Saturday, June 22, 2013

Author Interview – Ted Olinger

at 6:30 AM

What inspires you to write and why? I am not entirely convinced that I am a writer yet. I have worked as a part-time freelance journalist 15 years or so and published many articles and a bit of fiction, but somehow I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet. I try not to introduce myself as “a writer,” since I’m afraid I might be meeting a real one. If we had anything in common, I imagine it would be an impulse to recreate a feeling or moment to preserve and convey its value. If that happens, then the reader has something she can keep, remember, and maybe use, even if it’s just the knowledge that someone else walked the same path she’s on now or may someday face. I don’t know that I can put my finger on why I want to do that, but I’m drawn to those surprising bits of knowledge from unexpected places. And they’re not always good. I suppose that’s why I want to pass it along.

What genre are you most comfortable writing? I have written short fiction for a long time but published far more nonfiction. I can’t say I find writing nonfiction easier or more comfortable, but I know how it’s going to end and that helps.

Why did you choose to write this particular book? This collection of stories is my first book and my inspiration was the desire to preserve them for the community that inspired and enjoyed them and supported me as they were published. Half the stories had been previously published, but I had trouble finding homes for the longer ones. After I met the person who would become my publisher, it occurred to me I could do both. The book is a collection of humorous and heartfelt stories about life on a rural peninsula in Puget Sound, where lovelorn woodpeckers torment hapless homeowners, anarchist loggers nail protest poems to defiant trees, and wayward salmon swim across highways to reach their home waters. Although each story stands alone, they also build on each other and share the same emotional and physical landscape. Putting them into a collection was a good way to both keep them alive and enhance their impact. I hope.

How did you come up with the title? The Woodpecker Menace comes from the title story, where a young family is besieged by a woodpecker that takes up residence on their roof. It begins as a lighthearted tale of inept homeowners confronting nature, but touches on some deeper elements of our own nature and how that must be confronted too. The “menace” comes from the danger of caring about something, or someone, the threat or discomfort that comes with genuinely looking into one’s self, and how one reacts to what is found there. It’s a theme that comes up in different ways throughout the book, just as it comes up in different ways through life.

How did you develop your plot and characters? This is a bit different in short story writing than in novels, I imagine. My own stories are character driven. Someone’s impulse, usually poorly understood, starts a chain of events that leads to an unexpected unraveling of things. The more complex stories start with some action or mission, or my desire to get the reader to accompany me somewhere, but depend on characters appearing to drive things. Sometimes those characters become so interesting, at least to me, that they bend the arc of the story around themselves and I’ve had to calve off their part and turn it into a story all on its own. It’s a long process, and I spend a lot of time wondering what these fictional people would think about my portrayal if I ran into them someday. Even if they are behaving badly, I try to be respectful and not leave a lot of footprints. I try to leave judgment up to the reader.

The Key Peninsula floats quietly through time in Puget Sound but exists more like an island in the hearts of her residents. Descendants of the first peoples and pioneers mingle with newcomers washed ashore from distant cities in these stories of small town life in a community too small to have a town.

Young homeowners grapple with the depredations of heartsick woodpeckers. Anarchist loggers nail indignant poems to roadside trees. Shamanic gardeners work to heal a damaged world one lawn at a time. Deceptively simple stories with deep feeling.

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Genre – Fiction / Short Stories

Rating – PG13

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