The House by Anjuelle Floyd
Interview with the Author:
1. Where did you come up with the central storyline for “The House”?
Upon earning my MFA in Creative Writing I began exploring various ways and methods for planning my stories and novels, but that also left enough undiscovered territory that fueled my desire to write.
I developed the plot for The House while preparing to teach a class entitled Story Basics. The main primer for the class is Writing for Story written by Pulitzer Prize Winning Essayist, Jon Franklin. In Writing for Story, Franklin addresses the importance of career writers learning to develop an outline or blueprint for writing their fiction.
The Franklin Outline, as explained in Writing For Story, provided a map by which I could remain on track regarding the plot of my story of novel, while leaving the terrain of the journey in writing the scenes full of mystery and revelation. The main assignment of the class requires students to use Franklin’s outline or some variation thereof to sketch a story or novel, and then write the story or beginning of the novel–about 10,000 words.
I had intended to write a short story. Having written 10,000 words by the end of the first of 15 weeks evidenced the outline worked for me.
Creating characters has always been easy. Developing a way to keep the story moving and not bogged down in dispensing information about a protagonist’s personality has presented my greatest challenge.
Plotting stories is where my growth points lay, most specifically deciding where and when to dispense what knowledge, as deemed by the action, interaction and conflict at hand. The Franklin Outline cleared the path for me to write by giving me a road map, while leaving the territory untouched.
Following the blueprint I created for my story, I simply wrote plot–action, what was happening, the cause-and-effect movement of the narrative. Unlike with other stories I had written I uncovered or rather realized the personalities of my characters along the way as I wrote. This is much like what readers experience when reading a good story. The writer does not throw at readers everything about characters all at once. Rather she or he drops breadcrumbs as demanded by the action in scenes. The action in scenes is essentially plot. Since writing The House I have modified my method for sketching stories and novels, but Job Franklin’s method of outlining a work of fiction sits at the heart of how I plan.
The Franklin Outline helps me chart where the story is destined, and yet I have no idea the roads that the story will take in getting there. The Franklin Outline, for me, leaves much room for discovery and revelation–elements central to driving plot, raising the stakes and increasing tension in a story.
The Franklin Outline makes writing less stressful and fun and ultimately allows me to write more deeply within the places of action and the feelings my protagonist experiences along the journey of the story.
Those interested in learning more about The House can sample opening pages at http://www.freado.com/book/6208/the-house.
2. How do you use your background in psychotherapy when developing the characters in your books?
Developing characters for my novels and stories is much like listening to clients when they present for the first time in therapy. If plot flows from character, then getting to know your characters as a writer, shares similarities with clients in psychotherapy telling their life story prior to meeting you, therapist, their life’s journey. The author, like the psychotherapist, must be willing to listen.
My characters come to me when I am driving. As a mother I spend an inordinate amount of time chauffeuring children around. I don’t listen to the radio, rather I have an iPod with over 4000 songs and various playlists that I play when driving. Music inspires me. A song can conjure a character in my head, or perhaps something I witness while sitting at a stoplight.
Once I have a story in my head, I compile songs from my iTunes library and make what serves as my soundtrack for this particular novel. I play it over and over while I drive and this fuels the conversation in my head from my characters. The music also catalyzes images.
Images are very powerful. In working with clients I have them to bring in one dream that they write down on arrival to their session. Afterwards they draw an image, anything that comes to mind. I also draw with them. This takes about 10 minutes after which we start the session. And dreams tell the story our life, both the immediate and that of the larger mosaic.
Much like psychotherapy, stories are about movement, growth, change and ideally transformation. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I receive images and that my characters talk to me when I am driving, moving.
3. There appears to be a great focus on names. Full names are repeated throughout the story, and several children at the end of the book are named after pivotal characters. How much consideration did you put in deciding what you will name a character?
Names are very important, both in life and in stories. In fact they can tell a story, that of one’s life. In naming our daughters we chose middle names for them that come from their grandparents. For instance the middle name of our eldest is the maiden surname of my maternal grandmother. I was very close to my grandmother and she had a great influence on me.
By giving her surname to her great granddaughter we keep my grandmother’s spirit alive. A little bit of my grandmother lives through her great granddaughter. I am told that the Chinese characters that form a person’s name include the names of their father or parents. In a world that has become so global where family members live spread out across various continents and where we may live and die far from where we entered life on earth, names become even more important. Our name stays with us until we die, tells a central part of our story during the journey of our life. If we are lucky, someone will inherit or choose to give it to another and bequeath us a bit of immortality, as with Edward, Anna and Inman in The House.
I cannot begin writing a story or novel unless I have carved out the names of the characters. Those of the major characters must not only tell something of the story of their life prior to the opening of the novel, their name must hold a sound that reflects and echoes aspects of their personality important to the journey of their life displayed in the plot of the novel.
The names of the infants at the end of The House evidence the love that Linda has for her father, Edward, beyond his death. That Theo, Anna’s younger son and second child, and Millicent choose to give their fraternal twins Anna and Inman’s names evidences the melding of the two families, their acceptance, particularly that of Anna’s children, of Inman in their lives at a time when Anna is still unsure. The scene wherein the twins are christened serves as the backdrop against, which Anna both offers forgiveness to Edward and experiences redemption with Inman.
4. What do you feel was the significance of Anna’s move to Paris alone?
Anna graduated college with a BA in Art History. Edward had found Anna’s love of art attractive like her. He would build the house and Anna would make it a home. The house would serve as a museum, the holder and testament of his accomplishments throughout their marriage.
Though Anna’s mother had not approved her Anna’s wish to marry Edward, she had approved less of Anna’s desire to travel to Paris in the early 70’s and find work in a Paris museum. By the end of her journey in the novel, The House, Anna was ready to break away, not simply from the painful aspects of her life, mainly as a wife to Edward, but to those old habits of not attending to herself and creating what would make her happy.
As a I write this I wonder just what Anna might have done had her mother encouraged Anna to travel to Paris. In other words, would Anna have married Edward had she had the opportunity and permission from her mother to travel to and seek out work in Paris, France?
Anna’s father would have supported her in going, but what I find as a psychotherapist who has also been a daughter to my mother and am now a mother of 3 daughters is that girls particularly need permission from our mothers to seek out our passion. Of course the best way to give our daughters permission and fuel to pursue the desires of their heart, creative desires is to find our passion as mothers, discover the activities we love and that give us joy separate from being a wife and motherhood.
By allowing our children, particularly our daughters, to witness us doing this, we not only say, “Go find your dreams. Make them come true.” We also show them how to launch and make that search. Anna’s mother was not a happy person. Anna married Edward thinking that she would find happiness in her marriage and she also wanted to escape her mother and most importantly the emotional loneliness that existed in the relationship with her mother.
5. Why did you choose self publication for The House?
My husband picked up the manuscript to The House and read it he said, “This is great! It needs to be published. You should send it out [to agents and publishers].” At that time, October 2008, the country had just fallen into the sinkhole of a financial recession. I’m not about to waste your money and my time mailing out queries in this recession,” I said then reminded my husband of the recession while emphasizing how the already poor financial state of publishing had worsened. I then, tongue and cheek, said, “The only way this novel would get published is through self-publishing.” My husband then said, “Well then I’ll self-publish it.” In short he would provide the money for me to bring The House to print.
At that point I had a decision to make. Look a gift horse in the mouth and abandon my dream and desire to see a novel I had written in print OR follow my passion. I chose the latter. I must admit it was a lot easier self-publishing The House in that a traditional, albeit small publisher, had brought my first work, a collection of short stories, to print.
The House debuted October 15th, 2010, my birthday. With the onset of the recession I had planned to simply write and focus on honing my fiction writing skills, gain a better grasp of my process for crafting and refining novels. Now, nearly 3 years later, I have not only done that, but I have learned so concerning how to use social media in the promotion of your writing, a skill that benefits both self- and traditionally published authors. I have also learned so much about the financial and business side of publishing, something of which all authors, again, both traditionally and self-published need to possess a working knowledge.
The third benefit in self-publishing has been the ability to remain present for my children, all three of whom are at strategic points in their academic and/or emotional development towards adulthood and gaining financial independence. I write about family–mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, husbands and wives. It is important that I live congruent with the beliefs I espouse in my writing.
In six years our youngest will, with God’s blessings, enter college. At that point I’ll have more time to devote to writing on a tighter schedule which is what signing a contract with a publishing company entails. I loved working with the small publisher who brought my short stories, Keeper of Secrets…Translations of an Incident, to print. The manuscript they published served as my thesis towards earning my MFA in Creative Writing. It is a different matter writing a novel from scratch. I like to take time writing my novels.
I spent 3 years writing The House and it was fun. Publishing in the 21st century requires a writer to have a firm grasp of her or his process for crafting and refining novels on a deadline. It’s all about the money, that of the agent, the publisher and of course, you, the author. You have to have your novels ready on time and you cannot count on the publisher to provide you an editor. It’s not just about writing one book. Most publishing contracts involve 2 books. This is how agents make money.
The author also needs to know how to writing and craft novels while promoting and marketing her or his work. Most publishers will provide little or no budget for promotion and marketing. And then there is the matter of identifying your target audience, which is no small feat. I have read many articles advising would-be authors to find their target audience, establish a brand by which they and their writing are known and then seek an agent. Attaining a contract with a traditional publisher is something most authors would relish. I would just like to be in a position to meet the demands that publishers today asks of their authors.
You can read more about the author at her website: http://www.anjuellefloyd.com/ or follow her on twitter @anjuellefloyd. I also featured a review of her sophomore novel, The House, which you can read here.