Please tell us a little about your new novel.
Red Lightning is the story of Tess Cross, a coyote who has been running immigrants across the American West. The novel opens with a true catastrophe: she’s failed to pick up a particular group of pollos, who are left in the mountains of Colorado. Dying of thirst, they start a signal fire to be found, but the wind whips it into a raging wildfire. Desperate and confused, Tess heads home to the plains of eastern Colorado to see her sister and her child, who she abandoned 10 years ago. The weight of her actions—along with PTSD from a childhood filled with abuse—are cracking her apart. While the wildfire rages and the smoke drifts across the plains, she embarks on a last-ditch effort to make some peace and clean up the mess she’s made. She rediscovers her 10-year old daughter, her dying mother, a reluctant sister---and most importantly, herself.
Point of view is so creative and innovative in this novel. How did you determine that you'd move between first-person and the close third-person sections where Tess is speaking in a kind of poetry-prose hybrid?
I love that you call it a poetry-prose hybrid, because that was my intent. Thank you! In any case, my goal was this: I wanted to render Tess’s disassociative disorder on the page. The bravest thing I could do, in fact, was to be true to the fact that my character simply could not narrate a story in a familiar way, given her state of mind and psychology.
The first drafts were tricky; I kept changing my mind on this matter. I both hated and loved the idea of messing with the narrative and I simply could not decide if introducing a nonstandard device would be disruptive or revealing. In the end, I settled on two big risks. One was an occasional device wherein the text is deeply indented only when my main character, Tess, disassociates from herself. Moreover, the novel is told in first person, but when Tess becomes disembodied, a third person omniscient self floats around and advises her. During these moments, she insists she feels too little, can’t feel any emotions at all, in fact—but the reader suspects that the opposite is true. In fact, she feels too much, and this floating directorial voice is her way of coping. Therein lies the dramatic irony. Within this device, I have small nuances. For example, after a critical scene, this third person becomes first, a signal that she is becoming “reunited” or reintegrated as one self, which is important during the climax, when she needs to disassociate in order to do something horrible—her PTSD finally comes in handy. All this was intentional and carefully constructed. I wanted form to inform content.