Tag Archives: Unbridled Books

An Interview with Peter Geye

Safe from the Sea book cover

It is always a pleasure and a privilege to meet fellow Unbridled authors, and Peter Geye is one of them. His first novel, Safe from the Sea, won high praise from Library Journal, which commended Geye for “engag[ing] the complexities of family dynamics skillfully and handl[ing] especially well the kind of family grudges and misunderstandings that can cripple relationships for decades, as they do here. Inspiring, wise, and enthusiastically recommended for all readers.”

His second novel, The Lighthouse Road, takes place in a lumberjack camp in the wilderness of northern Minnesota and aboard a skiff on Lake Superior.  Booklist gave it a starred review, writing that “[t]he echoes of the characters’ heartbreak through the generations are as haunting as the howling of the wolves on the wind.”

And Bruce Machart wrote that “[t]o be submerged in the frothing, watery world of Peter Geye’s The Lighthouse Road is to be baptized anew in the promise of American letters. I defy you to bear witness to the tormented tenderness of Odd Eide, to suffer and love and row beside him in his skiff, without throwing down your nets. Here is an epic that spans more than generations. Here is an epic that spans the topography between hell-dark bear dens and moonlit lake water. Here is a novel that charts the whole of the human heart.”

HUERGO: What moves you to write? What sparked your imagination as you began your last novel?

GEYE: I have to be honest, I write for my own enjoyment as much as I write to be read. I love the process of inventing another world, of filling it with folks I’d like to get to know, of suffering with them, and experiencing their joys. I find a lot of the same satisfaction in writing a book that I do in reading one. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

The Light House Road book cover

And my second book, The Lighthouse Road, had a couple of sparks at the beginning. For one, I wanted to write about the immigrant experience. For a long time I’ve been interested in this idea of the American dream. More specifically, what happened when someone came to America expecting to find that dream, but they ended up finding something else instead. And I also really wanted to write from a woman’s point of view. Both subjects were supremely rewarding, as were the other stories that evolved from those first ideas.

HUERGO: How much research do you do before or during the writing process?

GEYE: I think of myself as a jungle researcher. That is, I go into the subject like it’s a jungle, and I just look around for things that are interesting. This is of course not always possible (sometimes I need evidence or facts), but I’m convinced after writing two books that required a lot of research that I’ve found a sort of method in not having much of a method at all.

As for when I do the research, I spend time before, during and after the writing of the book researching it. By the time I’m done writing a book, I’m usually pretty attached to the subject matter, and that interest lives on my life even after the writing is done.

HUERGO: What was the best advice you got about the manuscript?

Peter Geye

GEYE: I get so much feedback from so many helpful readers that it’s hard to winnow it down to any one thing. One of the moments that sticks out for me was when a trusted reader (an old friend from grad school) encouraged me to keep going with the non-linear format I employed in The Lighthouse Road. I was, frankly, full of misgivings and insecurities, but she convinced me that the method was working. I’m glad I trusted her.

HUERGO: Was there a particular teacher or mentor who influenced and helped you?

GEYE: I love to answer this question because of how emphatically I can say, YES! In high school I was a bit of a misfit, and certainly not the best student. I always say I was way more interested in cracking jokes or flirting with girls than I was in any academic subject. One day in English class my teacher, a man by the name of David Beenken, jumped down my throat for causing a disturbance. He said it was much easier to be a smart ass if you’ve actually done the reading. Thinking that I would show him just what a smart ass I could be, I went home and started reading the assignment. The book was Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and by the time I was finished with it, I was not only on the straight and narrow at school, but wanted to be a writer as well. I never wavered from that ambition.

HUERGO: I’m always curious what writers are working on next. Can you share with us your current project?

GEYE: I’m really excited about my current project because it’s so different from my first two novels. The book I’m working on now is part adventure story, part mystery, and part exploration on how the past haunt us. It mainly involves a father and son who venture into the wilderness of northern Minnesota intent on recreating the life of the hivernants or winterers as they were also known. These were voyagers who spent the winters in the wilderness and were regaled as the toughest sort of men. Well, the men in my story are tough, but they’re not prepared, and there are some ulterior motives on the father’s part. Suffice it to say, things don’t go as planned.

 “Now there were men yelling in the bunkhouse and barn. The barn boss had set free the Ovcharkas and they circled the horse as eight wolves whirled about the paddock. They moved to their own ancient choreography, their red eyes in the darkness, their thick pelts shimmering like tinsel under the moon.”  —from The Lighthouse Road

 

An Interview with Virginia Pye

Virginia Pye and I also share an important bond: we’re both lucky enough to have our work published by Unbridled Books. When we met at the Virginia Festival of the Book in March 2013, she kindly agreed to respond to a few questions about her forthcoming work, River of Dust, a beautifully lyrical novel inspired by her grandfather’s journals, written while he was a missionary in China in the early 20th century. This debut novel has already won an important accolade, having been selected as an Indie Next Pick for May 2013. Pye, aside from having taught writing at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, served three terms as president of James River Writers, a literary non-profit in Richmond, Virginia. Her short stories have won awards and appeared in numerous literary magazines, including The North American Review, Tampa Review and The Baltimore Review. There is more information about Virginia Pye at Unbridled Books, as well as her author site.

Virginia Pye

Huergo: How would you describe your writing process?

Pye:  I have written for many years, stopping only when my children were young. River of Dust is my sixth novel, though the first to be published. I tend to ruminate on a story and characters for a while before I begin to write it. I jot down an outline. Nothing strict, but something to follow, heading towards key moments or turning points. I then dive in. I write every day and have for some time, unless I’m distracted by travel or family. When I was working on River of Dust, I was so possessed by telling the story that it woke me before five a.m.. I was at my desk with a cup of coffee before sun up and could write for two hours and then take my son to school. I’d return to it in the daylight and press on. I tend to write a full first draft of a book, then go back and rewrite extensively through many more drafts. The whole process can take years, but luckily, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

Huergo: What would you identify as the most difficult aspect of that process?

Pye: The most difficult aspect is being able to see the work clearly for what it is, not for what I hope it will be. Like many writers, I have a love/hate relationship with what I write. I can be enamored of something one moment, and then feel chagrined by it the next. What’s hardest is to find that clear-eyed balance where you can see where you have succeeded, but also where you’ve fallen short. Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.” For me, that’s taken years to develop, and I’m still working on it. And, by the way, there’s a danger in sharing work too early. A writer can become hopeful and excited by her intentions and share it. That’s never a good idea, because criticism can be confusing and can throw you off track. It’s better to really polish the work and give it its best shot, and then venture out with it.

Huergo: How do you balance your personal life and your writing?
         
            book cover for River of Dust

Pye: I’m extremely lucky because I have a supportive husband and family, and I live in a community where there’s a sense of space and time in which to write. My life is not overly pressured. I used to teach writing, but not these days. Also, for years, I helped run a literary non-profit. But for now, I can say I just write. I tend to be disciplined about my time and go to my desk daily, which I consider a great privilege.

Huergo: What’s your next project?  

Pye: I’ve written many drafts of a novel about a family in Cambridge, Massachusetts—which happens to be where I grew up—at the time of the student take over of Harvard in 1969. For some reason, I’ve been trying to write that event into a novel for decades. It fascinates me. This novel is about two sisters, one of whom ends up inside the administration building during the take over. The girls’ father is Dean of Students, and his job is to bring the kids out of the building safely. Once again, as in River of Dust, I’m interested in the conflicts within families of the dominant class. In this case, they are not missionaries, but “the establishment.” I’m interested in how the next generation goes to great lengths to define themselves in opposition to their inherited status. In other words, it’s a novel that comes out of the sixties. And, although I wasn’t of that age, I know how it tore apart families and has echoes to this day.