AUTHOR: Devon Trevarrow Flaherty
GENRE: General or Literary Fiction
Published February 2013 by Owl and Zebra Press (Indie)
Gaby LeFevre is a suburban, Midwestern firecracker, growing up in the 80s and 90s and saving the world one homeless person, centenarian, and orphan at a time. With her crew of twin sister, Annie, smitten Mikhail, and frenemy Mel, she’s a pamphlet-wielding humanitarian, tackling a broken world full of heroes and heroines, villains and magical seeds, and Northwyth stories.
Beginning with a roadkill-burying nine-year-old and a gas-leak explosion, Benevolent follows Gaby from her formative years; through her awakening during a soup-kitchen stampede; through high school drama; a college career filled with an epic term paper, a building fire, and a protest-gone-bad; to Israel, a land full of romance and mysticism. It all ends back in metro-Detroit with a cataclysmic clash to resolve all good intentions.
It’s April. Isn’t this the time of year we start making remarks like “I can’t believe it’s already April!” or “I can’t believe it’s Easter… already!” (or “I can’t breathe through all the pollen,” but that’s beside the point)? As we make trips to the nursery and look forward to what will be our summertime (plant a garden, register for summer camp, plan a vacation), what’s becoming of the first quarter of the year? And what’s left of our good intentions and New Year’s resolutions?
It has always fascinated me that people are so surprised by time, so continuously and so frequently. As if humans are out of our element in the space-time continuum, and no matter how many generations of us go through the same experience, we can’t accept the passage of time. Does anyone else find this unbelievable?
Thankfully, I am my own boss. When time and I are on awkward terms, I can change things up. I can suddenly whisk my kids off for a day hike, I can push harder toward a writing deadline, I can throw away one novel idea for a new trilogy. And like that, time and I do the dance of avoidance, of putting off. The truth is, I only have so much time for writing, and this bums me out quite a bit. I feel like I could write forever; I look at my list of twenty-two great book ideas (complete with notes, files and outlines) and realize I will be fifty-six years old if I stick to the plan and by the time I get to this really sweet idea titled The Club. (See? Sounds cool already, doesn’t it?) And those are just my writing goals. And just the ideas I have so far.
And don’t even get me started thinking about the transient nature of today’s books. They’ll come, they’ll go. Everyone thinks they could—and should—write a book. Authors are drowning in the sheer measure of all the men. So likely my books will have their day to sell a few thousand and then will go out of print when I move on. They’re good books and all (in the old days my career would have been much different), but these days the size of publishing will collapse inward onto all but those at the very top. Sort of like everything else in the global economy.
What can I pause one-fifth of the way through the year to ponder, then? Where’s the good-intention-that-awkward-(and-a-bit-depressing-)built?
I wrote a book. I published it. Gotten that far, the chances of me selling a fair amount and then living to do the process again, even several times, is quite good. I would say the chances of getting my big break are even fairly good. I am a very hard worker, determined and focused, not to mention talented. I like to learn. I always end resisting change by embracing it. And I have resources, enough. So despite the fact that I keep repelling everyone’s good intentions of “Congratulations!”, it is the time to be congratulated and it is the time to celebrate. Otherwise, just another April-already will come flying around the front side of next year and I’ll still have my nose to the grindstone, unsung.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I am from Detroit, mostly out in the suburbs. I grew up there and then went to college in Indiana, in the middle of nowhere. And then I got married and moved to Durham, North Carolina, where we have been for twelve years and have had two kids, plenty of odd jobs and adventures, and are just finishing putting Kevin through nursing school. We’ve come through a lot, and we have a lot left to go.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
I have always wanted to be a career writer, and I started writing books around age five, plopped down amid construction paper and crayons in my aunt’s bedroom. In junior high, I started writing poetry after spending a sunny afternoon on the front porch observing ants. And I went to college and got a degree in philosophy (not to mention plenty of editing experience) thinking it would make me a better writer. I have spent the last eight-plus years as a stay-at-home mom, pursuing creative endeavors at a slow churn, so this publication was a long, halting inevitability.
I had the idea for this particular book in college. I didn’t do any novel-writing during my studies (thank goodness! I had so much to learn), but I was imagining a first novel that was built around my experiences, and Gaby walked into my mind with her twin sister, family and friends in tow. However, ten years later and in 2012, while approaching agents with the manuscript, I realized the book was flat. I considered chucking it out and starting over (which made we want to puke), but then a secondary plot came to me. When I was done feverishly writing it, the book had grown in size and deepened immensely. I was happy to be able to see the whole thing through.
How do you create your characters?
Characters enter my books and my headspace in much the same way real people do: they just pop up, whole and imperfect and stubborn. And as with real people, it takes time to get to know them. I have to spend plenty of time with them, developing them, and thinking about them, for them to be full and three-dimensional. I also study them; making sure I know their exact eye color and on what playground they had the fateful slide in the summer of 1982. For Benevolent, it took me the whole process—from notes to final edit and cover—to really cozy up to the characters.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
I am born to write. Even my peccadilloes seem to fit the job description. Plus, I am amazingly stubborn and I want to be a writer. That’s how I got started: by always knowing where I was going.
What inspires me? It can be anything from my life, but certain things arouse my passions: like nature, food, humanitarianism, travel, art. Listening to music or painting are great ways for me to clear my mind of creativity-deterrents. I have a fantasy of one day having a little, glass “house” in a field, lined on all the walls with shelves and countertops, cupboards stocked with paints and typewriter ribbons and file folders. Nearby, a pond to swim in and a trail headed to nowhere in particular. After a hard day’s work, I could go into our nearby house to make a huge feast for my growing family and then pack up to take a trip to Peru or Tanzania or Tahiti to volunteer at an orphanage or transition house. That would be the life, for me.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I am one of those crazy people who get so absorbed in what they are doing (it’s called ultrafocus), they lose track of all else. It helps if I have at least a cup of water, some chapstick, a protein-filled snack, and a comfortable chair when I zone out. Other than that, I really just need relative peace and quiet. That, and a reminder to get up every once in awhile and use the restroom.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Most of my ideas seem to come from these little “aha!” moments inspired by an off-beat observation in daily life. For example, I’m watching a PBS special about strange occurrences and this lady starts talking about her mental illness, living a secluded life in poor America (Frame 352). Or I’m listening to a song about someone raising a white flag in juxtaposition to a news story about military surrender (Spin). Or after a trip to a third world country, I drive home every day afraid of robbers, and happen to watch three movies about circuses in one week (The Pollen Season). In the end, it’s the moments of striking humanity and patterns of existence that stick with me and begin the trip down creation lane.
What do you like to read?
Books. Actually, I’m not even that picky. I’ll read the cereal box, a sign hanging in the doctor’s office, a discarded brochure. Of course, that doesn’t mean I like those things; it’s more of a compulsion. The genres I enjoy most are literary fiction, classics, some fantasy and magic realism, some religion and philosophy, cookbooks, general fiction and YA… I think that’s about it. But if it’s a good book—if I hold my breath over certain passages—I like it. In that sense, I am very picky. My favorite authors include Haven Kimmel, Amy Tan, Zadie Smith, A. A. Milne, L. M. Montgomery, and many others.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
The name of the game is endurance. Of course, it helps if you have some talent. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and the publishing industry has more failure than success stories. But if you really want it bad enough and stick with that, you only have to have something like 10,000 sales per book (and keep writing) to make your dream come true. That, and a bit of audacity.