Open Book Society, reviewer Scott, is back with another exciting interview with KINGDOM COME, CA author Judy Strick. Here they discuss writing and paintings, emotions, the book’s theme, character names, probable sequels, and more.
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Scott: In the novel, I was surprised and delighted that a painting, such a polar opposite from writing, permeated the story – in surrealism, in particular. Writing about another art form is often ranked as a difficult task. How did you find the transition from the description of the work of art to the craft of writing?
Judy Strick: One of the things I’m really interested in is the creative process- be it painting, writing, creating theorums, whatever; for me the real thrill of writing comes when the conscious mind shuts off, and the work happens on its own. The surrealists of course were fascinated by the unconscious and by dreams, so it was a natural jump that Ruby’s form of expression was surrealism, and Finn’s was dreams. Dreams and paintings are alike in that they are thoughts without words.
Scott: Art is mirrored both in both Ruby’s and Finn’s “rehabilitation.” How important do you think this creative (but often destructive) act is in channeling out negative emotion?
Judy Strick: Ruby and Finn are two hidden human beings who have functioned through trauma, by erecting thick screens of denial. In this story, having access to those buried feelings through dreams and painting is ultimately healing. Ruby, in connecting with Finn, connects with herself.
Scott: Was the selection of a rather bohemian lifestyle as an artist a conscious choice? The “painter” could have been any other type of character fitting into a reclusive lifestyle (like a writer, for instance). What made you decide on weaving in a painter and her paintings as the major theme of the book?
Judy Strick: Actually, I used to be an artist and, as they say, you write what you know. Ruby could’ve been a physicist exploring the wonders of the universe, experiencing that ‘ah hah!’ moment, or a teacher, connecting profoundly to a student. But I like all that visual stuff, letting my mind roam to things I want to say, and feelings I hope my readers will experience.
Scott: The writing carried almost a haunting surrealism about it. Drifting in like the storms in the novel and carrying the “thwack” of a thunderbolt in concise description. What made you decide on the steady, slow pacing of the novel? Could you have conceived it in any other way (for instance as a “horror” novel)?
Judy Strick: I have to admit that the pacing was not deliberate, I just kept writing until it felt right. As for the story, this book just had to be what it became. There was an inevitability in the way it progressed. This is not to say that I didn’t go through a world of revisions. One of the important lessons I learned as an artist, was to let go of those beloved areas that don’t work in the context of the whole piece. Quite a few characters wound up biting the dust as my story progressed, as did quite a few very clever situations, which didn’t fit into the whole. It’s a bit like life, isn’t it; learning to let go of things that don’t work?
Scott: Scars are another theme in the novel, both physical, and mental, but these occur in childhood for the two main protagonists. Do you think it would have served the novel better had you separated the crises in the two protagonists’ lives by making the age difference closer?
Judy Strick: The age difference between the two characters was important. Ruby’s intense connection came about because of the age overlap between Finn and Abe, Ruby’s dead brother. And Ruby too was a child when her world was shattered. That part of her connected with him, and brought about their unusual and intense relationship.
Scott: The narrator doesn’t mention her name much at all throughout the course of the novel, and the supporting cast usually refer to her in endearing terms, such as “buttercup.” A name usually carries power, and this omission made her seem even more powerless in comparison to her actions, which were fairly proactive. Was this an intentional inclusion, or the reflection of Small Town, USA happenstance?
Judy Strick: I wish I were clever enough to have done that intentionally, in the way you pointed out. I have to admit, I was unaware that Ruby’s name didn’t get its fair share of mileage. The name is important. Most of my characters went through several name changes. Even the goats and chickens were carefully named, to say nothing of Tonto, the dog, who had started life as Beauregard. Finn was Finn from the very beginning.
Scott: The most enigmatic character in the novel is Finn, a six year old child. Suffering the way he did, and suppressing it in the manner that he did, seemed most unusual. How much research did it require to create a convincing, gifted child
Judy Strick: I’ve always been interested in the workings of the human mind, and have done a fair amount of reading over the years. In developing Finn I did some research into autism, PTSD, early onset schizophrenia, and ADHD. But I also found the small part of myself that’s Finn, and I think that’s what made him real.
Scott: PTSD is becoming one of the more “popular” mental afflictions to write about post 9/11. With regards to the novel, could you have conceived of another by-product of extreme trauma and held true to the impact and the ramifications on the narrator and Finn?
Judy Strick: Well, I suppose Finn could have been violent- one of those kids that shows up in his sleeping parents’ bedroom with a butcher’s knife. He could have tormented animals, or been a bully. He could have turned his anger and feelings of helplessness outward instead of inward. Ruby would not have connected with that child at all. It was their common sensitivities that mad them mesh. They each recognized a kindred soul in the other.
Scott: Finally, Ruby seems to have found a new direction in her life by the end of the novel, but we are left unsure of Finn’s fate. Is there another story brewing in there?
Judy Strick: Hmmmmm. I haven’t thought of a sequel, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. As for Finn’s unknown fate, that ending was important for me. There are so many unanswered questions in life either minor or grand that we’ll never know. Reality is flexible, as is memory. I wanted to make that point.
Thank you to author Judy Strick for a wonderful interview!
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