Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with Author Elizabeth Zinn

Today we're talking with Elizabeth Zinn, author of Heart's Blood

FQ: Your writing style is lovely. Your bio says that you studied under some big names in writing and literature, and it really shows in your book. Is there any advice from your teachers that you feel has been most helpful to you that you would like to pass on to other writers?

Thank you! I like to think of making music when I write and it pleases me no end when someone responds to that.

Yes, I was lucky to study with wonderful teachers, although at the time I was making my living as a musician and taking these courses for pleasure more than training to be a writer. And yet, when I began to write full time, the things I learned came back, especially admonitions about being too wordy, too descriptive. We need to let our readers work, to imagine things and form their own conclusions – to connect the dots we carefully leave, like trails of breadcrumbs. We mustn’t do all the work for them!

And another thing I took away from my wonderful teachers was the simple love of reading, of enjoying a beautifully crafted line, an intriguing story. So much of what is out there today is cheap and shallow and meaningless. Writers need to immerse themselves in truly fine writing and learn from its cadence and rhythm and content. Some of the modern day gurus warn against this, claiming that reading too many great works will keep us from finding our own voice. I think it’s the opposite!

FQ: You tackle some serious issues in this book, such as the drug trade, human trafficking, and immigration laws. Living so close to the border in southern Arizona, have you witnessed the effects of these issues firsthand? Given the current debates about immigration laws, are there specific messages that you would like to give to those of us further removed from their effects?

For those of us living on the border, these things you mention are in our face constantly, every day. We are run off the road by armies of Border Patrol vehicles, we see small groups of people being detained on the roadside, we find water bottles and backpacks on our land, along with mounds of trash in those places that are the ‘highways’ for crossers. Occasionally there are murders uncomfortably close; neighbors come across the bodies of people who died of exhaustion or thirst. But we stay because it is still beautiful here, and it is home.

The issues are so complex and so political that it is difficult to boil it all down into coherent messages. The national and state efforts to grapple with the ‘immigration problem’ are hopelessly political and largely based on questionable facts or downright lies. And the so-called solutions tend to be clumsy and heavy-handed and more harmful than the problem itself.

For me, the human side is all that really matters, the individual stories of the people who keep crossing to find a better life. The drug and human traffickers are thugs and criminals. But those who cross to look for jobs are unbelievably brave and hardworking and their lives are often tragic. Mana was a real person I met, and she became the impetus for the story in Heart’s Blood. And many of the incidents I described - such as the crossers who stole food and clothing but stayed long enough to finish a tile job! – are true happenings, drawn from local lore.

FQ: I really liked the relationship of Ty and Claire, how both of them were complete in themselves and were just happy to enjoy each other. Was their relationship dictated by the nature of Ty’s character, or is this your idea of an ideal relationship?

I think Ty’s and Claire’s relationship is a product of Ty’s reticent character more than anything. He is lucky enough to meet a woman like Claire, almost as independent as himself, and so their connection works for both of them. I tried to make the point from the very first scene, where he watches his mother’s burial, of how alone and isolated he is. Lita is really the only person able to get inside that protective shell. And no, his relationship with Claire is not my idea of an ideal one; I’d like to see a little more intimacy, as reflected in the relationship of Lita and CJ.

FQ: Ty and Lita’s relationship was central to the story, and their problems, especially during her teenage years, showed how strong the bond was that kept them together. Did you have help in writing these scenes from your own experience of raising two daughters?

Oh yes! How did you know?? And I drew on my own experience as an absolutely obnoxious and self-absorbed little snot during my teen years.

I’ve always been fascinated by the extremes that adolescents feel, and tried to portray that in Lita’s behavior and Ty’s inability to understand it. As Claire so wisely says, “I don't think anything in the human experience can equal a teenager's capacity for love, hate, or anger. Those feelings are so raw and pure when you're fifteen – they're uncomplicated by any sense of proportion or temperance or wisdom, and they're fueled by hormones that we adults can't begin to recall.”

FQ: You explore the idea of blood ties versus emotional ties very thoroughly through all the different relationships in the story. What made you want to write about this in the first place?

As I said, Mana was the genesis of the story, and once she and Ty and Lita came to life, their relationships to each other and to the other characters in the book naturally revolved around blood ties versus emotional ties. CJ illustrates this tension more than anyone else, being Ty’s natural son but unable to have a comfortable relationship with him because of his unwavering loyalty to Charlie, his adoptive father. I didn’t start out wanting to write about this issue, though. It grew naturally out of the characters’ stories as they unfolded.

The other big theme in the book is that of secrets! Secrets kept, secrets told, good ones, bad ones, sad ones. Lita ends up being the guardian of most of the secrets and it is a heavy burden for her at times.

FQ: Your bio mentions your novel Dancer, which shares some characters with Heart’s Blood. However, I couldn’t find it on either Amazon or your website. Is there a way to get a copy for those of us who enjoyed Heart’s Blood and want to read more?

Thank you for asking! Dancer is my favorite of the four books I’ve written, but is not published yet. It shares some of the characters in Heart’s Blood and is set in the same locale – here in southern Arizona. When it is available I will post it on the web site:

FQ: Touring as a professional musician must have been a phenomenal experience. What were your favorite things about it? Do you still perform?

Touring was a phenomenal experience! Our quartet, the Sonora Quartet, did a lot of touring throughout Mexico and the West, including the Indian reservations. Our venues ranged from tiny, shabby rooms to grand Baroque concert halls, and every experience was new and wonderful. I loved meeting the people wherever we went, especially in Mexico. I loved driving though the countrysides and seeing places I’d never imagined, eating exotic foods, sleeping in different beds each night, leaving my ‘real life’ behind for a few weeks. These were some of the richest experiences of my life.

And no, I don’t perform any more. I’ve closed that door in order to open new ones. Though I still do practice in my sleep – run scales, play sonatas all the way through, hit wrong notes and go back to correct them. I guess if you’ve spent your entire life making music you can’t leave it completely behind.

To learn more about Heart's Blood please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

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