GOOD MORNING,LAUREN, AND WELCOME TO MY BOOK ADDICTION AND MORE TODAY…
MBA: Tell us the story behind the story. How did OUR DAILY BREAD come to be?
One of the things I’ve been troubled by in the past few years is the increasing polarization I see around me. It pops up in any number
of places – religion, politics both local and international, public rhetoric,
the media, etc. We don’t have to look far for examples – perhaps no farther than our prisons, or the town next door, or even in our own families.
I write to figure out what I think about things and to attempt to find meaning. I try to find metaphors in which to explore my feelings and thoughts on what obsesses me.
As I pondered my concerns about the ever-widening gaps I noticed around me, a story from my past keep rising to the surface. I lived in Nova Scotia for a brief time in 1972-1973. While there, I heard stories about a community up on a nearby mountain. They were terrible stories,
involving incest, aborted and deformed babies, prostitution, bootlegging and so forth. I told myself these dreadful tales couldn’t be true. I believed, naively, that if they were true, surely someone would have done something about it. Then, in the early 1980s one of the children of the Goler clan told her story of generational abuse to a teacher. This teacher came from another province and hadn’t been in Nova Scotia very long. She in turn called an RCMP officer, who also hadn’t been in the community for very long. They insisted an investigation begin and eventually many of the clan adults were in jail and the children in foster care.
I was horrified, but also mystified. If all those rumors were true, why had it taken so long for someone to intervene? Well, the answer seemed to be that the people who lived on the mountain had, for generations, been considered “Those People” as in “What do you expect from those
people?” The people who lived in the prosperous Annapolis Valley nearby, in communities founded hundreds of years earlier on Puritanical religious principles, believed their neighbors were so “Other” as to be beyond the pale.
The extreme marginalization of the community and the terrible repercussions of ostracism haunted me and it seemed the perfect framework to explore how such ordinary people could do such dreadful things, or permit such dreadful things to continue.
I have had several instances in my own life of feeling like the “Other.” Although I explore the theme more personally in my previous novel, THE STUBBORN SEASON, in which a young girl battles the tyranny of living with a mentally ill mother during the Great Depression, in OUR DAILY BREAD the character of Ivy Evans is based one of my own experiences
with marginalization. My family, afflicted by mental illness and alcoholism, was going through a rough time the summer I was nine. I was an only child, and adopted, and rather bookish and prone to making up stories, all of which helped to make me ‘Other’ in the eyes of some of the children in the neighborhood. That summer, a lady who owned a little antique shop near my house let me hang around the store. I’m sure she never knew just how much that meant to me, but it was a refuge from loneliness and bullying and I’ve never forgotten it.
MBA: What was the most challenging aspect of writing OUR DAILY BREAD?
Researching the Goler Clan was gruesome and much of the actual abuse I decided to leave out of the book or water down. It was simply
too graphic, too horrible to be included. What works for non-fiction often is too savage for fiction, and becomes merely sensational. It was most
difficult reading the accounts and watching old news footage. It was quite a challenge to find the fine line between drawing an accurate portrait of such communities, and not sliding over into salaciousness.
Then,too, because the community I created, which is utterly fictional, is infected with a particular sort of religious zealotry, I spent months listening to and reading sermons of a particularly disturbing variety in which self-proclaimed Christians call down the fire of hell on those people who don’t believe as they do. As someone who finds, as Elaine Pagels once said, “the glimmer and possibility of Spirit in the symbols of Christianity,” it was rough going. One particular piece of irony was that the printer my publisher initially chose to print the advance review copies refused to do so saying they were “very conservative Christians” who wouldn’t print anything which might offend their friends,neighbors or colleagues. They rather made my point for me, alas.
MBA: What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
Robert Benchley once said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t.” I agree with him. We live in a time of extreme polarization on many levels. Unless we see ourselves in our neighbors; unless we focus on our similarities and common ground rather than on our differences; unless we seek to be kind to each other, rather than to judge, I fear we are at risk of being consumed by what Carl Jung calls the Shadow. The people who live in the fictional town of Gideon see nothing of themselves in the Erskines who live on North Mountain. Therefore, it is easy to cast them aside. But in casting aside any member of the human family, we cast away something of ourselves. Or, as Pogo, that sage cartoon character,once said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”
MBA: Describe your background.
I was adopted as an infant and raised as an only child in Montreal. I did, however, make contact with my birth mother and father when I was 30 and have remained close with my father and his wife ever since.
It was then I learned I come from a mixed-race heritage, being part
Irish, English and Mohawk.
Always an avid reader, when I was fourteen I discovered two authors—James Agee and Graham Greene. In Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men he wrote about sharecroppers during the Great Depression. His desperation to make the reader understand their plight, and the
intensity of his prose, inspired me to be a writer. With Greene it was his
compassion and his understanding of the human heart.
During my teens and twenties, I turned my hand to poetry, inspired by too much wine, Sylvia Plath and Anaïs Nin. My poems were exceedingly bad and were wisely rejected by the best literary magazines.
Eventually, I moved to Toronto, and it was there that I met my husband, Ron. In 1994 we relocated to France and stayed for ten years, living first in the Alps and then in Paris. In France, liberated for the first time from working for the rent money, I concentrated on writing and realized just how much I had to learn. I enrolled in a distance education program first with Indiana University and after that in Humber College’s Mentor Program, where I worked with Timothy Findley, one of Canada’s greatest writers. He and his partner, Bill Whitehead, were incredibly generous, and we became friends. They helped me wrangle my short stories into something readable, and in 2000 I published a collection called Rat Medicine & Other Unlikely Curatives (Mosaic Press). The novel The Stubborn Season (HarperCollins Canada, 2002) came next.
It was also during this period I realized I had inherited the family disease of alcoholism and needed to get sober. I now believe that had I not stopped drinking when I did, I wouldn’t be alive today, let alone writing. Both my half-brothers (my birth father’s sons) committed suicide as a result of addiction, one on Easter Sunday and one on Good Friday, 12 years apart. An essay I wrote about their deaths, APRIL IS
THE CRUELEST MONTH (http://www.laurenbdavis.com/blog/?p=43) has been well-published, as has an essay I wrote about my own addiction—WHEN THERE’S NO SKY LEFT (http://www.laurenbdavis.com/blog/?p=133).
I was living in Paris, working on The Radiant City on September 11,
2001. As a result of that day’s terrible events, what had begun as a book about wanderers and dreamers in Paris took on a new direction and the character of war correspondent Matthew Bowles was born.
Ron and I moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in 2004. I love living here, even with the rather strident political posturing. Best of all, I have a room of my own to work in, overlooking our pond and garden. I write daily, with occasional interruptions from deer, rabbits, owls, squirrels, mice, frogs, snakes and the need to walk our rescue dog, Bailey. I have been teaching writing at a men’s prison in New Jersey; for the past three years I’ve been involved in an organization called, People & Stories, which bring literature to marginalized populations—in my case incarcerated or recently paroled individuals. As well, I lead monthly writing workshops,
called SHARPENING THE QUILL.
MBA: Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
I am not a great outliner. I have a friend who storyboards his entire novel before writing the first sentence. That would be like painting by numbers to me. I’d be bored stiff. I write to discover what I think about a thing. I begin with character, always, and when I feel I know the character well enough—what they yearn for, why they can’t get it, what they don’t know about themselves, etc. —I start writing. Round about page fifty, an end
scene pops into my head and I’ll jot it down, making particular note of the
emotions of the scene. Inevitably, as I continue writing, that end scene changes – different people, different place,different outcome even – but the atmosphere, the emotional resonance of the scene never does. When I’ve got a handle on the emotional echo of that last scene, I know I’ve got a book.
I write daily. I’m a fairly early riser for a writer, at about seven o’clock. Cup of coffee in hand, I start work by eight-thirty. I work a regular “business” day; a discipline which I suspect is the result of many years spent as an office worker. If I’m writing a novel it must go forward by 500 words each day.Often, of course, I write more than that, and since I start every day rereading previous sections and deleting a great deal of it, it’s probably more like 1,500 words each day. Writing is a practice, like meditation or prayer. You have to keep at it, day after day, even when it seems like absolutely nothing good is happening. Perhaps, especially then.
MBA: What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
At present I’m reading a great number of fairy tales, in preparation for my next book. I’m also reading ANAM CARA, by John O’Donohue
(doled out in wee bits each morning), FROM ALTAR TO CHIMNEY-PIECE (selected stories) by Mary Butts, and a stack of books ranging from ONE WRITER’S IMAGINATION, the fiction of Eudora Welty
by Suzanne Marrs, and ON THE NIGHT PLAIN by J. Robert Lennon, to CYRIL CONNOLLY: A LIFE by Jeremy Lewis and Georges Simenon’s THE STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE.
MBA: Which authors inspire you?
Alistair MacLeod,Gabrielle Roy, James Agee, Jane Gardam, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, Timothy Findlay, Pers Petterson, Kent Haruf, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor. . .This list could become absurdly long and is in constant flux.
MBA: What have you learned from this experience?
On a deeper level than before writing the book, I learned that I am, indeed, my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper, and that when I respond to traits in others with judgment,self-righteousness and disdain, they are probably traits I carry somewhere in myself.
MBA: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Read everything, write every day and don’t worry about marketing, agents, publishers or publicists until you’ve actually written a book.
MBA: What are you working on now?
Well, that would be telling, but I will say it’s a novel addressing the suicides of my two brothers, and told as a modern-day fairy tale.
I write to make sense and meaning of things, and as difficult as it will
be to write, I feel it’s necessary. And right now I’m also working on an essay for the Serving House Journal on aging, in which I shall try to sound wise and hope my friends won’t laugh too loudly.
Where can you and your books be found:
Buy the Book
LAUREN B. DAVIS
Wordcraft of Oregon
Thanks to Connor at Kelley and Hall Publicty we are offering 4 print copies of Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis.Open to U.S. and Canada residents. No P.O. Boxes, please. Giveaway runs from today September 29,until October 6, 2011.
GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!!
OUR DAILY BREAD by Lauren B.
Davis is an interesting general fiction set in the North Mountain of Gideon. It has child abuse,violence, bullies, gossip,rumors,innuendoes,family crisis,secrets, psychological conflict.This is a complex story that is inspired by a true story.The characters are engaging, memorable,and emotionally complex. This is the story of the Erskine Clan,who have been shunned be the people of
Gideon,live in secrecy and isolation,while their children endure unthinkable things. This story is a thought provoking story of Mountain people,the townspeople around them and their lives. When Albert Erskine decides to befriend Bobby Evans,it creates events that are not only unexpected but may also cause dire events. An interesting story with complex people and emotions.This book
received for the purpose of review from Kelley & Hall Book Publicity and the publisher.Details can be found at Wordcraft of Oregon.
REVIEWED BY: April Renn