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Q. You have stated that THE TURNING is the first book of a trilogy, but clearly it was not written first. How did that come about?

A. Actually, THE TURNING was written last. In Light’s Delay, which was published in 1989, was written first but it’s the second book in the trilogy. I wrote In Light’s Delay over the course of fourteen months in the late 60s. I had dropped out of the University of Oregon to follow my girlfriend, now my wife, to Mexico City, where she was an exchange student, and I started writing in notebooks down there, not having anything better to do. It wasn’t too smart to drop out, by the way, because I lost my student exemption and this was just before they started the lottery, so I immediately became eligible for the draft, and, of course, good citizen that I was [grinning], I notified my draft board within ten days of moving, and I got called up for a physical. Fortunately I failed, so I wound up not going to Vietnam and when the year ended and I came back to Eugene I’d finished the novel. This was in February of 1969. It took almost twenty years after that to get the book published—and the journey was so rigorous I don’t think I have the energy to relive it now but eventually it involved suing a publisher to get the book back into my own hands.

Q. What’s the other book in the trilogy?

A. The third book was written second and it’s unpublished. I haven’t looked at it in quite a few years although I’ve been thinking about it recently. [Laughs.] I’m coming up on the twenty- or maybe it’s the thirty-year anniversary. That’s a book—it was provisionally titled THE ECHOES OF OUR TWO HEARTS—that was written over a seven or so year span during my days as a graduate student in Berkeley. So roughly during the 70s. Vicki and I were in Berkeley from 1971 to 1978. We got there just after all the excitement had died down. So that’s a novel of the seventies. It’s going to take some work to get it into shape because it wanders all over the place and is told in alternating chapters from two points of view. I must have worked on it in Chicago, as well, because I know it has scenes set there, as well as in New York and Europe, so I was using my life as I wrote.

Q. So when did you get to THE TURNING?

A. I’d been thinking about THE TURNING for probably ten years before I sat down and wrote the book. I’m not sure why it took so long. I know at one point I did sit down and write out a one-page plot summary, but that was it for quite some time. I think I let it build up in me until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and one summer I just sat down—this must have been about five years ago—and over a twelve day span of time it poured out in a steady flow. It was a quick book. But then I sat it aside and didn’t do much with it for a few years. Each summer, when the university year ended, I would take it out for a week or so, read it again, and add a few pages to it. In time it grew from an initial length of about 120 pages to its current length of 170 pages.

Q. What did you add in the revisions?

A. Well, eventually I had some friends read the book and everyone seemed to feel they wanted a confrontation with the father. In the first version I didn’t have the final scene where Artie and Colleen run into his dad at the lover’s lane. So that surreal scene near the end is one addition. Most of the other things were smaller thematic points, trying to provide a sense of continuity since the story is so episodic. There’s a lot that happens in this one night. It’s almost as if time stops or at the very least is compressed. I prefer to think of it as magical, which is how it feels to the main character. The difficulty for me in writing the conclusion was walking the line between adolescent fantasy and realism. I know there’s quite a range in the novel from fairly harsh scenes, particularly those where Artie reminisces about his father, to fairly fantastic ones, obviously those with Colleen, but if I had to interpret them from a psychological point of view, entering the mind of Artie, let’s say, as if he were the author of the story, I’d simply say, look, this is a kid who’s been brutalized to a certain extent and needs to take refuge in fantasy. Let the guy have his dream. For me, as author (forget Artie, for the moment!), THE TURNING represents the moment of innocence before the fall, when hope is still alive, when the dream is real. After the fall, well, that’s a stage that I dramatized in the second book in the trilogy, In Light’s Delay, which, by the way, if I can put in a plug here, is still in print. And if there’s any possibility of redemption to be found in love, that’s a question I deal with in THE ECHOES OF OUR TWO HEARTS.

Q. You talked of Artie as author and then of yourself. How much of yourself is in this book?

A. Well, there are a lot of ways one could answer that question, one being that everything in every book I’ve ever written is all me. That makes it sound as if I’m schizoid, doesn’t it, or at the very least massively egoistic! Or perhaps I’m being simplistic—or avoiding the question. So let me start over. I don’t know if anyone would ever have noticed this (which means I probably shouldn't mention it) but Artie’s name is actually R.T., my initials. And there’s a big deal made about names, where he actually spells out his name since everyone in the family has a name that’s informal, like a nickname. And that mirrors the situation in my real family. But apart from that none of the episodes in the novel actually occurred as narrated. I didn’t go out to a lover’s lane, meet a beautiful girl, swim across the Sandy River, and go ride on a Ferris wheel! Darn. And I didn’t go out to a stranger’s pigpen in the middle of the night and slaughter a pig dying of a heart attack. But now I can turn those same episodes around and say this: I have slaughtered a pig dying of a heart attack after trying to load it in a pickup. I have snuck down to a lover’s lane on the Sandy River in the night and stumbled on a tent with a woman and her daughter camping out at night, and so forth. So, one borrows and shapes and transforms and in that sense there’s a lot of me in the book and, at the same time, not much. And let me add this. I’ve dedicated this book, in part, to my classmates at Gresham High School, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon, and I’ve borrowed and merged names for some of the characters but none of them did the things in this novel. I hope they don’t try to guess, "hey, who was it who did this?" because they’ll be wrong and I don’t want them thinking, let’s see, his best friend was so and so and he has this guy stealing an antenna from the principal! It didn’t happen guys! It’s fiction!

Q. You’ve talked about THE ECHOES OF OUR TWO HEARTS. Do you have any other writing projects you’re working on?

A. Well, as an academic, I’m always divided between what I’d like to do, which is write fiction, and what I have to do to survive, which is research. Right now, I’m trying to combine the two. My current project is a novel of suspense set, in part, in Italy during World War II. An OSS agent goes undercover in Rome late in the war in an effort to infiltrate Mussolini’s secret police, the OVRA. That makes for some interesting research—and, I hope, an interesting novel. I'm also thinking about doing a sequel to The Turning, provisionally titled The Shot. If I do that, it would be the second half of the story, part of that novel really. I'd still have the trilogy of The Turning, In Light's Delay's, and The Echoes of Our Two Hearts, but the first book in the trilogy would be a bit longer. The Shot would carry the story from this one summer night into the winter of Artie's junior year in high school. That's all I'm going to say about it right now because I agree with those who claim it's not good to talk about things in depth before you've written them; it dissipates the energy. So let's save that for another time--when I've finished the book!

Interview taped September 6, 2000, Tucson, Arizona. Questions asked by Newton Sanders, Publisher, Desert Bloom Press.

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