Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Alice Early

After undergraduate studies in creative writing, Alice Early pursued a career spanning academia, commercial real estate, international executive recruiting, and career-transition coaching. She’s come full circle to her first love, writing fiction, and her home by the sea. The Moon Always Rising is her award-winning debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:

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

I hope it’s title is intriguing and gives the reader a sense that The Moon Always Rising will be uplifting in some way, but it doesn’t say anything about the story. Choosing a title that captures the novel’s essence was wrenchingly difficult. As it straddles literary and women’s literature and bends genre (a love story but not a romance with elements of mystery and magical realism), the hundreds of titles I considered felt narrow or misleading. My editor and I eventually chose a title inspired by a line in “Fern Hill,” a Dylan Thomas poem that triggers a cathartic exchange between Els and Jack’s jumbie near the end of the book. In that scene, the book’s central theme of the healing power of forgiveness—of oneself and others—comes to the fore and signals that several of the book’s main characters will resolve their dilemmas, at least partially, by the ending.

What's in a name?

Most of my characters’ names landed in my brain as soon as the character began to wriggle and speak to me and refused to be changed. Many characters in The Moon Always Rising use only nicknames. In the Caribbean young men commonly adopt monikers. Elroy James Pemberton might be known to all as “Leggy,” his full name revealed only when he’s cited for an honor or appears in a newspaper police report. Eleanor Gordon’s name hints at her cushy upbringing and powerful family, but she chooses the punchier “Els” that better fits her toughness and eagerness to advance on her own merits. The jumbie was always just Jack to me; I had to concoct his full name (Elliott Jackson Griggs) for the passport Els finds among his possessions. Jack’s friend, the charter captain who gets under Els’s emotional armor, told me he was “Liz,” a name that stuck to him in the Caribbean though it runs counter to his macho vibe. It brings tension, causes questions, sparks fights. Giulietta, Els’s estranged Italian mother, needed a fluid name with dramatic flair. I was also thinking of Juliet and star-crossed lovers, as she and Els both were. Because place is so critical to this story, I adhere to Nevis geography and its evocative place names such as Cotton Ground, Golden Rock, Chicken Stone, Oualie, and Lover’s Beach.

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

Beginnings, definitely. I first write individual scenes that are clear in my mind, then try to connect the dots. While I didn’t write the ending in advance, I knew approximately where each of the main characters would end up. The beginning had to be freed from the weeds. I kept chopping through backstory until I discovered where the novel takes off. As the story jumps back and forth in time and location between Nevis and Scotland, the necessary backstory had to be reinserted here and there. After I finished the draft, I rewrote the first chapter countless times in an effort to make that four pages set tone and snag the reader. It was the hardest part of this long project.

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

To make each character human, I had to donate a bit of myself. On the surface, my protagonist Els and I have little in common. She’s tall, red-haired, impetuous, short-tempered, athletic, prickly, and an abandoned only child. I am none of those things. We are both plucky, ambitious, risk-takers, hard workers, and enraged about workplace sexual harassment. We’ve both been burned in love but our responses differ. Els was the hardest character to find. While I loved her from the beginning, some readers initially find her every bit as off-putting as I intended. Most find her sympathetic once the reasons she’s initially so unlikeable are revealed.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music and film. The Caribbean comes with a vibrant sound track that ran in my head when I was writing this novel. I love to dance, am a singer, and appreciate an eclectic mix of music. I can’t write to music because I disappear into it. It wipes out language. When I’m walking, cooking, or gardening, I count on that silence for problem solving and “aha” moments. But at other times I seek out music to put me into a scene or feeling. I love film for its compressed storytelling and am especially appreciative when the dialogue is snappy and nuanced. When writing, I experience my scenes cinematically, then try to capture them in words, and I choreograph characters’ movements to be sure they are both natural and telling.
Visit Alice C. Early's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Moon Always Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue