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unpublished.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
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