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One For Sorrow > One for Sorrow: A Novel - Q&A with Christopher Barzak

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Odette | 316 comments Mod
Hi Christopher,
I'll post the first questions for our Q&A week:
I'm curious to know what the core idea was that you started with for One For Sorrow. Did you begin with the character of Adam and then build his experiences based on an idea/feeling of him - or did you start with an idea of an experience of alienation and death, or some other core plot concept? Was the ghost of Jamie there right from the start, or did his character evolve out of a general idea of a story you wanted to tell? (Or none of the above?)

Christopher Hi Odette,

I'm not sure I started One for Sorrow with an idea so much as with a voice and an image and a feeling. These are the main requirements I need to have before I can begin writing anything, be it a short story or a novel. I need to be able to hear how a character talks, and to have an overall feeling or mood for the narrative, and to be able to see at least one evocative image, usually an image I don't understand, and I write towards it.

One for Sorrow began as a short story, in fact, called "Dead Boy Found". Kelly Link published it in her anthology called "Trampoline". The story ends very differently from the novel, of course. In it, Adam ends his narrative by basically deciding that his life is over, and commits himself to a life of zombiehood, so to speak, based on all the misfortune he encounters all at once at such a young age. But for several years after I wrote that story, I kept thinking about it, coming back to it, not satisfied with that. He was so young, and I wanted him to want to live. So I allowed myself to take it out again, and simply erased that ending, and began writing forward in his voice again, moving forward page page, until it was clear that this was going to be a novel now and that I would follow Adam around much in the same way that J.D. Salinger followed Holden Caulfield around in Catcher in the Rye, allowing him to go on a journey that would take him to a much more real edge of the abyss, and seeing that, hope that he would choose life. I try not to control my characters but to feel through them. I don't like fiction where it feels overly controlled by the author; those sorts of narratives always feel like the author is getting in the way of their characters, rather than searching and exploring through their writing. So I let Adam make a lot of decisions. I had to figure out, as an author, what the consequences of those decisions would be, since he, as a kid, didn't realize what his choices would lead to for a while. And in a way, the book is about him becoming conscious of himself as an individual making decisions about a variety of things. One of those things, and perhaps most importantly, are the decisions we make about how we choose to see the world, our perspectives.

There was a bit of personal desire to write this story about encountering the overwhelming feeling of loss and death for the first time, too. When I was twelve years old, a young boy in a neighboring small town near mine, a rural small town like Adam's, was brutally murdered in the woods, yes, on his way home from a Boy Scout meeting. That's the only detail I kept from that story, because otherwise I wouldn't be writing fiction, which is what I do. It was the first time something like that had hit so close to home for me. It stirred up our small communities for a long time afterward, and I was particularly made afraid of the world for a while because of it, of adults in particular. It was the first time I think I realized that people kill one another, sometimes for no reason, sometimes children, too. It didn't make sense to me then. It still doesn't, really. I think there is no sense to be made of that sort of thing. But it was horribly frustrating, and remained so in later years, when I lost a friend in my early twenties to a very premature death. Not a murder, but a sudden allergic attack that took her life. And again, when my grandparents died. It seemed whenever Iost someone, this image of this young boy from the nightmares of my youth would emerge again, and haunt me. So I wanted to take this specter and write about him, until I could let him go.

That may be far more than what you asked, but I hope it answers some of your questions. And I'm looking forward to any others the rest of you may have this week.


Pamela Lloyd (pameladlloyd) | 45 comments Hi Chris,

I found your story compelling and very unsettling. Adam's search for understanding and acceptance in a painful and alienating world struck me as very real, although I hope that most young people don't have to face ghosts quite so directly. I didn't always understand Adam's motivations, but that seemed somewhat true to Adam's character, as he himself didn't understand why he acted as he did. I also found Jamie alternately sympathetic and frightening; I wasn't sure, until Jamie left, that he wasn't going to give in completely to the vampiric impulse.

My understanding of Gracie's character was of someone who was facing very similar challenges to those Adam faced--a dysfunctional family, the shock and fear of Jamie's death, a relationship with Jamie's ghost--but was handling these by turning toward life; she had already made the decision that Adam eventually had to make, so she acted as a guide for him, or a role model, of how to be strong in the face of tragedy.

In many ways, the characters whose actions seemed the most confusing and contradictory, were those of the adults in Adam's life, his mother and her relationship with the woman who paralyzed her, in particular, but also his father's strange passivity with regard to his wife's choices.

Perhaps you could expand a bit on these secondary characters. Did you discover who they were through their interactions with Adam, or were they completely distinct characters whose actions you had to deal with, much as you dealt with Adam's?

Christopher Hi Pamela,

You must be my perfect reader. Your description of the characters and how you read the novel is in many ways the way I hoped, ideally, the novel would be read. I know it doesn't work for everyone; I'm glad it does what I intended and that comes through clearly in your description of the reading experience. Thank you for that.

As for the adults in Adam's life, they are definitely, in many ways, the most confusing and contradictory. I think this is for a couple of reasons. The first one is because all of their actions and decisions are being interpreted through Adam's consciousness in the book. What we get is not necessarily an objective representation of the adults around Adam so much as Adam's view of them as a mid-teen who doesn't comprehend the adult world, because he doesn't have enough experiences in his own life yet to understand where they are coming from and why they act the way they do. He's also given to being a bit dramatic, obviously, and I think to a certain extent he is an exaggerator, so his view of many adults is also exaggerated.

However, I think there is a bit of honest to goodness real confusion in the lives of his parents and some of the other adults in his life. Not his English teacher, for example, nor the bookstore owner towards the end of the novel, either. They are touchstones for reasonable adults in the world for him. But his parents have a lot of problems. His father drinks; his mother drinks when his father binges. They fight. He can't hold a job consistently. His mother lives in a sort of bubble of passive aggression towards her husband, blaming everything on him, rather than taking responsibility for the way her life has turned out. They are relatively poor, what with the inconsistent income. They are uneducated. They have no idea how to function well because they became parents themselves at a young age without planning, and though they try to provide a home for their children, they obviously could have used a few years of preparation before starting the family they began accidentally.

I think Adam's dad is strangely passive towards his wife's choices (as in her relationship with Lucy) because he does feel he is to blame for her accident. Instead of trying to interrupt this obviously unhealthy relationship, he feels he has lost the right to advise her about things of this nature, since he considers himself the reason why she's in the wheelchair to begin with. He's taken on all the blame, in a way, as Linda would have him believe, rather than evaluating the situation rationally, and seeing that in fact she need not have stormed out in a hurry, drive recklessly to a bar, and that in fact the collision had everything to do with chance and not with him in its entirety. And that Lucy had been drunk driving, that she is also at fault.

So in a way, they were distinct characters that I had to just deal with, as I did with Adam, but on top of allowing them to make all the mistakes in life that they do (like I think we all do, just different sets of mistakes for each of us) all of this is filtered through the perceptions of a young adult who cannot stand all of this bad behavior, and begins to behave badly in ways himself, almost in response, to try to make them be adults, to be responsible, to take care of him.

In the end, of course, he realizes that this is not going to happen simply by his running away and putting himself in the path of danger. He realizes he needs to take care of himself, and let them work out their own problems. So he comes home, and resumes his life, despite not all of the kinks being worked out of it.

I try to write characters as seen through the eyes of whoever my narrator is (if it's a first person narrative) not through my eyes. I get a little annoyed with young adult books that have these terribly insightful young adult narrators from the get-go. I think Adam is an insightful narrator, too, but the insights come later in the book, after he's come to insight, rather than starting out with an amazing capacity to process the strangeness of the world (even our own mundane world is pretty strange, I think) around him.

Thanks for your question, Pamela. I hope I answered it in some sort of satisfying way. :)

Pamela Lloyd (pameladlloyd) | 45 comments Thank you, Chris. I very much appreciate this insight into the characters and into your writing process. As a writer (mostly short stories, at the moment), I'm always interested in peeking behind the curtain. :-)

Christopher My pleasure, Pamela! I'm always interested in peeking behind the curtain of other authors as well. Everyone does it a little differently, and sometimes a lot differently, which keeps it interesting, I think.

Richard | 4 comments Hi Chris

Ghosts and eldritch kids in and of themselves aren't that unusual in dark fantasy/horror. Working class backgrounds like that of Adam and his family aren't often handled in books within the genre or outside it. Decaying cities are a commonplace but not the economic devestation of the city in your novel. In some ways the family and the city are more unsettling than death and the ghosts. Could you talk about how and why you came to make those as important elements in ONE FOR SORROW as you did?

Christopher Hi, Rick. Thank you for your question. How and why did I come to choose the rural small town and dying steel city important aspects of One for Sorrow? There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that setting is a very important element of fictional narrative for me in general. I think it's an especially overlooked element of narrative in the recent past. It seems we have a lot of narratives these days that could take place in Anywhere, America. Suburban communities without a lot of distinguishing characteristics, or else in the very large mega-cities, like NY and LA. Occasionally you come across books set in marginal communities, but in my experience, finding these settings in books has become an infrequent event for me as a reader over the past ten years or so. When I began writing One for Sorrow, which is my first novel, I decided I would set it in my own home region, where I grew up, because I had never encountered a novel or short story which took that place as its setting, and told a story that derived and was specific to that place.

The dying steel city of Youngstown, Ohio and the small rural communities that surround it are in many ways forgotten places in the American landscape. There are many forgotten places that the rest of America has no context to understand them. If you asked someone who was an adult and paying attention to the news back in the late 70s and early 80s, you might encounter someone who knows these places and without very much need for prompting will be recall the devastating economic disaster that occurred in Youngstown, Ohio at that time. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it for his Ghost of Tom Joad album, which explored these forgotten and ignored aspects of American community. They are forgotten and ignored because communities such as Youngstown are working class, the underclass, and had no one of any articulate ability to speak for them, and to speak loud enough. In recent days, due to it being an electoral year, Youngstown pops up on cue in the political world, presidential candidates come here in those years to take pictures in front of decaying steel mills and factories that have been abandoned for the past thirty or forty years, and pretend as if they're going to do something to help the people who live in these jobless, poverty-stricken communities. But if we count the years that have passed between the time Youngstown lost its steel economy to the attractive, exploitable third world, we know that they really don't intend to do anything but use the place as a backdrop of the narrative they're creating for themselves as politicians.

Ghost stories are about people who have something left to say, so much so that they remain alive somehow, supernaturally, beyond the grave. So along with the death of Jamie Marks, who has several things left undone in his life--friendships left unforged and unexplored with Adam and Gracie, relationships unresolved with his mother and father--there is also the character of the small town the characters come from, and the dead/dying steel city to which their rural community is a satellite, the nearest thing to urbanity. Settings are characters, too, really. A community itself has character, based off of the people who live in them and the values and beliefs they've chosen to live by. Youngstown is a community that, despite having died an incredible death of its former self, after having lost its identity, has clung to life despite all of that. At one time it had a population of around 175,000 people. Today it's about 75,000 people. That's an enormous loss. There are whole sections of the city that have fallen into ruin, houses abandoned, workplaces abandoned, blight is a common view. In the 80s it was evaluated as the Murder Capital of America. It no longer has that place, thankfully, but crimes of this sort are a natural occurrence in communities that have lost their basic foundation for survival. People begin to fight for resources; they'll steal and plot and sometimes kill when they are desperate. The community now is small enough that the crime that occurred after that initial blow in the 70s and 80s has waned and enough people have left, realizing there are not enough resources for living here and that they must leave if they intend to have a better life for their families. And yet the city still lives on, and has in the past four or five years attracted national and international attention with a new plan to shrink itself in order to provide a higher quality of life for its citizens, rather than following the typical American city idea that you must grow, get bigger, take on more and more. So the city has begun demolishing whole neighborhoods, to get rid of blight, and old workplaces which we have finally accepted no work will come back to inhabit. Or at least not the sort of work that once inhabited them. There is a large group of young thirty and twenty somethings, a new generation, that have taken on an amazingly energetic community activist approach, and have tried to create bonds between various communities within the larger community, something that did not occur in the past, to make the place stronger. Revitalization is occurring, step by step, and though it is slow progress, it is the first progress we have seen in four decades, and people are taking some comfort and allowing themselves to perhaps hope a little harder than they once did.

It's a place that is no longer the city it once was, but has decided to live somehow, anyway it can, the same way Jamie tries to live beyond his unjust and early death. And if there is a reason why I chose to feature working class characters in an economically devastated rural community and city, it's because I come from this place and decided a long time ago, when I knew I would write, that I would attempt to become good enough at writing to say something about the lives we live here that a lot of fiction does not ask us to think about, or at least does not ask us to think about as often as I wish it would.

message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kim | 43 comments Hi Christopher: First, thank you so much for answering so thoroughly and being so open about your process! Reading about how you develop your characters (the way you respond to the questions makes me feel they are very real to you) and the environment they play out their roles in has been fascinating. I was particularly interested that you had a different ending for this book. I definitely sensed that in reading it. That Adam didn't really want to be back in his life but that he just kind of accepted it more as a personal responsibility. I wanted more from him than that, but this actually probably makes him more human, anyway it fit his character. He didn't seem to get an epiphany from his experiences, except that somebody could care for him and that gave him some worth. (Actually, he got that from both Gracie and Jamie.)

That leads me to ask about the more controversial relationship he had with Jamie. I've read a lot of reviews on your book about the "homosexual" relationship he had with Jamie and I was wondering if that is your take on it. It didn't strike me necessarily as being about sex (much less so than his relationship with Gracie) as much it was about intimacy. (Odette, I'm borrowing a bit on our private discussion, hope you don't mind. I give you credit for that word which so well described what I was framing.) Adam seemed to be looking for some sort of physical love that he wasn't getting from his family and Jamie needed somehow to feed on the warmth of the life of Adam, as a ghost needing that spark of life. Even the long kiss seemed more to be about that. So, was it your intention to explore it as a boy loving a boy in a sexual way or was it more or both? No condemnation implied, I thought it seemed sort of a natural consequence of events in the book and it didn't seem out of context. Adam seemed very needy, but given his environment it made sense.

I will say the book did make me very sad, but then your title is "One for Sorrow" isn't it?

Christopher Hi Kim! Thanks for the question. These are all really good.

You're right that there have been reviews that discuss the homosexual relationship between Adam and Jamie. Is it my take on that relationship? I think instead of either/or, my response is more of a both/and. It's very much about intimacy, as you noted, which I think a lot of relationships are about. I think that the relationship between the boys is one of love, certainly, and there is a certain sexual undertone to it that raises the question of sexuality. Unfortunately, many people view sexuality as an either/or thing: homosexual or heterosexual. If I were evaluate Adam based on the actions he takes and his ability to have such an intimate relationship with both Gracie and Jamie, my hunch would be that he's probably oriented to both sexes, rather than one or the other. Gender, I think, is something that doesn't occur to him as a factor in his attractions. At least it doesn't rank very high up there on his list, I think. He's simultaneously attracted to Gracie and Jamie, for different reasons, and for some reasons that are the same. They both provide him with relationships that make him feel able to love and be loved, which is missing from his family life in such a way that, based on what he's witnessing between his parents' relationship, he has doubts that he will be able to love or be loved. He thinks badly of himself, in other words, has little self-worth. Jamie's and Gracie's love for him proves him wrong, and he learns how to love and care for another person from them. Of course, though, they're all also so very young to be trying to take care of each other in the way that they do, and I think that's also one of the things Adam does realize by the end of the book: that though he's learned he can love and be loved, he's not fully equipped to be doing so in such an adult way as he's attempted to do at an early age. In many ways, his running away is an attempt to set up another life for himself than the one his parents have provided him. But of course the social world we've made makes that pretty impossible. Which is also one of the reasons why he goes home. Despite the dangers at home, he's more defenseless in the world alone. And also, he's at least familiar and knows what to expect at home, which makes navigating the dangers of home a bit easier than the uncertainty of being on the streets in an unfamiliar city.

Was it my intention to explore Adam's and Jamie's relationship as a specifically boy loving boy in a sexual way? I'm not sure if I did it intentionally, as in, I'm going to write a story about a boy loving another boy in a sexual way. For me it grew more out of Adam's and Jamie's and Gracie's needs, how they hungered for intimacy and affection and closeness because these things were noticeably absent from their lives. They're all outsiders in a variety of ways. Adam is the one who can pass more easily than either Jamie or Gracie, but inherently the things that make him different are on the inside of his character. How he thinks, sees, feels, perceives the world, his sensitivity the things people say and do. A friend of mine told me, after she finished reading the novel, you know, Chris, Adam is going to grow up to be a writer. And I said, What? What makes you say that? I honestly hadn't really thought about anything like that before. And she said, language is this physical object to him. He rolls up stairwells and bangs on doors and makes him flinch and causes people to take horrible actions, like his father telling his mother she's a waste, which then acts as a catalyst for her own decision to leave, and then the accident between her and Lucy occurs. Writers do that sort of thing, she said. They pay attention to language and notice things that are invisible to a lot of people. And I had to admit, after hearing that, that she had convinced me that Adam indeed would grow up to be a writer.

But to get back to the meat of your question (sorry, I have a tendency to digress, which is sort of Adam-like, probably): I do think the relationship is more about intimacy than sexuality, but that sexuality isn't discounted by this statement I've just made. I think, maybe, the view of sexuality in this book is presented as growing out of intimacy with others, regardless of their gender, rather than sexuality starting with gender as its main defining feature that determines with whom we choose to have a sexual relationship.

I apologize, by the way, that the book made you sad. It is indeed called "One for Sorrow" though, speaking of intentions, I intended to try to find a light at the end of the tunnel for Adam, a promise of a better future, if a delayed one, mostly waiting for himself to grow up enough to the point that he could leave home and start a life for himself elsewhere. And I had hoped that parts of the story would also be humorous. I certainly know from being a huge reader myself that some books don't always work for me, regardless of a writer's intentions, so I'm aware that that will be the case with my book with some readers, too. Hopefully I'll be able to hit all the right notes with another book someday, if I keep being given the chance to make my writing public.

message 11: by Kim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kim | 43 comments No apologies necessary, Christopher, you are just telling a story and I am responsible for my emotional reactions. And that you made me feel something is good. If I felt nothing, I wouldn't be writing you! It just infused me with this sort of feeling of hopelessness, in spite of your best intentions. Perhaps it is because his environment is portrayed as being so bleak and the adults around him so damaged. (Although, I liked the book store owner and found myself wanting to know a bit more about him and how his story might intertwine with Adams later.)

I also saw Adam as a writer and I'm surprised you didn't see that right away! My reasoning was his love of words and how they gave him something to hang onto. Maybe this is your own love of words coming through through him?

Thanks for covering the whole sexuality/intimacy question so thoroughly. I do think that there is too much black and white and labeling of people's sexuality. What you said was basically my conclusion, that he was trying to build another world for himself and get the love he needed.

I'll be looking to see what else comes out of your Pandora's Box in the future. Thanks!

Emilie | 69 comments hi christopher,
i am really touched by your responses; your love for your own work, your clear commitment to your writing, and to your own personal values.

i had some terrible experiences with meeting/speaking to writers and artists i so admired, only to find out that they had no sense of themselves, and treated others with cruelty.

so, i want to thank you for showing me that it doesnt have to be that way.
and i want to thank odette, baobhan, and kim too; for their idea to ask you to do this q and a with us.

i havent yet read your book, but now i really want to. i do have a question anyway.
i wanted to ask more about your process as a writer. and specifically the aspect of transformation of personal nightmares within fiction. i hope that is okay.
in reference to your answer to odette's question,
you wrote that part of your intentions in composing this book were to take the specter and write about him until you could let him go.
i am really interested in the potential in art for transforming the things that haunt us.
i am wondering if you could say more about this.

do you feel that the most important element was that you explored the image/boy and so gave him more substance and too, stopped running from him...and let him and what he represented go where it wanted to go? or that you gave him someone to connect to, and so, something hopeful and intimate? do you think its the mythic elements that allow for the transfiguring of your nightmare? or specifically the ghost imagery and so living on? or all of these combined.
i guess, what im asking too, is if you were to write another book with the idea that one aspect of book being your intention of releasing another specter from the past, or teaching another writer to do such a thing
what do you believe is important to pay attention to (what did you pay attention to) in order to not only write a compelling story, but one that would help put this haunt to rest?
i hope this question is okay. i understand if you dont wish to answer it, as its not so specifically related to this book, but more to your own writing about the book, and my own interest in both your thoughtful insightful answers and my own interest in transforming nightmares from my own past through my fiction. thank you very much for your time.

Christopher Hi Emilie,

Thanks for your question. And I have no problem responding to it at all.

For me, being able to write my way through something that has haunted me in some way is a matter of looking very closely at the thing that has made me averse to looking at it in the first place, and trying to see it without that flinch of fear and denial. With One for Sorrow, it was a matter of seeing Jamie Marks as a dead boy, of looking at death, which is what Adam is doing, and trying to find some way to accommodate it into my reality. I think that's what the boy from my childhood, the one who was murdered, signified for me for so long, and why I'd think of him whenever any death, from murder or illness or old age or anything, would make me recall him. His death had been the first I'd really noticed, and so it became a sort of associative thing for me in a way, I think. And in a way, I didn't want his death to be a symbol for me, so to speak, in this way, and I felt I owed it to both him and anyone in my life who passed away to see their deaths as their deaths, and not to see this image flash in my mind whenever a death occurred. So I tried looking hard at that image (which was certainly not the real boy himself, but that idea of death I had constructed) and tried to see beyond the death to the character. Of course it was a fictional character--I departed from anything in real life beyond the circumstances of the Boy Scout meeting scenario--but it allowed me to move beyond symbolism to the human, and in this way, it allowed me to make death a more familiar idea. I've never truly been okay with the idea of mortality, despite it being this obvious aspect of our existence. In any case, in order to do this but to tell a compelling story at the same time, I mostly followed my instincts in storytelling, which is a process for me that allows me to familiarize the unfamiliar in many ways. I usually write about things that don't make sense to me in order to understand them better, to try to at least. In One for Sorrow, I was trying to understand mortality, I think, and sudden and unjust death, and also the place I come from and how it has shaped my worldview. Some people think perhaps that setting this novel in the landscape I grew up in is a process of writing what you know. But frankly, I think many of us don't understand the places we inhabit until we do start to look at these things that seem familiar with a different set of eyes other than our own. So despite knowing the layout of the setting like the back of my hand, I found myself discovering things that I felt or thought about my home region that I had not realized I even felt or thought until I could see those feelings and thoughts made manifest on the page. It's what E.M. Forster meant, I think, when he said something like, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" So for me, writing from the place I "know so well" was actually more of a process of discovering what I knew about the place as well. In a way, after having written the book in its final form, I was like a fish that had leaped out of its fishbowl for a while and could see the bowl and the water I had inhabited. It was making an object out of something that had previously been a totally subjective experience for me.

I knew that in a lot of ways the setting I described would be one that many other people, particularly Americans, would furrow their eyebrows over. It's not the sort of place we think of when we think of Twenty-first century America, where it seemed for a long time that most of the Dream had been achieved, in the sense of the vast amount of the population living in suburban and urban landscapes, and ones that were relatively wealthy for the most part. Wealthy as in doing pretty good, not necessarily breathing money. But there are pocket regions throughout the country that have experienced a very different story. I wanted to tell one of those, the shadow story of the dream, and that was also one of the things on my mind as I wrote.

I remember coming across a blog, after One for Sorrow was out for a while, by a San Francisco blogger, who said she quite enjoyed the book but hadn't realized that places like this still existed in America. She said it felt like a book from the 1970s. I sort of nodded at hearing that. It was in the late 70s that the setting I wrote about started to lose its economic foundations. It's the time period in which it "stopped" so to speak.

I'm not sure what my advice for another writer on this particular kind of subject would be, mainly because writing itself is a subjective thing, and everyone has their own process. The thing for me has been to try to look at the subject matter I'm exploring head-on, and to say the things about it that I don't want to really accept despite their reality as a way of seeing the thing for itself. In One for Sorrow, I guess that was death, early and unfair death, the death of a place as well as the death we face as human beings. (No wonder it's depressing, Kim!)

My second novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing, was set in Japan, Emilie, and in that book I tend to try to see Japan and its culture clearly. Now, I don't think you can get everything about a place into a book, but what I think I was teaching myself about Japan in that book as I wrote about it was its culture in connection to America, how it has become more and more Westernized since WWII, and also I was looking at the concept of love itself in a variety of patterns, cross-cultural, same-sex, opposite sex, love of country, familial love, etc. It, too, is a sad book (just a heads up) though I hope it's shot through with beauty and hope as well as the sadness.

I'm not sure if I answered your question, Emilie, but I hope I may have touched on it in some useful way.

Christopher Sorry, Emilie, I realized too late that I had forgotten to address another of your questions, specifically the one about whether or not I feel it is the mythic/ghost imagery and symbolic representations that allow me to transform the things that haunt or obsess me into art.

I do feel that way, actually, and that it's a combination of these things, as you mentioned in that question. It's all things mythic, fantastic, supernatural, as well as "the real" that combine in such a way that I feel represents the universe/world best for me, personally. Every time I begin writing a story that seems mostly realistic, at some point it takes a turn into one or more of these other modes of seeing and thinking, and I think it's because "the real" is not enough to encompass all that I see and want to articulate in my writing.

There is a writer named Michelle Richmond who blurbed my second book, and when I saw what she wrote about it, I felt she had expressed my mode of writing more succinctly than I have been able to so far, so I'll quote her here:

"Christopher Barzak spins the familiar yarn of the everyday world into a magical universe."

It's the familiar encompassed by a much bigger and magical universe that does indeed attract me as a way of seeing and writing.

S. Kay (cobwebs) | 56 comments Revisiting this topic though it seems to have wrapped up, forgive me.

I don't have a specific question, but wanted to comment that I really enjoyed the book. Having lost a friend when I was young, I recognized that detachment that comes afterwards and it was interesting watching the characters deal with it in different ways. The style felt very fitting, and unique in an adult novel.

That was all, just wanted to say thanks, Christopher. I just borrowed your second novel from the library and look forward to reading that as well.

Christopher Thank you so much for the compliments, Kay. I'm glad you enjoyed the novel, and hope you enjoy the second one as well.

Emilie | 69 comments christopher,
i know this is a VERY delayed response. i want to apologise to you. i was thinking about the question i asked you, and returned here to read your answer, and i am surprised (and somewhat mortified) to see i did not even thank you.
i was pretty new to the internet when we had this conversation, and that is my only small defense. most likely, i thanked you in my mind, and thought you heard. (smiles)

thank you, christopher. for you very thoughtful answer.
and yes, you have touched on the subject in interesting ways. i am still thinking about it and how to do this myself. both the looking at nightmares without flinching in fear and denial and figuring out how to employ the mythic elements to create transformation. i agree that the "real" is not enough to encompass my own experience and what i wish to say either.

Christopher hi again, Emilie. no apologies necessary! but thank you very much for your kind words.

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