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A Thousand Valleys
Conversation with the Author
How would you describe your writing style?
Great stories carry a sense of adventure, and the characters feel like our best friends, people we can’t wait to spend time with day after day. When a great story nears its conclusion, we grieve. Each of my novels will be about discovery and transformation, learning about the world and one’s place in it. It’s a high standard, but one worth reaching.
We’ll see how it goes.
How does place influence your writing?
For me, the best stories take place in an interesting location populated with interesting characters. North Carolina generally fits the bill most of the time. Later stories will meander to different parts of the world, but the home base will always remain in North Carolina. I love the rolling hills of the Piedmont, the flatlands of the Sandhills, the lighthouses of the Outer Banks, and the panoramic views of the Blue Ridge mountains. It’s a magical land of enchantment.
Is this Jimmy’s story?
In the Piedmont series, generational abuse takes center stage. One cannot give what one doesn’t have inside, what one was never given as a child. Jimmy (or Jim later in the series) will be the first person in his lineage to stand up and say, “The madness ends with me.”
Will it be enough? We’ll have to find out.
Who is your favorite character in this novel and why?
Honestly, I feel for all of them. If I had to pick just one, it would be Jimmy. At the beginning of the story, he is overwhelmed. People betray him, treat him as unworthy. Some neglect him. Some bully him. Others abandon him completely. At seven years old, Jimmy wonders if he was born a mistake. It would be easy in his circumstance to lie down and never get up. His mother does it, and he could, too. Over time, however, he gains a few skills, a bit of wisdom here and there. He is like a sponge, picking up knowledge wherever he can find it. I appreciate his determination, his willingness to knock down walls. He desperately wants to live.
Will these characters appear in another series?
Yes, down the road there will be a spinoff series. Until then, I plan to create two unique series, each containing new batches of characters. This will give the younger Piedmont generation time to age and mature. It will be interesting to revisit their lives once they’ve grown older and wiser and have a different set of priorities.
Do your story ideas come from real life or from your imagination?
For me, life is mystical and baffling and genuine all at once. An idea might originate from my own experience or from an article or essay or documentary. Sometimes the narrative unfolds quickly in my head. Other times, it’s a methodical process of developing a simple concept into a complex tale, filled with interesting characters and places and events. Each story is a journey for the reader, but also for the author.
Do you write according to a set schedule or only when inspiration arrives?
Regarding schedule, I write in the early morning. Since I’m still a network engineer, I must get my writing done before the IT day begins. It helps to be an early riser. A hot cup of coffee nearby, and I’m good to go for a while. At some point, the creative writing energy is spent, which usually makes for a smooth transition into the workday routine.
I outline my novels prior to putting the story on paper. I greatly respect those individuals who can write in an ad hoc fashion. I’m a bit of an obsessive-compulsive person, so planning is in my blood.
What is your most passionate life pursuit?
I find writing meaningful. As a child, I created stories in my head. I diverted from the world of imagination while working in corporate America. It has been a thrill to return to my youth and fire up my imagination once again. I also enjoy time with family and our pets.
Can you discuss the importance of family? Why were the families in this novel so broken?
The families were negatively impacted by a rush toward status, material wealth, comfort, pleasure, pursuits which may provide immediate gratification but often lead to destructive outcomes. Although Jimmy isn’t a perfect hero, he stands against the curse of generational abuse, even as a child. As the series progresses, we’ll see if he’s able to keep up the pace in a world full of temptation and brutality. He will at times go down the wrong path, but he’s good at repentance and reclamation.
Would you agree generational abuse is a common problem in families today?
Yes, absolutely. It’s difficult to offer the next generation something you weren’t given as a child. With that said, nothing can be more important to our world today than halting and overcoming generational abuse. We must learn to love one another at a deep, human level. Unconditional love is everything. Love should be given freely, especially to our children. Too often, we make children or spouses earn our love. We must forgive others and ourselves. We must learn our identity, what unique gifts we offer the world, what is our meaning and purpose.
As we navigate this dark realm, we should offer light and hope. Some are blind but would like to see. Others can hear but haven’t listened.
What is your next project as a writer?
Completing the Piedmont series is my top writing priority. There will be five novels and one short story collection. The remaining four novels will introduce new characters, send Jimmy (soon to be Jim) on a variety of adventures, some far away, some close to home. There will be trials and tribulation, loss and grief, and a few laughs along the way. By the end, I hope the readers care as much about these characters as I do. They’ve become part of the family!
The short story collection will contain seventeen short stories. Each one will focus on a key event from a main character’s background, moments that defined the character, made them who they were at the start of each novel. In a sense, they will be a trip back in time. Hopefully, readers will find those stories rewarding in addition to the novels.
reading group questions
1. Why does Jimmy sleep in the floor?
2. Is Mr. Vogler a mean man?
3. Sara seems clinically depressed. Why doesn’t she take steps to improve her life?
4. Why does the death of Elvis Presley influence Sara negatively?
5. What power does Helen Franklin have over Sara?
6. What does the running motif of cicadas and katydids symbolize?
7. Why is Troy jealous of Jimmy?
8. What do the voices communicate to Sara and why?
9. Why did Mr. Vogler evict Sara?
10. Why did Judy go home to Carl? Did he deserve her?
11. Why does Phil feel so much angst?
12. Do Phil and Diane have a good marriage?
13. How did the stack of magazines influence Jimmy? Was it positive or negative?
14. What created the bad blood between Sara and Fiona?
15. Did Phil and Diane take Sara’s mental deterioration seriously?
16. Why didn’t Jimmy’s father or paternal grandparents play a larger role in his life?
17. Would Sara have hurt Jimmy?
18. Why did Sara blame Jimmy for turning off the lights?
19. Why did Jimmy refuse his mother’s instructions?
20. Did Fiona win at poker once again?
21. Did Sara actually try to kill her sister?
22. What was Phil doing in the hallway? What was the clicking sound?
23. Why did Phil get rid of sweet Daisy? Was it the right choice in the moment?
24. Why did Phil take Jimmy to a maximum-security prison? Was it a positive or negative experience long term?
25. What significance did a water faucet have for Jimmy? How did he use that image to get through his painful ordeal? Would this technique impact him in the future?
26. Why did Jimmy put away his toys?
27. Why was Sam upset with Jimmy?
28. What significance did library books have for Phil?
29. Were the Scardell staff members nice to Jimmy? If so, why?
30. Sara remembered Jimmy’s bad flu while waiting for her medicine to take effect. Why did his brief illness devastate her years later?
31. Are pets a tragedy waiting to happen?
32. East or West?
33. Rhonda’s dialect changed noticeably. Why?
34. Finally, who is Rhonda? Should we be scared?