I’m pleased to give you an interview with Heidi Durrow, author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. Heidi shares stories with others in great ways, and she’s given thoughtful answers about her first published novel.
Also, I didn’t ask about this in the interview here, but Heidi created in 2008 and continues to offer the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. In addition to this interview, you can learn about Heidi’s work at her website by clicking here.
MW: Give us an idea of who you are. That’s broad, but you’re an author and who else?
HD: I’m a writer, and podcaster and festival producer and avid bendy-straw user, and Moleskine junkie, and storyteller.
MW: I think, in part, this story is about a well-loved girl growing up through pain. Would you comment on the ways Rachel was offered love by people in her life? How were those people part of her growth or development or healing?
HD: Rachel is very loved and so differently by all the people in her life. There’s her aunt who loves Rachel as if she’s a reflection of her young self and wants to get it right to give Rachel every possibility. There’s Grandma Doris who loves Rachel hard; she’s super-strict and believes that her strict rules express her love. And there’s of course her mother whose love is about keeping her safe. For Nella, loving her daughter means keeping her safe from every danger there is.
MW: What do you think your story says about memory and remembering? Certainly it is a story that must simply be read, but if it says something about how we remember, what might that be?
HD: It is very much a novel about the need for remembering. The story begins with Rachel denying her own memories of her life before the tragedy in which her family perishes. Forgetting–at least in Grandma’s mind–is the best way to move forward. And yet, Rachel discovers that her memory of her mother and siblings will not be denied. Essentially, she learns that it is only by acknowledging the truth of her past that she is able to move forward. The line between her past and future isn’t that stark.
MW: Writers draw from life, their own and those of others. To what extent did you draw from your life’s details, and what was it like emotionally to pull from your story to write Rachel’s?
HD: The things that happen to the characters in the book didn’t happen to me or people I know, but the emotional touchstone is very much a part of my own experience and that of those I know. It was extremely difficult for me to write the book — there is a lot of pain and grief in the story and it was what I was feeling as I wrote it. I’m in a different place now in my life and the new book I’m finding also has a very different emotional feel.
MW: Several of your characters enable Rachel to live in response to being abandoned or left by some of her family. Which character would you be most likely to tell a problem to and why?
HD: I would definitely confide in Brick. He’s so absolutely loving and non-judgmental. Here’s a character who has only known abandonment and abuse and yet, he’s always open to love. That’s his default even though it could be a horrible risk. I don’t know if he would know how to solve every problem folks share with him because he is so young, but you certainly wouldn’t feel alone in a dilemma with Brick on your side.
MW: You use multiple viewpoints effectively in the novel. They enrich the work and help me see the story from several angles. What aided you in writing the novel that way? How did you organize yourself while writing?
HD: I started the novel with just Rachel’s voice. I soon realized that she was an unreliable narrator and I needed add other voices in. The voices entered the story quite organically as I needed them.
MW: Talk about Roger. We get powerful glimpses of him. Why do you think he made some of the choices he did? Do you think he loved his family, his daughter?
HD: Roger loved his family and his daughter, but he just didn’t make the right choices. He is an alcoholic and made some very bad choices under the influence. But then even once he’s sober (after the tragedy) he still decides that the best way to be a father is to be absent. I think that’s a coward’s choice. I think Roger could have learned to be a good father–he was learning to be a better man. Unfortunately, many fathers make the choice to be absent (or present only monetarily) and we as a society should address this head-on.
MW: How has your novel encouraged or provoked language about race? Have you been able to carry on, or participate in, conversations from the story, if I can say it that way?
HD: It’s been very exciting to talk to readers about the book and inevitably about race and culture and what it means to be American. Having the story in their hand gives them a kind of permission to talk about these difficult issues and I think most people feel a great relief. I’ve had some exciting conversations — no answers — but I think the first step is always trying to come up with new questions about the issues — then maybe we can have new thoughts.
MW: What are you reading these days?
HD: I’ve been doing a lot of non-fiction reading for the new book about the theory of sudden change, evolution, Victorian spiritualism and the Impressionists. You’d be surprised how much all of those subjects have something to do with each other. It’s surprising me as I write.
MW: Are you working on projects you can talk about? How can readers keep connected to you?
HD: I’m working on a new novel inspired by the life of a Victorian era mixed-race trapeze artist and strongwoman who was super-famous in her time but is unknown today. (Degas did a portrait of her — one of his most famous.) I love to hear from readers. I will continue with more readings and speeches on the road in 2012. My appearance schedule is on my website; if you join my mailing list you can get an update every 6 weeks. And you can also find me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/author.heidi.durrow) and Twitter (@heididurrow).
Now for the giveaway. Leave a comment about why you’d like to get Ms. Durrow’s book. I’ll choose a winner from the comments after midnight, CST, Wednesday. Maybe you can give a gift in the form of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. Either way do get your hands on this book.