Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jon Clinch

Kings of the Earth is Jon Clinch’s second novel. His 2007 debut, Finn, was named among the top ten books of the year by the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Christian Science Monitor. It earned the Notable Book award from the American Library Association, and MetaCritic.com lists it among their 100 Best-Reviewed Novels of All Time.

From a Q & A about Kings of the Earth:

When you sat down to write Kings of the Earth, was there pressure associated with the reception that Finn had already received?

Oh, absolutely. Right after Finn, I spent a year and change writing a novel that I ended up throwing out entirely. It just didn’t live up to the intentions I had for it. Plus—and here’s the part that really matters, I think—it sounded and felt too much like Finn. I wanted to do something very different, and it took a lot of throat-clearing to find my way there.

Where did the idea for Kings of the Earth come from?

For me, the key to writing a novel is always two-fold. First I have to find a character (or characters) whom I can care very deeply about. Then I have to find a method for approaching that character’s story. A voice, to begin with, plus a storytelling system of some kind. I’m not particularly interested in conventional, linear narrative that goes straight from point A to point B.

In the case of Kings of the Earth, the characters turned out to have been right there in my subconscious forever and ever. They’re the people I grew up with, and the people my parents grew up with. At the center of the story is a family tragedy on a primitive farm in upstate New York, near the place where my dad was born. He didn’t stay there, though, and the world where he and my mother raised me was so different as to exist in another universe. Or maybe a dream.

I wanted to explore that difference. The existence of two contrasting cultures side by side. The space where a deeply rural and primitive way of life intersects with a more modern world that needs it but barely recognizes it.

As a way of coming to terms with the main characters—and jumpstarting a respectful treatment of them—I even gave them my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. They’re the Proctor brothers in Kings of the Earth, which makes them my forebears. It acknowledges their claim on me.

That covers the characters. How about the storytelling method?

Kings of the Earth has a kind of...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Finn.

--Marshal Zeringue