I have a treat for my readers today. Gwen Stephens, from the 4 A.M. Writer, has stopped by to ask a few questions about my recently released novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight. We grabbed a bottle of wine and made our way out to the cliff deck to admire the view as we chatted.
Gwen: The characters of Disappearing in Plain Sight struggle with a wide range of issues: alcoholism, infidelity, promiscuity, to name a few. Your background in professional counselling made me wonder if your characters are a composite of clients you’ve worked with in the past.
Me: Maybe, probably – yes and no – it’s a tough question to answer. By virtue of getting to a certain stage in life, anyone of us has interacted with, been close to, or loved people who experience a wide range of challenges when it comes to coping.
Counsellors, because of the type of work they do, hear a great many stories. I think the experience of that kind of focused listening made it possible for me to have a wide imagination for the types of things that can happen to people and how those past events echo into current thoughts and feelings.
The counselling experience may have broadened my perspective, but ultimately, it’s all of a writer’s life that contributes. Does that make any sense?
Gwen: Dan is a misguided Catholic priest whose character traits defy the public stereotype. That made him so much fun to read. In recent years, controversies within the Church have proliferated in the media. Did you draw upon this when creating Dan?
Me: Whew! If this is a common type of question for readers to ask, I might be in trouble. Take a deep breath here, Fran! In a past life – no folks, not that kind of past life – I worked within the Catholic Church as an educator and organizer. Being employed by the Church, as opposed to being a person sitting in the pew every Sunday, is a different reality. You see the people you work with in a different light, you hear stories you might not otherwise hear. The gloves come off, so to speak. No matter where we are employed, I think it’s the same. We get to see an underbelly we wouldn’t normally be exposed to.
Gwen: Liam is one of my favourite characters. He interacts with one of the other characters in a way that many readers would deem inappropriate, if not shocking. As a writer, you took a big risk with this plot thread. Did you grapple with whether or not to include it? Did earlier drafts take a different direction?
Me: Liam’s story arc was set in my mind from the beginning. That is not to say it wasn’t a risky thing to write or that I didn’t struggle to pull it off. There are parts of the book involving him that were rewritten so many times I despaired that I would ever manage to capture the tone and nuances I wanted.
I guess the real challenge was to coax the reader along, slowly revealing the layers of Liam’s character in such a way that when he missteps (which is complicated), you can understand – though not necessarily agree with his logic. He is undeniably the person who will make people think about the concepts of right and wrong.
In Disappearing in Plain Sight, Liam has found a peace of sorts, but it’s based on the fact that he doesn’t have a lot to lose anymore. Up the ante for him, give him a life that he wants desperately to hold onto (The Light Never Lies) and the type of guy he made himself into (quiet, easy-going, non-advice giving) will be sorely tested.
Gwen: Caleb’s untimely death had a deep and lasting impact on Liam, Izzy, and Beulah. From a writing standpoint, why did you decide to include his death as backstory, rather than as a “live” chapter or scene?
Me: One reviewer described Caleb as the moral compass of the group – he’s a strong character, even when you know from the very beginning of the book that he has been dead for two years. It’s only in retrospect of the writing that I realize the answer to this question. I wanted the reader to grapple with the same issues the characters do – Caleb is gone, he isn’t coming back. He’s a man of the past. Life has moved on beyond him.
Gwen: I loved the Lisa-Marie/Justin/Izzy romance triangle for its complicated, unrequited feelings. Can readers look forward to this storyline’s continuation in your sequel, The Light Never Lies?
Me: Most definitely!
A reviewer wrote that Disappearing in Plain Sight, rather than centering on one protagonist, follows a group of people. Many will argue that is no way to write a book. The first character the reader meets should be the main character.
Lisa-Marie jumps to life on the opening pages of Disappearing in Plain Sight and lo and behold, there she is at the beginning of the Light Never Lies, as well. Does that make her the protagonist? I guess time will tell.
Lisa-Marie and Justin’s story isn’t over; then again, neither is Liam and Izzy’s.
The sun has set, and the wine is gone. It’s time for Gwen to head back over to her 4 A.M. Writer blog. I hope you have enjoyed our conversation as much as we have. The only thing you missed was the wine and the view!