Editor’s note: Clarrisa Everglad is a former journalist, and Professor Emeritus at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable, Massachusetts. She is the author of seven books on fiction and fiction writing, including “Show Up and Follow“, winner of four international awards. She regularly interviews authors on their fiction work.
Following is an interview with new author W.B. Cushman of Portland, Oregon. The interview was conducted by phone from Everglad’s home office in Orleans, Massachusetts.
Everglad: Welcome to the world of published authors Mr. Cushman, and congratulations on your new book “Ring Around the Rosy“.
Cushman: Thank you Clarissa.
Everglad: This is your first?
Cushman: Yes. My first ever. I’ve had one short story published in a Weasel Press Anthology September 2015. But, this is my book.
Everglad: It’s an interesting story, one I enjoyed very much. We’ll get, in a minute, to some of the specifics. I understand that when you began your tale of Rosy and Teddy and Matt it was not with the idea of writing a novel.
Cushman: That’s true. At the time, in the Spring and Summer of 2015, I was committing myself to fiction. I’d been publishing a Blog for about a year then, the posts generally autobiographical in nature. Anyway, I’d begun writing short stories and submitting them to on-line magazines requesting submissions. I don’t remember which particular magazine this was for, but one of the sites was requesting a story that required an apocalyptic setting and at least one character with what would be considered a major disability.
Everglad: How did that venture morph from a short story to the now-published novel?
Cushman: There was a word limit, I believe it was 7000 though it could have been 5000. In short order I flew past the limit and made the decision I would just keep going and see where the story took me.
Everglad: Could you explain “see where the story took me”?
Cushman: There are probably as many different ways to write a story as there are writers. One way would to be thoroughly organized, creating an outline with plot development, character and setting detail, pretty much having it figured out. I would say I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum. Most of the stories I write, and now this novel, I have an idea for a beginning and nothing beyond that. Seriously, it’s rare that I know where a story is headed, and I almost never know who’s going to show up to tell the story.
Everglad: Is writing that way anxiety producing? Don’t you worry you’ll bog down, get stuck?
Cushman: Yes, and that’s happened a few times. But, more often than not, an idea appears. Or a new character. In “Rosy”, for instance, I began the book with only three characters in mind, the three you mentioned. But when those three arrived back in their hometown, following the apocalyptic event in which the entire planet of Earth was cooked by a solar intrusion through the atmosphere, all of a sudden there were four younger kids hiding in the ruins of a private school. And we meet them when one calls out, “Halt. Who goes there?” Which for me is pretty cool. Who wouldn’t want to write those words in a story? It’s like a ticket right back to childhood.
Everglad: So, new characters appear, almost as if by magic. How did you come up with their names?
Cushman: Felix, Les, Cal, and Marvin? I don’t know exactly. I tried to picture each kid and a name that would work for him. If I can sidebar here for a minute, and this could be a much longer conversation, but one of the thrilling aspects of writing fiction for me is being able to create something out of nothing. Before I wrote “Rosy” there was no Felix Sylvia, an 11-year old living in Marion, Massachusetts in 2018. There’s probably someone with that name, maybe lots of someones. But not my someone. And how cool is that? And Sylvia was a name in my hometown growing up, a Portuguese name. I had a friend named Bruce with that last name. So, I get to honor and make jokes with myself and do whatever I want. Which is a complete joy of writing fiction.
Everglad: Writers have always been encouraged to know much more about their characters than they share on the pages, know everything about them, their habits, their likes and dislikes, the names of their pets, etc. Was that part of your process in writing your book?
Cushman: I would be giving myself way too much credit if I said yes. That would involve more attention to detail and devotion to being at my absolute best than I’m generally able to amp up – for anything. It’s a goal, to know future characters that well. To be able to tell you the name
of Felix’s dog. Maybe it’s Taffy. So, my best answer to your question is a little bit. I know each of them, and all the characters in the book, as individuals. I’d know each one if I met them on the street as a group. Ditto for Peter Frates and Cat Levesque and everyone else who adds their voice to this journey. Of course, when Victoria created the cover, and had a very particular Rosy and a Teddy and a Matt looking out at me, well, that was a little discombobulating.
End of Part One