Thursday, August 27, 2020
Monday, August 10, 2020
We asked Christine some questions about the new book, "The Woman in the Willow," available for pre-order here. These are her answers. This is an exclusive interview not found anywhere else. © Christine Dente and Christine Dente Blogspot, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
We know you as an amazing writer already from your work with Out of the Grey. What made you decide to go from writing short verses of poems vs. pages and pages of writing set around a character, plot, etc. How are the two different in how you approach the writing?
Although songwriting has been my creative outlet most of my life, I have always enjoyed writing essays and short pieces for fleshing out things I think about. I started my blog, "Finding Life in the Bigger Story" (christinedenteoutofthegrey.com), to explore more of the literal side of life. Thanks to this new “job,” I was writing prose consistently and my childhood dream of writing a novel seemed possible for the first time.
James and the Giant Peach was the story that first stirred my love of fiction. As an adult, I grew to love literary fiction. The decisive push for trying my hand at fiction was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which challenged me to write 50,000 words in the month of November, 2018. I wrote every day to achieve that word count and my book, The Woman in the Willow, found its first draft.
Writing is hard, whether a song or a story. Sometimes, starting is hardest. Other times it’s the finishing that snarls the process. Even the middle parts of muddling through with craft and sweat can be excruciating. With songs, I can be loose on details and vague on intent, rely on images and rhymes to convey a message, let the listener interpret much of the meaning.
But a novel needs action, description, conversation, theme, and symbolism. And most of all, good characters with a story to tell. I worked really hard for a year to deliver all of these necessities, getting it as good as I could with help from a developmental editor and a fine-tuning line editor.
The natural world was my escape as a kid. Climb-able trees, stray cats, and baby birds drew me outside to that wonderful and comforting world. These days, my happiest place is my backyard haven. The small stretch of lawn, woods, and sky behind my house forms the backdrop of my meditative and creative life. With the robins, my mind hops along the mundane earth, scanning for life-giving morsels hidden an inch below the surface. With the hummingbirds and cardinals, my heart flits among the flowers and branches, catching flashes of joy in common places.
The natural world fuels my soul and stirs the creative impulse. And it sets the stage for the story of an isolated older woman who wonders what she is becoming. The narrative asks, Can an old woman flower and flow, despite her heart’s instinct to tighten and close?
The willow tree is an icon from my youth: a mysterious neighbor, Old Mrs. Zook, appeared occasionally beneath her willow tree. As a child, I glimpsed her across the gravel lot that connected our houses. Her austere dresses and tightly contained hair—always up in a traditional Mennonite bun—created the impression of a stiff old woman. However, the graceful weeping willow tree that shrouded her lawn drew me with its mystery. I once discovered Old Mrs. Zook standing beneath the tree in a cottony nightgown, brushing her freshly washed, silver-grey hair. It flowed long and lovely as the willow branches under which she hovered. That picture of the woman in the willow, one of grace and ageless beauty, enchanted my ten-year-old soul and touches me still.
The Woman in the Willow is the story of an older woman named Catherine Hathaway who hides away in her backyard haven. The willow tree at the creek’s edge enchants and animates her life, its branches pivotal to the story’s climax. You’ll have to read it to find out why.
We all sometimes put up fences around us to keep out what we think we don't want or need. I love the idea that this story seems to project that we can change and become something new and different, no matter what stage of life we are in. We are always growing and learning. How has Catherine's story impacted your own story of 'Becoming.’?
I wrote this story because Old Age is creeping up on me. Knowing my tendency to isolate with fences and gates, I wonder what I will become in twenty years. Catherine challenges me to stay open and flexible like a willow tree, truly becoming in the place God plants me. WithI was free to try on a character, to create a drama exploring her choices, to search for the sage who ages with grace and wisdom.
I have always been an album liner note reader, looking at the finer details of how the overall album came together. The same with books. I love to know how authors choose their character names and places in the story and how the finer details came together. How do you pick names and such, and is this the fun part? What other details from the book stand out to you?
Catherine’s lovable little dog, Percy, is a big part of the story. He resembles my own little mutt a lot, although my Josie is a she.
Cathy is the name of a childhood friend who lived near me on Hathaway Road. I put those two favorite names together to create my protagonist, Catherine Hathaway.
Some of young Catherine’s childhood resembles mine but her story is an amalgam of situations I knew of or could imagine happening.
Her teaching anecdotes come from some of my elementary school memories. Her love of learning and teaching resembles my own as a homeschooling mom.
Her mother, Carla Hathaway, is exactly as I pictured her: cigarette bouncing on her lips as she issues her commands to her cowering daughter.
The precocious little girl, Tazzy, feels quite alive to me—as real as all of the five-year-olds I've known.
Her mother, Patty, and the brother, Patrick, fill out the narrative with their distinctive yet universally recognizable personalities.
What are you currently reading and who are some of your favorite authors?
Lily King is a new favorite author with books like, Euphoria and Writers and Lovers.
What was it like to narrate your own book with Scott? How does it feel to hear Catherine's story come alive in the spoken word and be able to share it out loud with others?
I have enjoyed recording the audio book with Scott. He is a good recording engineer and an excellent producer. In fact, he was integral in the editing process of my book. Along with my daughters and my friend, Diane, Scott read and reread several drafts, adding constructive insights and criticisms.
Like listening to a just-finished Out of the Grey record, hearing my story recorded in my voice is a mix of satisfied smiles and cringing sighs. As it is with being a songwriter and recording artist, the author in me had to put perfectionism to bed and let the work of art grow up and speak for itself.
Do you have a favorite quote from the book?
It’s a long section but I love Catherine’s take on her dog, Percy:
"Catherine reckoned Percy didn’t mind the new fence. It helped him avoid those guilty moments returning from a chase that had taken him far into neighboring yards. He knew his boundaries. He always returned penitent, finding her, arms on hips, in confirmation of his shame. Yes, before the wall and gate arrived, asking permission to chase a trespassing possum or follow his nose toward the road never occurred to him. Asking forgiveness was his specialty. Even when he lunged at other dogs while walking on a leash in the neighborhood, she chose her soft-focus lens. Her love for him was nearsighted, if not blind, like a parent’s view that their undisciplined kid is somehow cute."
You've created this world of Catherine Hathaway that we will soon be able to delve into. What do you hope your readers take away overall from "The Woman in the Willow?" Will there be another book?
Great question! I hope that readers will be swept up in the flow of Catherine’s life despite her flood of suffering. May they recognize the grace that comes on the heels of a sad little girl named Tazzy. Like Catherine, readers can discover the choice to either close their hearts when the world pounds against them, or to stay open and go with whatever the weather delivers.
Yes, there will be another book as I continue to write and explore the next story hiding out in my head and heart!