Question: When you read a work of literature are you more inclined to try interpreting the author’s meaning, or do you lean more toward freely imposing your own meaning? Do you “receive” meaning, or “give” a meaning of your own? For example, beginning in the 17th Century, after its publication most devout Christians read Milton’s Paradise Lost as a proclamation of Milton’s vindication of God’s justice: “I [Milton] may assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.” These readers “received” Milton’s supposed intent. But in the late 18th Century Romantics like Blake and Shelley cast Satan, not God, as the hero. Satan is the only character who doesn’t act out of blind obedience to a divine plan, who’s bold, daring, defiant and prideful–qualities many associate with heroism. Satan, speaking from Hell: “All is not lost; the unconquerable will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And courage never to submit or yield.” These Romantics “gave” their own interpretation.
When I taught high school lit students were encouraged to “interpret with textual evidence.” That is, I didn’t mind if they “received” or “gave” as long as they could back it up with relevant textual support. Hamlet could be a melancholic intellectual to one reader, or the victim of the Oedipus complex to another.
When I write fiction the question of my readers “giving” or “receiving” seldom, if ever, enters my mind. It’s hard enough to write an engaging story without worrying about how it might, or might not, be interpreted. That’s why, after one of my novels is published, I love hearing what readers have to say, especially book groups who invite me to hear their thoughts.
About the cover … Debra, my beautiful wife (Debra Meadow Art), did the cool artwork. Those are periwinkles, or caddis flies in their larval stages. They live in streams; they gather tiny pebbles and, using silk-like secretions from their bodies, they bind the pebbles into tiny “tubes” that protect them from preying fish and crawdads. Some of the “pebbles” here depict photos and snippets of documents from the Dage family. For example, on the left of the cover is a photo of my youthful mother, Helen. The Eddy Trout Series of novels is about Eddy’s family’s tragic history, and how his discovery of it changes him.
Debra, my beautiful wife (Debra Meadow Art), did the cool artwork. Those are periwinkles, or caddis flies in their larval stages. They live in streams; they gather tiny pebbles and, using silk-like secretions from their bodies, they bind the pebbles into tiny “tubes” that protect them from preying fish and crawdads. Some of the “pebbles” here depict photos and snippets of documents from the Dage family. For example, on the left of the cover is a photo of my youthful mother, Helen. The Eddy Trout Series of novels is about Eddy’s family’s tragic history, and how his discovery of it changes him.
When writing a 3-novel series that follows Eddy Trout’s adventures over a few pivotal months of his life, and those story lines are rather tangled and complicated, and several years separate the release of one novel from the next–4 years, in the case of Trout Kill and Trout Run–and many readers (especially ones like me) have short memories, how do I keep them “in tune” with previous key developments from the prior novel (s)? Well, ideally, readers would begin the Series with Trout Kill (#1). It’s a damned-fine story, if I do say so myself, and the Cliff’s Notes aren’t available yet. Ha! But it’s not absolutely necessary to start there. For those who don’t, or those who do and have now forgotten a lot of it, I tried hard (really, really hard) to write Trout Run (#2) so readers would be reminded of prior, relevant developments. Eddy lives in a context, as we all do, and that context needs to be fresh in readers’ minds. I hope I’m achieving this “fresh” context now, too, as I begin working on Trout Love (#3). It’s a challenge, and I hope I’m up for it, and that I can craft each story in a way that readers find stylistic and entertaining. Those of you who do read #2, I’d love your feedback about whether I crafted #1 into it in a satisfactory way.
So, today I’m substitute teaching for a health teacher at Canby High. We’re watching a video entitled “Teen Dreams,” which tells the story of Natalie and Darren as they make their anguished ways through puberty, all those hormones raging. Remember? During the viewing, I’m sitting at the back of the classroom revising my second novel, Trout Run; it’s this tricky scene involving Eddy’s cover-up of a murder [tentative!]. I’m tuning out the video, focused on the scene. Then narrator of the video says, “Darren’s penis has swollen to five times its normal size” and the whole class titters with nervous laughter. Then: “In the past weeks, Natalie’s body has grown sixty feet of arm and pubic hair.” The class groans. It’s hopeless. I’ll save my revisions for later, when fewer hormones rage.
My wife and I plucked this handful of hair in about 15 seconds from Tucker’s left rear leg: A “Tuck pluck.” Don’t let his laid-back demeanor or handsome mug fool you: He’s a shedding maniac, a four-legged furball. He scoffs at combs, brushes and Furminators. He weighs in at about fifty pounds and masquerades as mostly a Norwegian elk-hound mix, but sometimes I wonder if a tiny Chihuahua lurks underneath all his soon-to-be-shed-on-our-carpet coat. Of course, he grows new hair as fast as he sheds the old. Tucker’s like my second novel, Trout Run. He’s in the middle of shedding season, and TR is in the middle of “shedding” words; he’s growing new hair, and TR is growing new images, characters and such. After all is said and done, will TR turn out to be an elk-hound or a Chihuahua?
Update: Tucker has ascended to doggie heaven after spending nearly 14 damned-good years here on Mother Earth. Someday, I’ll spread his ashes in the McKenzie River, where he used to love fetching sticks. I miss him still.
Jen Gibson has notified me that her book group will be discussing Trout Kill in July, and they’ve invited me to join them. I’m eagerly anticipating the fun! Thanks, Jen, for helping to make this happen. Your group is the very first to invite me, and if any other groups would like me to join them, just let me know!
I’ve recently revised my website’s Book Group Page as follows:
Hey, fellow bibliophiles, if your book group is looking for an interesting read, check out Trout Kill. For those who may prefer a bit of structure to help guide discussions, the questions below may be helpful. And I’d love to join your discussion! As many of you know, I’m a high school English teacher (mostly retired), but if you invite me to join your group’s discussion I promise I won’t make you take notes … and there will be no test afterwards. I’ll bring along a bottle of cheap wine, of course. Simply contact me to arrange a mutually convenient time.
For you review-happy folks, here are the latest Trout Kill reviews from Amazon. Eleven reviews, all five-stars … a sky full of them. I’m issuing an ALL CALL for more reviews! Or feel free to comment on the reviews you see. Or both. Or go outside and enjoy the sunshine.
Funny how the deeper I dive into a fictional character, the more humanity he or she reveals. Take Marge Gooding, for example, the owner of a second-hand store in Eddy’s home town of Oak Creek. In my first draft of Trout Run, as perceived through the prejudices of Eddy’s personal history, Marge was considered and treated as an old, morally bankrupt crone. Eddy saw her as a link to the abuses he suffered as a child at the hands of his Uncle Silas. But at some point during subsequent drafts, Marge grew out of that role and into a quite different one: Eddy’s psychic mirror. Through the interplay with her as a character, he comes to more clearly accept her as an empathetic and caring woman, and thus begins to see himself in a similar light. On second thought, I guess this phenomena isn’t “funny” at all. It’s just human nature.