some of the characters overlap with King of Nod. I’ll be doing my best to keep this one under 700 pages.

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