Sometimes you find a book that captures you. You can't put it down. Even though it's dark, and sometimes painful, and beautifully sad, you keep turning pages. When I found BENT ROAD by Lori Roy, I stumbled into a world of collective pain and family drama. At the same time, I found hope.
It was one of those books that moved me enough to contact the author. Here is our conversation.
WWW: After completing BENT ROAD, I immediately emailed my gals here at What Women Write, encouraging them to pick up a copy. However, I had a hard time naming the genre. I called it 'Literary Gothic.' What would you call it? As you set out to tell this story, did you always see the Gothic elements in place, or did they write their way into the story?
LR:First and foremost, many thanks for recommending BENT ROAD to your friends. Word-of-mouth is crucial for any author, and most especially for us new authors. BENT ROAD has been tossed into many categories, but the one consistent descriptor has been literary fiction. I am compelled by and most interested in my characters, something that lends to the book’s literary qualities. However, I also believe strongly that putting characters in action is the best way to define them and root them in a reader’s mind. It’s the old “show don’t tell” adage. I am particularly interested in those moments in a character’s life where she is unusually stressed. It’s these moments that I believe most reveal a character, not only to the reader but also to herself. As a reader, I like a little suspense to compel me to turn the page. I worked very hard to provide this to the readers of BENT ROAD. I wanted to fashion a plot that would make them desperate to turn to the next page. As to the Gothic elements, they rose up out of a gritty setting and family secrets that had been simmering for many years. If I were to place BENT ROAD in a category, I would probably call it literary suspense.
WWW: In preparing for our conversation, I stumbled across your query letter, published by your agent, Jenny Bent, on her blog. Without asking you about your query letter format (which was interesting in itself) I’m more interested in your mention of your organization of your agent hunt. How did your background in tax prepare you for the craft of fiction, and what was your process for writing BENT ROAD?
LR: I don’t know that my tax work prepared me for the craft of writing, but it certainly prepared me for the associated research and provided me the tools to organize that research. I did a good deal of technical writing in my accounting days and I would say that experience served me well when I began looking for an agent. Query letters are professional communications and should be treated as such. I think that’s an important thing for aspiring writers to remember. The long hours I worked when I was a tax accountant also prepared me for planting myself in a chair and staying there until the writing is done. As to the process of writing BENT ROAD, I would like to say I had it carefully outlined and knew every twist and turn well before it came along, but that would not be true. While my tax accountant life was quite orderly, my writing life is not. About the only order to my writing life is that I insist on strict word counts every day. Beyond that, I struggle with countless rewrites as I try to unearth what really happened to these characters of mine.
WWW: Let’s talk a little about BENT ROAD itself. What was the moment of genesis for you in creating the story of the Scott family? Was there a specific reason you chose Kansas in 1967 as your setting?
LR: I have found that all my stories begin with setting. I have also found myself most interested in settings that pose obstacles or are threatening in some way. Western Kansas can be a beautiful place but also a foreboding place, particularly to a group of newcomers. BENT ROAD grew out of a short story in which a family flees Detroit to move back to Kansas. I chose the late 60s because I am drawn to a time when technology was less of a distraction and people seemed a bit more accountable to reality.
WWW: You begin BENT ROAD with Celia driving the family from Detroit to Kansas, with her husband, Arthur, ahead in another vehicle. What was your primary goal in the opening scene? Did you struggle with creating the perfect opening hook?
LR: The opening scene of BENT ROAD was always the opening scene. I like the idea of beginning a story in the middle of something, dropping the reader directly into a character’s life. I think we’ve all experienced the stress of trying to follow someone in a car, and using such a universal experience allows a reader to quickly relate to the character. At least, that is my hope.
WWW: Part of my fascination and love of this story was your use of point of view. Can you give our readers some insight into writing each section from a different POV— sometimes even telling the same scene from the other side of the room? How easy, or difficult, was the balance of point of view in the story for you?
LR: The use of multiple POVs was a balancing act and something I struggled with during rewrite. I am drawn to using multiple POVs, primarily because as characters pop up, I find myself suddenly interested in unearthing their stories. It’s always important for a writer to consider which character is most impacted by a particular event. This is generally the POV that should be used when telling the event. I came across a few scenes that I felt were worthy of a look from multiple characters. I do limit myself in the number of POVs I’ll use, as I think too many will dilute a story.
WWW: As a writer, do you follow a structured path to the conclusion, or are you surprised by where the characters take you? Or is it a combination of both?
LR: I wish I followed a structured path and I have tried various methods, but in the end, my characters tell the story. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out what happened, but eventually the plot bubbles up. I do much flushing out during rewrites.
WWW: Your post on Bent On Books about securing Jenny Bent almost made me cry. (Especially when you answered your daughter’s question regarding your own tears with “It’s Marilyn Stasio. It’s the New York Times.”) Tell us a little bit about your personal journey that brought your from writer to author.
LR: For me, the most important part of making my way from writer to author was to keep writing without regard to all the statistics. If a writer spends any time at all considering how difficult the path is, she’ll likely quit. I once heard a young tennis player being interviewed. He had just beaten Andy Roddick in a match. Not a person in the tennis world would have thought this young player could win. The young man didn’t believe he had a chance, either, he said in this interview. But he kept trying. Even though he didn’t believe, he kept trying. Good advice to any writer.
WWW: Here at What Women Write, we discovered that falling in step together as a community of writers helped hold us accountable to our own writing goals. What did you find kept you on track to meet your writing, editing, and revision goals?
LR: I do have a few writer friends who have been very important to my development as a writer. Most importantly, they tell me when something is not working and when I can do better. Hopefully I do the same for them. I’m a firm believer that a crucial part of developing as a writer is reading and critiquing the work of other writers. As we become more skilled at analyzing and critiquing the work of other writers, we become more skilled at analyzing and critiquing our own work.
WWW: What are you writing now? Can you share with us?
LR: I'm working on, and hopefully nearing the end of, a story about three women living on the same block just outside downtown Detroit. Set in the late fifties, during a time of escalating tensions, this is another book I would label literary suspense.
WWW: Let’s time travel: If you had one piece of advice to give a younger version of yourself at the beginning of your writing journey, what would it be? Would you change anything?
LR: This is a tough question. There were certainly difficult times along the way. Like every writer, I occasionally wondered if I were wasting my time and struggled to ignore the statistics that tell us how difficult it is to publish a book. However, if I could, I would not reassure my younger self that I could overcome those obstacles. I think the struggle is necessary. Perhaps I find this question difficult because I had such great teachers along the way and I had the good sense to listen to them. These teachers gave me the advice and direction I needed when I needed it. Even my toughest days led me somewhere worthwhile, so I’d have to say I wouldn’t change a thing.
WWW: I promise, Lori, that this was no waste of time. I look forward to your next novel!