Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rebecca Morean AZIMUTHS: A trailer park on the edge of the Mojave Desert...

HALLIE EPRON: I met Rebecca Morean when I taught at Antioch Midwest's wonderful summer workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and I knew I'd met a kindred spirit. Turns out her first novel was a mystery that St. Martin's published back in '94. She's warm, talented, and I immediately forgave her for being a literary writer.

Her new novel
AZIMUTHS, is just out, and I love the pitch:  
Raceway Trailer Park, “On the edge of the Mojave Desert, five women...”

It's perfect, because it made me want to hear more.

REBECCA MOREAN: The novel takes place out in the desert but is filled with water imagery. Raceway trailer park is a  strip of three lines of trailers with a fossilized whale underneath them and an oval supercollider beneath both. I needed a place where all three “levels” could co-exist.

Plus, I grew up in the Southern Californian desert. The cover is a photo of Vasquez Rocks, a place used in many films and TV shows for Westerns or Sci Fi stories.  I grew up within hiking range of Vasquez. In fact, the small cave in the photo is where I’d crawl up and sit and read.

I liked growing up in the desert and some of the people you meet there are right out of central casting, real characters. I wanted to bring the setting in as a character as well.

As AZIMUTHS is written almost like an allegory, the water imagery in contrast to the desert was fun to play around with.

HALLIE: And the five women? What is it about this setting that mirrors the characters/or does it limit and challenge them?

REBECCA: All of them are stuck, paralyzed really. They can’t leave Raceway, and they are afraid.

Hattie is afraid of who she is, and suffers from the loss of her mother. Melody is terrifiedof dying, Lani of real intimacy, Kinni of surviving. Oxena is afraid she does not love her husband any more. The land shapes all the characters and pushes them to move forward.

Even the men in the novel are stuck: Henry, Hattie’s father, is slowly dying of the weight of history and Barday Tullis thinks it is still the Civil War.

HALLIE: AZIMUTHS is such an intriguing title. I had to look it up, and I’m still not sure I know what it means. What is the meaning it has for you and this book?

It was not the original title. For years the title was “True Horizons,” but my publisher felt this sounded like a romance (which is interesting because I just had a romance published this
past fall and am thrilled with the reviews, so why is that bad thing?) and the novel would be hard to market in the already difficult literary market.

An “Azimuth” is the arc stretching forward (usually North) to the horizon line from a fixed object. It is a navigational and surveying term. As all the characters are on their own trajectory, the title worked. It came to me from a close friend who loved the book.

HALLIE: The cover has this fantastic photograph of rock surging from ground and pointing skyward. There’s got to be a story behind it?

REBECCA: Vasquez is really a magical place. Tiburcio Vasquez was a kind of Mexican Robin Hood who robbed banks and burned land records (thereby destroying proof of the white settlers’ land
claims) for twenty years or so beginning in 1854.  There are so many small caves there that rumor has it there are still hidden bags of gold.

So when you are twelve and you’ve got a sturdy canteen on your shoulder and a dog at your side, what choice to have really if you live a mile away? You have to go.

The California Condor which in on the cover is also a character in the book and the stretch of rock in the foreground are remains of a fossilized whale, Basilosaurus.
From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilosaurus

HALLIE: You wrote a mystery novel (In the Dead of Winter). Is there a mystery in Azimuths, too?

REBECCA: Yes. There are mysteries everywhere, but I don’t want to give even the questions away. Any good story regardless of genre should answer those basic questions of who, what, when, where, why and how and then re-address them later from a slightly different perspective.  The reader learns alongside the characters and it is that dynamic, that relationship between writer and reader, that is so fascinating to cultivate. Even my funny romance, We’ve Got This, is fueled by a huge mystery.

HALLIE: You’re also a short story writer. Do you find the long or short form more challenging?

REBECCA: For me, the novel is harder simply because of the length and breadth of the project.

In a short story there are distinct elements of story, character, setting, and theme which shape the plot and as a short story writer you have to really focus on the specific task in front of you. Absolutely every word counts, like poetry, and that part can be very challenging, but still, you are telling one basic story with some embellishments to the major theme.

With a novel there are so many technical layers, many subplots, many themes, so many threads which must work together and then be resolved at the end, it can seem overwhelming as you approach the home stretch. Just the length of time a novel takes to write is more challenging.

With a short story, there is often one point I am trying to move forward in the reader’s mind and from that comes some additional thematic components and a deepening of that story. In a novel, this process of discovery, of continuing to grow the subplots and themes can seem endless.

Finally, in a short story, the writing itself feels more laser-like to me. I may not know what I am doing at the beginning, but by the end of the piece, I’ve got it and then I go back in for the rewrite. My understanding of what the work is about comes quickly. In a novel, it can be months after I finish the first draft before I really know what the book is about--and then the rewrite process starts!

HALLIE: So Reds, when you were growing up did you have a special place like Vasquez Rocks to hide away?

An aside: Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is in a town called Agua Dulce - so appropriate for Rebecca's water theme.

Rebecca Morean is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and screenwriter. Her work has appeared in Salon, Sundial Press, The Tishman Review, The Lost Coast Review, Piker Press, Ploughshares, Kalliope, Bella and more, and her novels are with St. Martin's Press, Avignon Press, Escape Publishing (AU), Roundfire Books (UK), and Breese Books (UK). Also...

Writer and mom. Dog walker and goat milker. 
Warrior against the ravages of ignorance (and time).
Addicted to popcorn and seacoasts. Loves Rocks.


Joan Emerson said...

Ah, no special hideaway places for me, I'm afraid. But Rebecca's book sounds absolutely amazing and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Hallie Ephron said...

When I was really little we had a wooden storage unit built into the back of our garage and about 5' off the ground. I used to go up there and jump out... until my parents noticed. As long as I was quiet (and my hair wasn't hanging in my face) my parents didn't notice much. Also I used to love to hang out in the alley behind our house.

With a friend we used to explore the storm drains -- there's a network of open culverts throughout LA because of the danger of flash floods (really). Home to rodents aplenty.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

This is such a wonderful interview--thanks Rebecca and Hallie! I grew up in a New Jersey suburb, which could not be more different than the desert! We kids would ride our bikes everywhere in the neighborhood and construct forts back in the woods in the fallen trees. But when I wanted to read, I went to bed--still do!

Rebecca, tell us about the romance too, and how you manage to slip around from genre to genre. I'm fascinated!

Grandma Cootie said...

My mom was a helicopter mom before it was a thing, so no special places to hide away. But what a great interview. On my TBR. This may be the book the I buy with the bookstore gift card I know I will get for Christmas.

Rebecca said...

Hi All! You are all so industrius this morning, up chatting about books and writing! Very impressive. I, too, explored those storm drains Hallie--there was one that ran right through our little development. And "drain" is not the right word. They were huge. A tiall man could stand upright in one!

Lucy, the romance, We've Got This, is set in Vermont where I lived for close to 20 years and is a kind of Notting Hill in reverse. It was a lot of fun to write and based off a screenplay I had written. Adapting a script to a novel was really exhilerating and proved a technique I use now when stuck. I just write the dialogue to figure out the plot point and then go back and flesh out the narrative.

Rebecca said...

Sorry. That was a tall man. Wrote without my glasses on. Bad girl.

Hallie Ephron said...

Writing that down: Just put down the dialogue and go back after to flesh out the narrative. Great treatment for writer's block. Only works however when there's dialogue.

Rebecca said...

The slipping from genre to genre is not hard. I write what I am interested in. My first novel, In the Dead of Winter, is about the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. I was inpired by Jeremy Brett's performance on PBS and became really interested in A Scandal in Bohemia and how every clue pointed to a liasion between Holmes and Adler. So I wrote that book. My short stories are nearly all literary and so the novels are an extension of that interest in exloring the connection between writing and concepts surrounding self nad social commentary. The romance is what I'd like to have happen to me in my fantasy world! Why not write what you want to write?

Rebecca said...

True Hallie--I just go to the next scene in my head where someone is talking...so far this "treatment" has always worked. (Fingers crossed!)

Mary Sutton said...

I used to climb a tree in the overgrown lot (now gone) by the rail-road tracks between my block and the grocery store. Does that count as a hide-away?

Hallie Ephron said...

Of course it does, Mary. One of my kids fell out of the big pine tree in our back yard. That sap is near impossible to remove.

In LA where I grew up I don't think there ARE climbing trees. You can't climb a palm. So it always seemed so romantic to me.

Hallie Ephron said...

Rebecca, I just submitted a short story that was a riff on Scandal in Bohemia, set in present-day Hollywood. But I don't think there was ever the whiff of a relationship between Holmes and Adler. She IS the only woman he didn't dismiss as inconsequential.

Karen in Ohio said...

Such an intriguing idea for a novel. Looking forward to taking a walk on the literary wild side, Rebecca!

My mother invented the helicopter thing, frankly, but when I was in high school she had her hands too full to pay any attention to me. At the time we lived across the street from the big public cemetery. Near the war memorial plots, an area like a mini-Arlington, covered in white crosses, was (is still, I think) the loveliest pond, surrounded by beautiful overhanging trees and a sort of grotto. That was my heart-soother place where I would go when my teenaged angst would be too much. No one ever went there, at least not during the day, and if anyone did happen to come along I was able to scramble up beneath one of the willows to hide.

To this day bodies of peaceful water are balm to my soul.

Deborah Crombie said...

Rebecca, so nice to meet you and thanks for the lovely post. I love the title--Azimuths. I did know what it meant, although I'm not exactly sure why I know that! I'm also going to look for your "Notting Hill in reverse" book. What fun.

When I was growing up we had a creek that ran around three sides of our house. The house and pasture were on high, level ground, so the creek banks were deep slopes. It was like entering a different world to "go down to the creek." In one spot a huge tree grew horizontally right across the creek, so of course that was the spot. Reading and daydreaming by myself, picnics (Vienna sausage, anyone?) with my best friend.

Oh, and Rebecca, I just wrote a story about Sherlock Holmes goddaughter for the same anthology as Hallie. I think we have a little kindredness going on:-)

Rebecca said...

There are so many clues that Irene and Sherlock had a relationship it is almost as if Conan Doyle left me the clues. I wrote an afterward as Abbey Pen Baker which explains the intricacies of how it happened. I could go on forever...from the fact that this is the only story that Sherlock tells (to Watson), to the fact that he had Watson look her up in his "files" (when he loved music and would, of course, know who she was--just subterfuge on his part), to the famous of line of Irene being "the" woman. It is all there.... I had so much fun writing it, I am still excited just thinking about the "discovery"! Thus Myrl Adler Norton was born....

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Rebecca! You guys are all making me jealous with your special places — didn't have one unless you count the library...

Hallie Ephron said...

The library definitely counts! Ours was a rather severe place where they shushed you if you breathed too loud and besides it was too far away to walk.

Rebecca, IS IT the only one that Holmes tells to Watson? Fascinating. I may need to reassess because who's to say Holmes is the 'reliable' narrator that Watson is?

Kaye Barley said...




Rebecca, your book sounds amazing and I cannot wait to read it!

Special hiding place when I was growing up was on the roof of the apartment building we lived in. I could sneak out my bedroom window and climb a short distance up a wall in an airshaft. There were some nights I slept up there all night and would only wake up with first light. If my mom and dad knew about it they never mentioned it. and it was pretty magical.

Susan said...

Rebecca, so glad you were here today -- not only because of Azimuths, but because some of your existing books sound quite tantalizing!

Hallie, I was the youngest child by 11 years -- a real "oops" baby -- and you described my childhood perfectly: "As long as I was quiet (and my hair wasn't hanging in my face) my parents didn't notice much." I perfected the art of sitting quietly and invisibly in the living room after prime time at a young age!

Rebecca said...

My other place to go and red or write was a sort of natural "cement" oval made by spring run off in the desert. It was a perfect place to go and curl up. There was also an old mine shaft I explored with a flashlight--though I had to hide this under my shirt so my mom wouldn't see!

Mark Baker said...

I live about 25 minutes from Vasquez and have for years. And I'm afraid I have never made it there. I really must fix that.

Anonymous said...

Diane Hale here. Never been to Agua Dulce, but I grew up in the high desert of SoCal--a tiny town called High Vista, 25 miles from Lancaster. Special treats were weekend visits to Tecopa to soak in the hot springs, drive over to Shoshone to swim in the huge pool fed by an artesian well, and dig fire opals.

I remember many "unusual" folks that lived in those areas. Seems the desert calls to those less . . . civilized, for lack of a better term.

I don't remember any particular places as special, I just loved taking my little lunch box with a sandwich and a small thermos of water and exploring the desert by myself. No helicopter parents for me--I would spend all day out by myself, starting when I was four or five. Loved the solitude. Still do, as I now live in the high desert in northwestern Arizona.

Azimuth sounds fascinating--definitely will go on my TBR list. Thanks for your fascinating post.

Hallie Ephron said...

Susan, a kindred spirit!
Diane - How lucky you were! I would have loved that. I was fascinated by minerals as a kid and hot springs are indeed such a treat. I went to camp near Flagstaff Arizona and got a taste for the desert with trips we took.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Rebecca, thank you! Love hearing about understanding "what the work is about." That is such a moment, when you begin to realize what you've written. I heard David McCullough speak once, and he said he was asked--something like-- do your books have themes? And he said: Yes, and I write each one to discover what it is.

HALLIE! You said: With a friend we used to explore the storm drains -- there's a network of open culverts throughout LA because of the danger of flash floods (really). Home to rodents aplenty. Um...you're using that in your new book, I hope..

And we used to read in the hayloft of the barn behind our house, and hide there. Until weird Kevin next door burned down the barn. He was 8. Always wondered what happened to him. (Yes, I'm using that!)

Rebeccaw said...

Mark--YES! Get to Vasquez! I grew up in Timberlane which used to be just two streets in the center of Tick Canyon (lovely name). I went to Sierra Vista Junior High and spent one year at Canyon HS before I went to live with grandparents in Mission Viejo....

Hank, I agree with McCullough in that often I am not sure what the piece is about. This is true with short stories as well, though often the truth is in the details of the story--candles or a screen shot or a sunset that now you can layer with meaning. In a novel it could be a whole chapter needs to go, or a layer of plot or even a character you had no idea would be important is really turning out to be critical. And then you still have to let it sit to figure out what the whole thing is really about...but, of course, I could just be slow.

Agatha Christie once said she never knew who committed the crime until halfway through the book: she figured if she didn't know, then the reader wouldn't know. Then when she finished the first draft she'd dive back in and polish up, now knowing the ID of the criminal.

There are themes and there are stories and somewhere in that wet grey matter the two meet up...

Kathy Reel said...

Rebecca, I'm always interested in reading about settings with which I'm unfamiliar, and the desert is certainly that for me. And, the title will be so interesting to tie in with the characters' personal journeys. You are obviously a much accomplished writer, but I have to admit the part of your bio that made my heart sing was "goat milker." Although I've never had a goat, I seem to have quite an obsession with the critters.

A special hiding/reading place? Possibly the back porch when I was young, but since my mother was much in favor of my reading, I usually just read in the living room. Now I wish I'd had some unique place, as it would make a better story.

Rebecca said...

I LOVED my goats. Wonderful animals: smart, funny, individual personalities, smart...oh, did I already say smart? I had them for seven years and always had a milker and made goat cheese and yogurt and milk for the family. Actually, I was the only one who drank the milk. But the last several autumns, hay became scarce and borrowing a truck, making two trips to haying farms, hoisting 100+ bales, unloading them, stacking them only to find that....oh, no, we don't like this type of hay....was getting nerve wracking. Plus at 56 I was afraid of getting squashed by falling bales or run over if they bolted. So later on, once my last guppy is out of the house, I will go back to goats and hire strapping young women and men to help me do that chore. They are easy to keep and milk. I did not even use a milking stantion. Our last two babies were named for Sebastian and Viola from Twelfth Night.

A GREAT book of goats and language and writing is GOAT SONG.

Kathy Reel said...

Thanks, Rebecca, for telling me more about your goats. I truly am fascinated by them. I blame it, or credit it, to my being unable to keep down other milk as a baby, and so, I had to drink goat milk, which did the trick. Hahaha! I will be looking up the recommended book. So awesome!

Rebecca said...

So--You all got me so inspired to take a look at In the Dead of Winter again and I found it has come out on Kindle! I had no idea, and Laurie R. King's (who has been so nice to me) quote is right on the cover. What an amazing day this has turned out to be. The sequel is supposed to be out next spring. We shall see. Right now I feel like I'm rising some kind of wave and it a is all due to that wonderful magic that happened when someone writes and another reads....

Pat D said...

goats ares

Goats are something else. That's for sure! Grandpa kept goats for their mohair. It was always a kick to go out in the pickup and feed them. One of my special hideouts was on my grandparents' ranch in Hamilton County, Texas. Criss crossed by gullies that were fun to explore for arrowheads and fossils. My cousin and I did a lot of exploring. At home in Houston my favorite place was the ditch. I know. It doesn't sound like much but it was magic. Paths along the sides. Crawdads to catch. Minnows and tadpoles to catch. Snakes to avoid. It was wonderful.