Thursday, September 28, 2017

Interview with novelist Carol DeMent

Novelist Carol DeMent joins me today to chat about her new historical mainstream work, Saving Nary.

During her virtual book tour, Carol will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit herother tour stops and enter there, too!

Carol DeMent worked in the field of South East Asian refugee resettlement for seven years, and completed master's level research into international refugee resettlement policy. She lived for two years in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer and has traveled extensively in South East Asia. Her first novel, Saving Nary, was a Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Welcome, Carol. Please share a little bit about your current release.
Saving Nary is the story of a Cambodian refugee searching for his missing daughters. It explores the complexities of wartime loyalties and impossible choices, the bewildering cultural and linguistic challenges of resettling in a new country, and the hesitant journey toward healing from war-induced trauma. Dotted throughout with wry humor, Saving Nary is a compassionate look at what it means to lose- and rediscover-a life, a home, a sense of self.

What inspired you to write this book?
My experiences volunteering to tutor SE Asian refugees in the late 70’s, and later, working in the field of refugee resettlement both provided a strong impetus to write Saving Nary. The more I learned about the Khmer Rouge and the devastating impact their reign had on Cambodia and its people, the more I felt this was a story that merited a wider telling, and I hoped that a novel could provide that vehicle. The following excerpt offers a hint of the Khmer Rouge menace:

Excerpt from Saving Nary:
“Silence that boy,” the soldier had said to his wife on that awful day.
Khieu gathered their son Bunchan into her arms, but how is one to soothe a toddler who cries from hunger when there is no food? Khath, Khieu and their three children had been walking for three days in the heat and humidity, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other refugees inching their way out of Phnom Penh by order of the Khmer Rouge. Already hunger, thirst and exhaustion had thinned their ranks: the elderly and the ill simply dropped along the sides of the road, patiently awaiting the mercy of death.
Given only minutes to prepare for their exodus, the food Khath and his family carried was gone in a day. After that, they bought, scavenged and bartered for whatever nourishment they could find along the way. Now, they stood next in line before a table of grim-faced cadres in the simple uniform of the Khmer Rouge: black cotton shirts and pants with kramas, red-checkered scarves, wound around their heads or necks. The cadres were checking identity papers and quizzing the refugees about their prior occupations.
Bunchan’s incessant crying enraged the soldier. “Silence him or I will,” he warned Khieu.
Khath saw the man’s tight lips and clenched jaw and stepped between his wife and the soldier, doing his best both to shield his family and appease the angry cadre.
“Please,” Khath said. “If you could spare just a few grains of rice. Or perhaps there is some place nearby I could buy or trade for food. I will go immediately. The child is hungry, that’s all.”
Khieu’s frantic attempts to calm Bunchan had the opposite effect. Red faced, the toddler screamed his hunger to the skies above.
The soldier flicked his eyes to one side, turning slightly. Following his gaze, Khath saw a man standing a little apart from the check-point, watching the scene impassively. As Khath waited, his heart thudding inside his chest like the heavy, dread beat of a death knell, he saw the man glance at the position of the sun and cast a look at the road behind Khath, densely packed with men, women and children yet to be processed through the checkpoint.
The man rubbed his left jawline as though he had a toothache, but perhaps it was his ear, missing its earlobe, which was causing the pain. At any rate, he frowned and seemed to come to some sort of decision, for he looked at the soldier and gave a barely perceptible nod.
At that, the soldier moved quickly, brushing past Khath and yanking Bunchan from Khieu’s arms. “You had your chance,” he said to Khieu, and began striding toward a large tree not far off the side of the road, the bawling toddler slung under his arm.
“My baby! Give me my baby!” Khieu screamed and rushed after the soldier, grabbing at Bunchan, whose angry howls had turned to terrified shrieks.
Khath’s daughters, crying, tried to run after their mother but Khath held them back. A terrible dread filled his heart as he watched the scene rapidly unfolding before him for he knew that the Khmer Rouge were ruthless when crossed.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I have two projects on-going at the moment. One is a novel about the cultural impact on a pioneer family of the influx of Chinese mine and railroad workers in the West. Set in Montana in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the story is narrated through the uncensored eyes of a young girl exposed to a new culture at a time of great turmoil in her own family.

The second is a memoir from my years of serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand in the 1980s.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Though I have been “writing” since childhood, it wasn’t until a college research project on the Prohibition Movement ended up being nearly 100 pages that it occurred to me that I might be able to write a full length novel. The techniques I learned then for tracking down information and organizing it have been invaluable to me as I research my books. Joining a serious critique group, the Puget Sound Writers Guild, marked a new level of commitment for me in moving from thinking of myself as a writer to being a writer!

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I currently do not write full time, though in the past I supported myself for ten years as a grant writer. For the last twenty years, I have been a licensed practitioner of East Asian medicine, essentially acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Due to my schedule, I end up usually working on my books in the evening, but I really love to write on rainy days!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Unlike many writers, I do not write every day. Instead, I think and think and think about the story for days until the pressure to write becomes almost unbearable and I head to my computer for a cathartic, stream of consciousness splat upon the page. I literally will “write” entire dialogues and scenes in my head until it all overflows onto the paper.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
After reading “Sue Barton, Student Nurse” I couldn’t wait to grow up and be a nurse, mostly because of the memorable scene of Sue wandering lost in the steam tunnels of the hospital where she was training, and being rescued by a handsome young doctor. Then I wanted to be a dancer while in high school until it became evident that my back was as stiff as a board.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I love hearing from readers about what they thought of Saving Nary, and if they gained any new insights from the book. I especially love going to book groups that have read the novel and answering their questions and participating in their discussions.

Website | Amazon book | Amazon author | Goodreads

Thank you for being a guest on my blog!

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Rita Wray said...

I liked the interview, thank you.

Bernie Wallace said...

What is your favorite movie adapted from a book. Thanks for the giveaway. I hope that I win. Bernie W BWallace1980(at)hotmail(d0t)com

Unknown said...

Congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win :)

Ally Swanson said...

Hope you are having a wonderful weekend! Looking forward to checking out this book!

Unknown said...

You're very welcome!

Unknown said...

I loved "A Beautiful Mind," the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician struck down by mental illness.