By Evangeline Jennings
We talk a lot about Heroines and Noir here at Pankhearst, but really we don’t know shit. NAOMI DATHAN knows shit.
We write about strong women. She is one.
I first encountered Naomi on a writer’s web site. I think it’s fair to say we took a while to click but today I have nothing but love and enormous respect for her. She’s an example to all of us and it’s a real pleasure to talk with her here.
How long have you been creating for? And what are you most proud of?
I started writing fiction at the age of twelve. Picking what work I’m most proud of is tricky; like picking my favorite child. I guess the thing I’m most proud of is the fact that I held on to that part of myself.
My husband was ill to a greater or lesser degree throughout our eighteen year and two day marriage, and our life was demanding. I lost hold of many pieces of myself, but I held onto that. I wrote three of my five completed manuscripts during some really tough years, exhausted, fitting in paragraphs between care-giving or writing beside hospital beds between offering him what comfort I could.
I know you are a religious woman. How did those experiences with your husband and his illness affect your faith?
I’m still sorting that out, but I’m not sure there will ever be a short answer. My core beliefs are unshaken: that God is real, that He is always good, that He always loves each of us, that he wants good things for us.
My emotions travel the spectrum: resentment at him for letting me be “cheated” out of the life I wanted, fear of Him (not the good, awe kind, but the, “He’s really gonna get me for this” kind), peaceful trust in Him, the feeling that He, pure light and love, is right with me and is crazy about me.
My struggle for years has been the fact that I can see and feel ways that he’s providing for me and sustaining me, and I’m still too pissed off and guilty to really reach for Him.
You have a proper book published by a proper publisher. How did that happen for you?
I uploaded my book Whither Thou Goest, I Will Go to Authonomy and got discovered by Kirkdale Press, a new trade book imprint of Logos Bible Software.
Of course, before I got discovered, I spent literally twenty-nine years, from the age of sixteen to forty-five, building an expansive collection of rejection slips and discarded manuscripts.
I’m allegedly writing the sequel for Whither now. It’s isn’t going well. My husband passed away in October. I wrote a book for NaNoWriMo in November – a contemporary suspense – but every time I try to re-enter the world of Whither, I freeze up. Recently, I was forced to realize that the content probably has something to do with that. Until I edited Whither, I really didn’t suspect how autobiographical it was – the story of Jem caring for her ailing husband, Seth. There are two options for the sequel: Seth lives, or Seth dies. And both options feel impossible to write. I may not have the courage to write this book.
Pfft. You have all the courage in the world. But do you think it might be better to leave it alone? Or is it something that sooner or later you need to get out of your head?
From a professional standpoint, it would be better to get the sequel written. The best way to market a book is to write another book. From a personal point of view . . . I don’t know. I write fiction because I don’t want to bleed all over the page. But when I go back and read my books they look like crime scenes — my blood and viscera are all over them. Well, that’s a little graphic, but you get my drift. I don’t know that I need the catharsis. If I did, wouldn’t the book be coming more easily?
What about your contemporary suspense – from NaNoWriMo? Do you have plans to do anything with it?
The contemporary suspense that I wrote in November is set in a universe that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I definitely intend to get it edited and sent out, and to write other book in the same universe. So excited about this one!
What do you think of the writing industry today? How do you think it might evolve over the next three years?
I won’t predict how it will evolve. Five years ago I was appalled when my writer friends considered self-publishing, and I wouldn’t consider selling my work to epublishers. Now I’m the proud author of one ebook with another – The Temptation of Mrs. Emily Templeton – to release on August 22, and self-publishing is a whole new creature. I’m just going to ride whatever wave hits next, the best I can.
How do you define success when it comes to creativity? Is it selling books? Reaching people? Being able to write The End?
Success in writing for me comes when I achieve an authentic connection between myself and a reader. Like most writers, I have my fantasies of selling film rights and being able to afford to buy concessions at a movie theater instead of sneaking them in my coat pockets. But around the time I actually started to get some response from what you called a “proper publisher,” I realized that the thing I most crave is to have other human souls enter my created world with me. Every time a reader says something to me about at character or a story moment, it satisfies some need in my core.
What drives you to write?
I don’t know, but there are times I wish it would quit it. In many ways, my life would be simpler.
Finish this sentence: Writing should be …
An authentic reflection of the author. Everyone has a story, a voice, and while editing is necessary and not everyone could or should sell commercially, their story should be honored as the expression of a unique human. When bullies try to control or silence an artist, I go feral.
I can attest to that. What three words would you say best describes your writing?
True (fiction, but my truth)
Language is a living thing. The mere fact that I used that word made it become part of our language. It’s only a matter of time before it turns up in Webster’s. You only gave me three words! What other single word means, focused on the relationships between the characters?
Relationshippy. But I’ll let that slide because it’s time for the fun-ish stuff. Three authors you’d love to sit down to tea with?
Nora Roberts. If nothing else, her mere presence would guilt me into being more productive. The woman is so freaking prolific!
Stephen King. I would love to give him one of my mom’s brownies or something, just to say, thanks for inspiring me to try to write with rich texture like his.
And the third?
Ummmm, this one is tough. Because, Jane Austen, right? But the one who put me over the top is Chuck Palahniuk. I read only one work of his, Haunted, and it was dreadful. Not the writing. The writing is brilliant, but the content scarred my brain forever. I will never read anything else of his. However, he taught me something about being fearless. When I went back to rewrite The Temptation of Mrs. Emily Templeton for about the third time (we’re talking about massive deletions and insertions, here), my traumatized post-Haunt brain gratefully realized that I cut every scene just before the bad thing happened, and resumed the story right after the bad thing happened. A la Palahniuk, I forced myself to put the bad things on screen, in real time. So, have a brownie, Chuck.
It’s probably for the best. I’m not sure Jane and Stephen would get along.
When you’re not writing, you also do something with ceramics, I think. I know I’ve seen some beautiful decoration. What exactly is it that you do? And how do you find the time?
I paint vases, plates, bowls and other bisque pieces then glaze and fire them. Some of them are currently available at Hazel Tree Interiors in Akron, Ohio. Since my husband died, painting has become more of an obsession than writing, which is very strange, since I never really painted until late 2010. I certainly don’t have the time, but I can’t seem to stop, so I do it instead of sleeping.
I know you sing karaoke. Which song is your favourite to sing? And, of course, why?
My go-to song has always been Black Velvet, but I’m getting the same satisfaction from some of the Adele hits. I have a decent range, so I like feeling all hoarse and sensual in the low range and then taking it up to the pure high notes. My favorite song is whatever people will applaud for. I’m very fond of applause.
When you were a teenager who was your fantasy man? My money is on Michael Landon, by the way. Or Jesus.
I do try not to fantasize about Jesus. Wise Ass. And wrong again – Michael was way too weepy. It was, is, and shall always be Pierce Brosnan.
If you could change one thing about the country you live in, what would it be?
Gosh, I guess I’ll go with changing it so Americans – like veterans who risked their lives for us – don’t die from lack of things we have in abundance. Like health care. Mental health support. Food. Shelter.
You can be any character from your youngest child’s favourite TV show, who would you be and why?
My youngest child is Libby. She’s eleven and her favorite show is Victorious, which is one of the few of her shows that I can actually tolerate. I would be Tori, because when she sings and dances, people applaud.
Now go ask Libby which character they see you as, and why?
I don’t want to do this, because I know what she’s going to say, but here goes.
Okay, she says I’m a combination of Cat (that’s what I was expecting) and Tori.
“Because Cat’s insane, and Tori sings a lot.”
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