Interview with Barbara Monier, author of Pushing the River
09 Oct 2018
What can you tell us about your new release, Pushing the River?
Each of the characters in Pushing the River exhibits quirky complexity, even the minor ones. Each person is flawed, and some are profoundly damaged by life; yet each character also has moments of true grace within the course of the novel. Most even have moments of genuine – if quiet – heroism. The novel attempts to view a troubled and troubling situation (a family crisis engendered by a teen pregnancy) through a lens of compassion. There is humor, some lustful sex, egregious errors of judgment, situations that strain credulity. This mirrors the way I see life – as a joyful and disturbing mess. But I also believe in the transformative power of plumbing the depths, and I wanted to challenge readers to do two things: first, to look more deeply into the undercurrents that run beneath the surface of very human foibles and situations. This novel considers the psychological depths of a family across generations, and thereby creates a doorway to comprehend events more fully. The second challenge is to use this deeper understanding to shake things up — our previous habits of perception and judgment — and to expand our views.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
Possibly Dr. Suess inspired me. I began writing at a very early age, literally in crayon, on sheets of notebook paper I stole from my older brother. I illustrated the stories myself, and bound them into little booklets. Mischievous monkeys appeared in a lot of the stories, as well as giraffes – who for some reason were always very wise. I did not read voraciously as a kid, in the way that many writers do, but books had huge meaning to me. A book for children about Helen Keller, for instance, influenced me tremendously. The moment when Helen finally understands the concept of words and spelling – and that this understanding can open up her entire world – I likened that with the power of writing and books. The power to open new worlds.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
My answer to this undoubtedly changes, but the ones that come to mind today would be: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Cider House Rules, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There’s a great deal of commonality among them. They are all beautifully written, full of sentences that I lingered on, and read over and over. Each of them incorporates a lot of social commentary and weaves it seamlessly into a captivating story. The overall conception of each of these novels is so breathtaking that I tear up when I even think about them.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
Does it have to be a living author? If not, I would definitely choose Shakespeare. I would explain that the zeitgeist now is to come clean with past secrets and to live our lives out loud, in full public view. So, I would say to Will, tell us for real, what did you actually write, and what did you take credit for that is the work of others? ‘Splain yourself!
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
This is an easy one, because I have only one favorite thing about writing; my list of un-favorite things is extremely long. My writing springs from a need to “get it right” – to look at a situation, story, character, etc., and feel like I have really nailed it. I have said what I wanted to say, and said it well. Often things turn out very differently than I might have originally thought, but that feeling can still just zing through you, and it’s a thrill. Those are the times that I lay my head down on my pillow at night and feel like I have done well. I have lived a good day.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m an early riser (by 6:30 am), and I have a dog; so a morning walk is always part of my routine (after a whole lot of coffee). For me, being outside, and walking, are both essential parts of protecting the mental “space” that allows writing to flow. I have worked for thirty years as a therapist in private practice, and I see about twenty people each week. If my writing is going well, my day alternates between blocks of time spent writing and blocks of time seeing my clients. If the transition from one to the other is difficult, well, that’s where mindless computer games and internet research are invaluable – they are additional tools that work well to open up the mental framework needed for writing. Also essential, a glass of wine that marks the end of the [work] day. I love rituals and routines.
What scene in Pushing the River was your favorite to write?
The ending. When the main character gazes at the newborn on Christmas Day and makes her final speech. Many parts of the ending were among the very last changes that I made in the final round of editing. Some things came together in a different way than they had previously, and it felt just great.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
I’ve always thought that, if I ever got a tattoo, I would get the words “still I rise” along with a Phoenix rising from the ashes. So many of us live our lives waiting for the other shoe to drop, in fear of things that might happen, based on bad stuff having happened to us in the past. The other shoe will always drop – eventually. But you miss a whole lot of life when the fear of that becomes a primary focus. We focus on the ashes, instead of the possibility of rising again.
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