Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Interview with writer Bo Kearns

Writer Bo Kearns is here today to chat about his new novel, Ashes in a Coconut.

Bo Kearns is a journalist, writer of fiction and author of Ashes in a Coconut. He’s a feature writer with NorthBay biz magazine and the Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper. His short stories have won awards—First Prize, Napa Valley College writing contest, Honorable Mention-Glimmer Train Fiction Open competition, and Finalist- Redwood Writers On the Edge genre competition. Other works have been published in the annual California Writers Club Literary Review, Napa Valley Writers First Press, The Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine and Sonoma: Stories of a Region and Its People. He’s a certified UC Naturalist, beekeeper, avid hiker and active supporter of conservation causes. Bo lives in the wine country of Sonoma with his wife and rescue dog, Jake.

Welcome, Bo. Please tell us about your current release.
In 1983, Laura Harrison, Manhattan fashion designer, sets aside her career to accompany her banker husband, Jack, to Indonesia, to save her marriage. On arrival they come across a funeral ceremony that sets the tone for much of their welcome to the country. Laura experiences a wave of unease and haunting premonitions.

Jack is ambitious and eager to make his mark but doesn’t know how to handle the corrupt world of Indonesian business. Soon he becomes trapped in a shady deal and a web of deceit. At the local market, Laura discovers an orphaned baby orangutan for sale. Her heart goes out to the poor creature and she finds her new passion—saving the endangered primates and their habitat.

Jack decides to finance a logging project in the rainforest putting their lives and their marriage in jeopardy. Suddenly Laura’s premonitions don’t seem so farfetched.

What inspired you to write this book?
I lived in Indonesia for three years. There I became intrigued with the country’s unique culture of mysticism and magic. Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. In his novels, he puts an expat in an exotic setting and weaves a story of intrigue around their attempt to adapt. Ashes in a Coconut is similar to that.

As an expat woman, Laura can’t work and has to find something meaningful to do. She’s representative of many expat women who find themselves in that situation. Jack, a banker, has to contend with local corruption. I was an expat for ten years. I experienced or observed what happens in the story, enhanced with much imagination.

Excerpt from Ashes in a Coconut:
In the blistering noonday sun, Laura Harrison stood outside the Denpasar International Airport and fingered the beads on her necklace. Her damp silk blouse clung to her body. In the humidity her red hair curled so that she resembled an adult Little Orphan Annie. She fanned her face wishing she’d worn a wide-brimmed straw hat. And yet she shouldn’t have minded the discomfort; she was in Bali. Still, she fretted. The island paradise was only a stopover en route to Jakarta. There she would be beginning a new life in a place she’d never been, leaving everything behind to save her marriage.
Her husband, tall and broad-shouldered, stood beside her. He wore a tropical shirt and exuded confidence.
“Jack, can you hail a cab—preferably one with air conditioning.”
“Good luck with that,” he said.
Before he could raise his hand, a taxi with the car widows rolled down, pulled up to the curb. Laura grimaced as they climbed in. With their bags in the trunk, they made their way through narrow streets; discreet shrines graced with small floral offerings dotted the roadside. In the distance, young green rice paddies terraced the mountain. After a half hour they arrived at the Seminyak Kebun Resort where a vast manicured lawn and swaying palm trees welcomed them.
“How beautiful!” Laura said. Her spirits rose. “The perfect place for a second honeymoon.”
Jack smiled and took her hand.
The couple walked into the large open-air lobby. At the registration desk Laura noticed blossoms in a small woven palm-leaf tray. She picked one up and inhaled the fragrance.
“It’s an offering to keep away evil spirits,” the clerk said.
“Oh,” Laura exclaimed. She set the flower down and moved away.
Laura and Jack followed the bellboy to a thatched-roof bungalow that fronted onto a tranquil beach. Inside a four-poster bed covered with mosquito netting dominated the room. Paintings of colorful birds hung on the walls.
Laura walked around admiring, touching. The bathroom, open to the sky, was outside in a small garden. White and purple orchids proliferated, and a showerhead shaped like a dolphin extended from the rock wall. Then Laura noticed movement off to the side. A hammock swung though the air was perfectly still. She got goose bumps watching it. Hugging her arms across her chest, she rushed inside.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m working on several projects. I’ve written a number of short stories about a retired, hapless guy named Norman. He’s still experiencing life. He’s like an older Holden Caulfield. He attracts the offbeat. Norman’s a character of humor and complexity. I’m considering a collection of Norman stories. The next novel is never far from my mind. Interesting settings play a part in my writing. I’m thinking of a story set in the backwaters and bayous of Louisiana. And writing for a newspaper and magazine keeps me plenty busy. I never know what the next article will bring.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I came to writing late in life. Growing up I attended parochial schools and military academies with little exposure to literature. There rote reading consisted of catechism and sagas of famous battles. My daughter benefited from a broader education. In her high school English class she studied the classics. The Catcher in the Rye was one of those. One morning, I spotted Catcher on the kitchen table. Curious, I picked it up and flipped through the pages. I sat down and began to read, quickly taken by the honesty of the opening line. “….the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap….” Never before had a novel so captured my imagination and my emotions. Previously I hadn’t given much thought to writing. Now I wanted to emulate J.D. Salinger. I wanted to do what he did. So I began to write. When an early short story won an award, I began to think of myself as 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 write in the mornings when my brain is more alert and I’m feeling creative. I work at a stand up desk. Occasionally I take a break, go outside and look to nature for inspiration. By noon I’ve hit a wall. Any writing after that will have to be redone. If it’s a nice day, I’ll go for a hike in nearby, historic Jack London State Park. Jack passed way at the age of forty after having written 50 books. I have 49 more to go.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Not sure if you’d call it interesting— odd perhaps. When I’m alone, my mind keeps writing. And sometimes that happens when I’m with others. I space out thinking of characters and plot lines. At the dinner table, my wife will give me a nudge and say, “You’re writing again.”

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a rancher. I wanted to work outdoors. Just as well that didn’t happen. Horses don’t take well to me. And being a rancher’s not the glamorous life portrayed in the movies. Fortunately I ended up as a fiction writer where I can imagine being on a horse and not have to worry about falling off.


Thanks for being here today, Bo.

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