Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Interview with Debut Author Scott Driscoll

Scott Driscoll, an award-winning writing instructor at UW, Continuing and Professional Education, took several years to finish Better You Go Home (October 2013, Coffeetown Press), a novel that grew out of the exploration of the Czech side of his family in the 1990s after Eastern Europe was liberated. Driscoll keeps busy freelancing stories to airline magazines.
 
Tell us about your current book. Give a short summary. (You can follow this up with any points you hope readers will take away with them)

Below is an excerpt from the press release that describes what the novel is about:

(Seattle, WA.)— A married man’s unexpected departure from Czechoslovakia― with the neighbor woman and her children―is at the heart of a mysterious trail of true events that has inspired University of Washington writing instructor Scott Driscoll to write his first novel, Better You Go Home. “At a family funeral in the early 90s, I learned about a cache of letters written in Czech to my aunt. I had them translated and learned that a male relative had left his wife and three children in a remote farm village in Bohemia prior to World War One.” Driscoll continues, “I learned my relative and the neighbor woman married bigamously in Iowa. The other fact revealed was the presence of a child named Anezka―who seems to have simply disappeared. I suspect she was their illicit child.”

Not long after, Driscoll visited his relative’s village and began to speculate. “What had become of the unidentified child? What if my life had deployed on her side of the Iron Curtain? Once that question lodged in my psyche, like a small wound that wouldn’t heal, I knew I had to write this story.” The work of literary fiction that trip inspired is Better You Go Home. The novel traces the story of Seattle attorney Chico Lenoch, who is diabetic, nearing kidney failure and needs a donor organ.  He travels to the Czech Republic in search of his half-sister who may be able to help save his life. What Chico does not count on is unearthing long-buried family secrets.
  
It begins when he searches through his father’s attic after the Velvet Revolution and discovers letters dated four decades earlier revealing the existence of a half-sister. That sets him on a quest to see if he can find her. Once in the Czech Republic, Chico meets Milada, a beautiful doctor who helps him navigate the obstacles. While Chico idealizes his father’s homeland, Milada feels trapped. Is she really attracted to him, or is he a means of escape to the United States? Chico confronts a moral dilemma as well. If he approaches his sister about his need for a kidney, does he become complicit with his father and the power brokers of that generation who’ve already robbed her of so much?

Better You Go Home is about a son seeking his father’s secrets, but in a larger sense it’s about the progeny of exiles. Says Driscoll, “Much has been written about the survivors of WWII and its aftermath; I want to draw attention to the lives of their children.”

Can you tell us about your publisher and how the process worked in getting published?
The publisher, Coffeetown Press (Seattle), is an independent press so I approached them without using an agent. I knew one of their editors, Jennifer McCord, as she had worked with me on final drafts of the manuscript.  When I felt it was ready, I sent an electronic version to Jennifer and she sent it on to their readers as well as to the editor in chief, Catherine Treadgold.  Then I waited. About a month after first sending, when I hadn’t heard, I queried, asking if I could send a revised manuscript (I had considerably rewritten the final chapters).  I was told yes, but send right away, then no more changes.  This time it was read forthwith by their various readers and within two weeks I had a contract to sign. The editing process was handled mainly by Catherine Treadgold and she did a really fine job.  She allowed me to keep my story and language was it lay on the page, but did make small changes, sometimes shortening sentences, or asking me to clarify a passage. She was extremely careful to make sure anything written in Czech or German was accurate and said what it was really meant to say. Both Catherine and Jennifer have been quick to respond to my messages. They never leave me hanging. I appreciate that. And, they seem very enthusiastic about the book, though they are busy with other book projects and though this non-genre fiction is a harder sell (because there is no easy to identify audience).

How did you get the idea for this book?
This is mentioned in the press release.  To cut to the chase, at a family funeral in Iowa, I heard a chance remark by a relative saying too bad my aunt had died as now there was no one left who could speak Czech and translate the letters from relatives in Czechoslovakia. That sparked my interest.  Family letters? This led eventually to two trips to the Czech Republic to track down family, find the village, and hear stories. A feud (one side of the family refusing to speak with the other), a suicide, facts in a village history book and a missing person—all this combined to make me want to write this story.

What is a typical writing day like for you?
I take my son to his school bus stop by bicycle, then ride home and get to work in my basement office. When I’m teaching, I might stop en route at a coffee shop to read student assignments, then head home.  Once in my basement lair, I get busy with the writing and rewriting and that will keep my occupied for about three hours.  I take a break, exercise, eat lunch, then get busy doing class prep, checking email, etc.  If I am on an assignment for a magazine, I would get busy setting up interviews in the afternoon, but then those interviews would change the process as I would have to call people when they are available. In the late afternoon, I ride my bike to my son’s after-school program and we ride home together (unless it’s a soccer night).

What do you enjoy most about writing?
Discovering new worlds.  Feeling the characters emerge. Hearing a voice that wasn’t there before. Rewriting.  Rewriting is the best.  You get to refine your language and really do the hard work to make scenes play out dramatically as they should.  I become so absorbed in the world of my story I find it hard to emerge. I love that absorption. It’s akin to living life a second time. That world becomes real to me when I am in it.

What is the most difficult part of writing?
The research and the floundering that happens early on, when you don’t know your characters well yet, and your world is still being created, and you know you haven’t found the right voice to tell the story.  You know you will put in many many hours and have nothing worth keeping, and you know from experience that this is a process you have to go through in order to discover what is worth keeping. I am doing research now for my next novel and it’s exciting to learn new things, but daunting to consider the tough tasks ahead. 

How has publishing a book changed your life?
Friends and family who’ve watched me struggle with this story now feel vindicated. I feel vast relief that I finally fulfilled my promise to my family and friends and to myself. Now people who only know me casually think of me as an author and this comes with a degree of added respect (which makes no sense as I’ve been publishing things for a long time; but there is something different about it being a novel, something more primal, something that taps into our early childhood excitement over stories in books).

If your book is based on true events, how has that affected those around you or why made you choose to use historical events?
Most of the characters in the story are modeled on family but modernized by one generation, both to give the story more urgency and to remove the story from reliance on real world events. I do worry a bit that a few of my Czech characters, modeled roughly on people I met while traveling there, might not be so sanguine about how they see themselves represented, or they might resent how they perceive their country to have been represented.  In the end, I hoped to confer the idea that family matters, and that leaving past secrets buried is a bad thing if it rips family asunder (which is indeed what had happened in my Czech family).

What are your plans now?
A Baltic novel. My wife’s family is Latvian.  She grew up speaking Latvian. The story will center around a Song Festival.  An American born Latvian composer goes back to his homeland to pursue success that eludes him in America but he finds that he must work with an entrenched apparatchik from the former regime implicated in deportations and torture that affected his family and he has a brother in Riga who has inherited the remnants of the Popular Front, now with no mission left but to seek redress from those former Soviet toadies. It all boils down to a conversation in a rowboat on a river.

What is your best tip for aspiring authors?
Write and write and write.  But, also, if you haven’t already, take some writing classes.  You don’t have to invent the wheel all over again.  Learn conventions from good teachers, then use them in your own way. Also, do a lot of sketching in the early stages.  Don’t just sit down and think you will start writing chapters. I like to sketch the story arc and then noodle at great length over the characters and their situations, their needs and wants and flaws and history. I want to understand them better than my closest friends before I can think of pushing them onto the battleground of a story. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readership? (Here you can share about characters, historical facts, setting or whatever else you would like our readers to know about your book.)
Yes.  Two things. First, pay no attention to the prognostications that novels are dead, that story telling is a waste of time, a distraction from the reality that needs our attention.  Pay no attention.  We need stories.  High-brow, low-brow, doesn’t matter.  Stories engage our imaginations like nothing else.  We learn empathy through stories.  We learn to inhabit the lives of others through stories.  We arrive at more complex views of people and their desires and needs through reading stories. Stories are how we understand each other. Second, remember to patronize local bookstores if at all possible.  We need brick and mortar stores where it is possible to browse shelves and to be surprised. We need the wonder of that. Support local bookstores. Order through them if you can.

Do you have a website? If so, please give the URL. If not, where can readers go online to learn more about your book(s) and to order?
Web site: www.scott-driscoll.com. 
(See below.)

Better You Go Home

by Scott Driscoll

Literary Fiction
Release Date: October, 2013, from Coffeetown Press
$13.95, 6x9 Trade Paperback, 236 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-60381-170-5
A man visits the Czech Republic to find his half-sister and uncovers family skeletons.
Bookstores/Libraries: Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Partners West, Midwest Library Service, Follett Library Resources; eBooks: Overdrive, Kobo and other major retailers; for more information or to order direct, contact info@coffeetownpress.com



You can find out more about Scott Driscoll, his books and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/kpdm5fk

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