Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Nancy Wayson Dinan

Nancy Wayson Dinan is a native Texan who currently lives in San Jose, Costa Rica and teaches at Texas Tech University. Her work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, the Cincinnati Review, and others. She earned her MFA from the Ohio State University in 2013 and is a PhD student in fiction at Texas Tech.

Dinan's debut novel is Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here is actually really important to the novel – it refers to sections of exposition throughout the story. These “Things You Would Know” are bits of trivia and facts about the Texas Hill Country, and they work into the story in a larger way. For example, one of the things that you would know if you grew up in central Texas is what purple paint blazes on a fencepost mean. They are a universal warning sign against trespassers, and it is actually against the law to cross a boundary marked with purple blazes. We get this bit of trivia through the “Things You Would Know” exposition sections, and then a few pages later, we see the main character enter a property marked with purple blazes, knowing that there are consequences for doing so. Other “Things You Would Know” sections talk about the legend of treasure in San Saba County, and folklore that has all but disappeared.

What's in a name?

My protagonist’s name is Boyd, which is an unusual name for a woman, but not an unusual name for a character in a novel about Texas. This is not much of an answer, but I don’t really know how this became her name – it just always was. When I am writing and planning, I have to invent most things, but not everything, and Boyd was one of those things that I didn’t have to invent – I knew who she was and what her name was and how she found it impossible to ignore the pain of other people. I do really like the name Boyd, however, and I think of other Texan characters named Boyd, including one of the brothers in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

This is a tough question – I am trying to remember the kinds of novels that I wanted to write when I was a teenager. Like a lot of writers, I knew very early in my life that I wanted to write books, and I think now about my teenage notebooks and dreams. I know that I read a lot of Tamora Pierce, Jude Deveraux, and Jane Austen – books that don’t seem to have a lot in common on the surface. But at the core of all of these writers’ works are strong women, and all of them also have a thread of romance. I think that Boyd is a stronger character than she knows, but I don’t think that I focus on her romantic relationship here, and I think that that would surprise my teenage reader self. I also think that it is something I’d like to remedy in the future – it’s a very satisfying thing when there is a human connection between characters. As far as my teenage reader self’s surprise, I think, too, that just the fact that there will be a book in the world would be surprising – this book is honestly the culmination of a lifelong dream.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

For me, this depends on the individual project. For this book, I definitely found it harder to write the ending. There is a subplot in the final third of this book that I realized I wanted to spend much much more time with, and so that is the project I am working on now. The result of expanding that subplot is that part of this book feels less finished than I would like, as one of the main characters doesn’t have her resolution yet. I really like writing beginnings – I write so many of them. But I write very few endings, and they are definitely more challenging. It is almost like a puzzle that you need to solve as a writer – how do I get all of these people finally together and into one cohesive moment of resolution? How do I handle these arcs so that that moment is emotionally resonant?

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Definitely each of my characters has an aspect of my own personality, though I don’t think any of them are really me. For Boyd, who is empathetic to the point of needing to be isolated, I definitely thought about how other people’s pain really affects me, to the point where sometimes I am not able to function. But Boyd’s character is definitely an exaggeration of this worrying about what other people are thinking or feeling.

As I am reading this question, I realize how productive it might be to write a character that I don’t identify with at all. I think of Elena Ferrante’s Lila in her Neapolitan novels, and how Lila seeks out conflict, how comfortable she is with it. And I wonder what would happen if I were to think about a character who did not actively avoid conflict, and how compelling such a character might be.
Visit Nancy Wayson Dinan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here.

--Marshal Zeringue