Friday, September 1, 2017

Interview with novelist Dawn Reno Langley

Novelist Dawn Reno Langley wraps up the week with me while talking about her new literary/upmarket fiction, The Mourning Parade.

A writer, theater critic, mosaic artist, and educator, Dawn Reno Langley has devoted her life to literature and the arts. Born an Army brat to a WWII and Korea vet and his wife, Dawn spent her childhood scaring her younger siblings with stories of monsters under the bed. Her first published work, an essay on the Cuban missile crisis, revealed a deep sense of social justice that has never waned. Since then, she has written extensively for newspapers and magazines, has published more than 30 books (children’s, adult novels, and nonfiction), and has also published award-winning short stories, essays, and poetry, as well as theater reviews and blogs. A Fulbright scholar with an MFA in Fiction and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies, Langley lives in Durham, North Carolina, a small city where people present her with new stories every day. She is always amazed that one finds most stories in small places rather than large cities, and she appreciates the warmth of the friends she has made in the town she calls “funky/artsy.”

Welcome, Dawn. Please tell us about your current release.
The Mourning Parade is the story of Natalie DeAngelo, a North Carolina veterinarian, who loses both of her sons in a school shooting, is hounded by the media, and suffers from PTSD. A year after the shooting, she takes her psychiatrist’s advice and volunteers at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, thinking that she’ll go there to heal. Instead, she’s challenged by a cranky elephant named Sophie and is determined to solve the elephant’s issues, never realizing she’s also solving her own.

What inspired you to write this book?
Several moments in my life joined together to inspire this book. My mother always collected elephant doo-dads and told stories about why they held their trunks up and what kind of families they had. I thought that was silly, but after her death, I realized she knew a lot more than I gave her credit for understanding. When I went to Thailand with a friend many years after my mother’s death, I visited an elephant sanctuary in her honor. The connections I made with those huge gentle giants made me realize there was a story there.

I also am broken-hearted about the school shootings that have become so common in today’s society, and as a woman who has always disliked guns, I wanted to explore what it might be like to go through that horrible tragedy. I wanted to write a story that would not only examine that horrendous circumstance but also look at the ways in which people survive incredible grief.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’ve been working on a novel I’m calling The Art of Brown Rivers. It’s the story of an interracial family that begins in 1957 and spans three decades. Naturally, there are a lot of historical elements included in the tale, but it’s also a love story that survives in spite of all of the barriers in the couple’s way. I’ve written the book as a series, but instead of going that route, I’m combining the three in one novel, sharing the tale from the three main characters’ points of view: the wife, Beth; the husband, Graham; and their son, Anthony.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t remember when I was NOT 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?
Yes, I do write full-time. Even when I was working full-time, I wrote and published.

My day starts around 6-7 AM. I work until 10-11 PM. I am incredibly committed, so once I sit my butt in the chair, I don’t get up until whatever I have outlined for that day is complete. Usually, I work on the laptop during the day and finish my day writing some scenes by hand in bed. I have a goal to accomplish and haven’t yet missed my own self-imposed deadlines.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
That’s a good question and made me think.

I’ve always written the bare bones of a story first, then go back to it, and through the editing process, I add on what I call the “muscles and flesh.” I find that I need to live with the characters for a while before I can write the scenes that truly bring them to life, so I guess the quirk is that I write via laptop first, then everything else is done by hand.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a stewardess (what we called flight attendants when I was growing up) so that I could travel. One of the first adult books I read was Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. It was an exciting travel story that gave me the urge to discover other countries, and though the trip Heyerdahl and his partners made was on a raft in the South Pacific, I was thoroughly intrigued by the guts it took to explore the ocean in a way that was truly primitive. Their trip set something off in me that has not as yet been quenched. Being a stewardess seemed the perfect way to explore the world.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’ve been traveling the United States via Amtrak to connect with readers and writers throughout the past month. I’ve visited Boston, Chicago, St. Paul, Havre (Montana), Spokane, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Healdsburg (California), San Francisco, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Houston, and New Orleans. And I’m not done! I’ll be meeting my North Carolina folks in August and September, then heading back up the East Coast for more events in September. I love talking about Asian elephants, PTSD, and the other themes in the book – primarily, the strength that mothers have – and it’s been extraordinarily uplifting to hear the ways this book has touched the people who have read it. I welcome the opportunity to connect with book clubs, writers’ groups, and other readers. If you love elephants or want to talk about the hot-button topics this novel raises, please get in touch with me!

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Thanks for being here today, Dawn!

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