Summer Wood's second novel Wrecker was recently released and I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her powerfully and beautifully written book.
I know that Wrecker is a novel you spent quite a few years writing, and that was inspired by your own experiences. Did you start with wanting to write about foster kids and then come up with Wrecker, or did he come first?
This book was sparked by the experience of having been foster parents to four little boys, back when our own three sons were young. It was a tough and beautiful and horrendous and heart-overflowing kind of experience, and it opened my eyes to what it must feel like to be a kid who’s lost his mother, or a mom – a parent – who’s separated from her child.
Honestly, I did not want to go there in my fiction! I mean, who would? But then into my notebook walked Wrecker the boy, not at all a symbol of a condition or a predicament but instead something more like a flesh-and-blood, bruised and bruising, beautiful child, and I was captivated.
Wrecker the novel isn’t really about anything other than this extraordinary boy and his birth mom and the crazy band of eccentrics who raise him when he’s taken from her custody. Well, it is, but not by intention. That’s the great thing about fiction: the truth is in the story, in the integrity of the characters, in the emotional response it earns – not in how well it cleaves to the author’s idea of what she wants to say.
What kind of research went into writing Wrecker?
Can I tell you what I didn’t do? I didn’t go to prison. I didn’t deal drugs. I didn’t shoot a cop or lose a child or nearly drown in the ocean or chain-saw down an enormous tree or have sex in a – (well, wait. I’m not going to go into the details of that.) Seriously, nearly everything that happened in the book grew out of my imagination and was written first, and then followed up by research to make sure I had the facts straight. For that, I talked to people, read a lot, returned to the place where it’s set to make sure I got the plants and topography and weather right. I studied maps and read historical reports. I learned a lot, really – tons more than made it into the book. But if I’d done it the other way around – researched first, and then tried to build a narrative from what I consciously knew – I don’t think I would have been as effective at getting to the emotional heart of the story.
Can you tell me something about how the novel developed? Did you always have chapters which included Lisa Fay's perspective, for example? Did the book change much from your first draft?
Everything exploded (energetically) when I allowed myself to follow Lisa Fay into that prison. I didn’t want to do that. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to properly handle the material. I made up all kinds of reasons to avoid writing that. But when I did – when I jumped off the deep end, so to speak – was when the book came together in a form that made real sense to me; that brought all the stories together, with the boy at the center. It was a kind of magic, really. The kind of magic that will appear when you do the hard work and then you take a leap of faith. That’s what I love about writing: the way a story will suddenly transform before your eyes if you allow yourself the courage to follow it to its depths.
What are you working on next?
The next novel is in the works -- a multi-generational love story (what else?) set in the plains of southern Colorado. It seems with each book I want to stretch longer, encompass more time: about a year in Arroyo, twenty years in Wrecker, and with this new one I'm closing in on a century. Horses, and men at war, and women in love, and a look at what it means to be "Western" -- now, and in generations past. Who knows where it will take me? But it's got my attention and I'm willing to follow.
Thanks for the great questions!
Thanks so much to Summer for taking the time to stop by In The Next Room. Wrecker was an amazing novel, you can find my review here, that I highly suggest everyone pick up. To learn more about Summer's book visit her website http://www.summerwoodwrites.com/