Thursday, January 31, 2013
Welcome Guest Paulette Alden
LUCY BURDETTE: One of things I love about the writing community is how I keep making new friends. Last winter in Key West, a friend had a little cocktail party and he introduced me to someone who was teaching the memoir writing class he was taking. He knew we'd enjoy each other's company. Paulette Alden was delightful and funny and sweet and I immediately ordered her memoir, CROSSING THE MOON. And happily loved it. So when I learned that she, an accomplished writer and teacher, was self-publishing her new novel, I knew that you would want to meet her too.
PAULETTE ALDEN: Thank you, Lucy, for inviting me to Jungle Red Writers.
In thinking about what to say to the readers and writers of JRW, it occurred to me that I ought to say upfront that the title of my novel, The Answer to Your Question, is deceptive, suggesting as it does that the book will actually provide answers. In fact, it raises a lot more questions than it answers. I think in this way it differs from mystery or crime novels, which satisfy readers in the end by providing such answers as who-done-it and why.
I can’t say that I started out to deny readers the answers. Rather, the lack of answers resulted from my own take on the world, my own sense of human nature. This I discovered as I was writing the novel. One fascinating aspect of writing is that you find out things about yourself that you didn’t know until they come out in a story. I found out I think that some questions are unanswerable.
The novel started with a question: what would it be like to be the mother of someone like Ted Bundy? I was living in Tacoma, Washington, when Bundy was first accused of the murder of young women in the area. No one who knew him could believe that handsome, bright, personable Ted could be a killer. The unfolding of his story was riveting, involving jail escapes, more murders, legal defense by Ted himself, constant denials by him and his family, and eventually, his execution.
I had heard that Ted’s mother worked as a librarian near where I was living. I never met her, but I would often think about her, wondering what it would to have this bright, promising son accused out of the blue of murder. That became one genesis of the novel. I would create a character whose son was accused of murder. This despite the fact that not only had I never been the mother of anyone accused of murder, I had never been the mother of anyone.
Another character came into my head. Jean is seventeen, pregnant, Southern, on her own in Tacoma while her husband is serving in Viet Nam. A simple-wise naïf. She “imprints” on Inga at the library where they work, drawing her into an unusual friendship. The plot element is Ben, the son, who abducts Jean during the novel.
Though Ben started out based on Bundy, at some point I decided I didn’t want to write about a psychopath. Too boring, too one-dimensional, really. I thought of my Ben as a more complex person, with factors which we (or at least I) might not be able to fathom. Here my view of human nature made itself known. We can’t always know why people-- even ourselves—do the things we do. This is true of all the characters in the book. To me the greatest mystery is the human heart, and it can’t be completely understood.
I read a piece in The New York Times recently by Andrew Solomon, reflecting on Adam Lanza and the New Town tragedy. He spent hundreds of hours over eight years interviewing the parents of Dylan Klebold, convinced if he dug deeply enough into their character, he would understand why Columbine happened. He came to view them as not only inculpable, but as “admirable, moral, intelligent and kind people” whom he would gladly have had as parents himself. Knowing Tom and Sue Klebold only made Columbine “far more bewildering” and forced Solomon to acknowledge that “people are unknowable.”
When I read that, I understood all the better what was behind my novel, even if I hadn’t always known it when I was writing it. We want answers because they make us feel we’re in control, when so often in life we’re not.
Do you feel that “people are unknowable”? Are you looking for questions or answers in the novels you read? Have you had the experience when reading or writing something in which you understand or discover something about yourself that you hadn’t realized before?
Lucy: thank you for visiting us Paulette. JR readers--Paulette will be stopping in today to chat with us. Her new book THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION can be found here. And visit her blog on writing, books, and the unexpected journey to self-publishing here.