Buddy Cushman Art

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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman – Part Three

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 internationaltierra-del-mar-2-061 awards. She regularly interviews authors on their fiction work.

Following is Part Three of an interview with new author W.B. Cushman of Portland, Oregon. His book is “Ring Around the Rosy“. The interview was conducted by phone from Everglad’s home office in Orleans, Massachusetts.

Everglad: We’ve gone off topic, a little, away from the book which is the focus of this interview. Though the points you’ve made about the writing process, and its joy for you, are most interesting and, I believe, invaluable. I’ll want to ask you more later. But now, back to your “Rosy“. There is a small paragraph coming near the very end of the story that stands out for me, in its language and, I’d say, subject matter. I’d like to read it to you and ask for your feedback.

Cushman: Okay.

Everglad: Here it is – “The sun slid out from behind a passing cloud, and a soft breeze moved across the land and out over the ocean. If there were seagulls they would have been making their seagull calls. Minnows would swim around eddies in sand pools created by the eternal waves, and small brown and gray pipers would chase the tiny fish back and forth, playing tag with the rhythm of the watery world.”  It’s quite lovely, for me as a reader, and different in the power of its imagery from much of the rest of the book.

Cushman: Thank you, Clarrisa, for bringing that paragraph into our conversation. It may be my favorite paragraph in the book. If I can take a minute I’ll explain why.

Everglad: Please do.

Cushman: My favorite genre in fiction writing has always been mystery. I love speculative and horror, if its good – like Stephen King’s – and lots of science fiction. Clearly Rosy falls into a speculative category, and most of my writing – “Astoria Strange” and another collection of stories I’m gathering for publication down the road, “Collected Strays” – is horror and science fiction in nature. But, there is something about mysteries, Detective mysteries, that satisfy me most. Perhaps my favorite mystery writer is author James Lee Burke. He has a series of maybe 20 books with a character named Dave Robicheau that is outstanding – the plots, the characterizations, the ongoing story line. But, what sets him apart from other famous and successful mystery writers is, for me, the power of setting he creates with language – language that allows the reader, transports the reader, to be there completely, to see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, experience it. There is a majestic poetry to Burke’s writing. And, to the point you raised, Professor, that is an ongoing goal of mine, as a writer, to use words to pull the reader thoroughly and willingly into my story. It’s a goal, like I said, and at this point in my time as an author I’m nowhere close to where I want to be. Having said that, the paragraph you quoted is me moving toward that place. The story of Rosy and all her traveling companions is coming to an end, at least in this book, and, for me, the end feels so much like a pause.  So into this pause comes a memory, told as an ‘if only’ – if only life as Rosy and her friends knew it continued to exist. Then seagulls would be seagulls and the tides would come and go, with shoreline inhabitants doing there forever shoreline things. I stopped at that paragraph, when I got there, and tried to infuse it with a Burke-like sense of thusness. Look and hear, and you will know this and remember, what’s gone now. In a way coming in a complete circle back to a sticky summer day in August when kids went to aquariums and the waves in Buzzards Bay licked the hurricane wall in New Bedford Harbor.

Everglad: That’s well said Mr. Cushman. Your explanation with a poetry of its own. And I do know Burke, and like you, I am a fan. I also appreciate your honesty, that to write with the sense of majesty you describe is, for you, a goal, that you are not there yet.

Cushman: I’m nowhere near there. But it’s good to have goals.

Everglad: I would hope that every writer would hope to improve with each passing day, and story. Do you have a plan to help you on that path?

Cushman: I read a lot. Maybe four or five books a month. I’d like to read mbooksore. In his book “On WritingStephen King says the two most important things a writer can do are read a lot and write a lot. So those activities are certainly the foundation for becoming a better writer. Which includes reading books about writing. I just mentioned King’s, which is my favorite. Another that’s important to me is Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing”. Those are both autobiographical as well as instructional. There’s a third book as important for me and that is “The Art of Fiction” by John Gardner, which is more of a textbook.

Everglad: It is a very important book for any aspiring writer.

Cushman: I took a class – Fiction Writing – at Portland State University, either in the Fall of 2014 or 2015, I can’t remember. One of the reading assignments was the first chapter of Gardner’s book. Upon my first reading I had the reaction that there was an arrogance in the writing, what he was saying. I remember saying that in class, and I’m pretty sure I remember the Professor chuckling, or something like that. Anyway, for some reason, a couple of months later, I ended up going on Ebay and buying the book. A brand new paperback copy. Now I’ve read through it at least twice, it’s marked up and highlighted and underlined, meaning I’ve made it my book, and like I said, it’s become very important for me – as a student of writing.

Everglad: What about it speaks to you, and if you can, please relate that to your writing of your newly published book.

Cushman: In the second chapter of the book – which for me is the bonanza – Gardner says, “Fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.” Further in the chapter he says, “What counts in conventional fiction must be the vividness and continuity of the fictional dream the words set off in the reader’s mind.” That, for me, is the highlight statement in the book, and the thought I carry all the time I am at the keyboard, or brainstorming with myself on a yellow legal pad. What I ask myself – Am I continuously engaging the reader with the vividness of my writing? That is The Question, and I emphasize those two words, for me and my writing. So, with Rosy, the feedback I’ve received so far would indicate that I have had at least some degree of success in the continuity of the story maintaining reader interest, in a couple of cases people asking about a potential sequel, wanting to know what happens next. I’d like to think that I was able to move forward from the story’s apocalyptic beginning and create first three and then more characters who mattered, who were worth caring about, characters that hopefully people could identify with. And want to travel across the state of Massachusetts with, and see how it turned out for them. And that was true as well, I hope, for Peter Frates, an entirely different character with a completely distinct milieu of emotions from the kids, but someone you could still root for. And hopefully I maintained a continuity describing the day-to-day physical survival needs and activities as well. The other part, the vividness of the writing, I guess every reader will decide that for themselves. I think it goes back to the earlier conversation of writing with a majesty like James Lee Burke. It’s good, and in places very good, and hopefully I can do better.

Everglad: Every question, and every answer, incites further questions. There is so much more to talk about. Marvin’s mother, why you wrote her the way you did? What was your level of research for the book? How is it that a second character with Down Syndrome appears? And of course a number of questions about the narrator and your choice of perspective. I ‘d call it an omniscient third person, with an attitude.

Cushman: I’m yours for as long as you need me, Professor.

 

 


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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman

 

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 internationaltierra-del-mar-2-061 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 attme-writingention 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