Today, Talker subscriber Amy Blum joins our conversation in an interview with local author David Seaburn who recently published his seventh novel.
A native New Yorker, Amy has lived in the Rochester area for more than 40 years. She runs her public relations business, Amy Blum PR, from her home, representing a variety of local through national and international arts, culture, non-profit, and business clients and events. She loves writing, reading, the performing arts, and dogs (among other things), and finds the outdoors (and photographing it) to be therapeutic for her brain after a day of sitting at her computer. She and her husband have two adult children and a black greyhound named Ace.
I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but I think I died today.
from Gavin Goode
So begins the complex and mysterious journey of Gavin Goode and his family in the newest novel released in June by Spencerport author David Seaburn (Black Rose Writing). In Gavin Goode — the author’s seventh novel — Seaburn draws on his unique background as a mental health professional and former Presbyterian minister to develop a character-driven story that reflects his deep understanding of the human experience and his storytelling mastery.
I caught up with David in September to find out more about his background, his life, and his writing.Q. As a novelist, you have an interesting and perhaps unusual background. What made you start writing novels, and how has your personal and professional life informed your books?
I have always valued writing, even before I wrote my first novel. I think my training in seminary, especially in Biblical theology, taught me the power of language, that we use language to create meaning primarily through telling stories. That lesson stayed with me through my years in the parish and my transition to mental health work as a marriage and family therapist. I wrote creative nonfiction pieces and personal essays about what I felt were matters of consequence to my work. When I started working in an academic setting — the University of Rochester Medical Center — I wrote even more, publishing over 60 papers and two co-authored books. So, the importance of using language to create meaning was honed over all those years.
In 1990 a patient of mine told me a very moving and tragic story about something that happened when he was a boy. His story stuck with me. As I thought about it and reimagined it over the years, it changed and evolved into something else, a different story, but one that seemed important to tell. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Around 2000, I read the novel, The Book of Ruth, which has an engaging first-person narrator. I thought, “I can do that.” So, I started writing and in exactly one year I completed my first novel, Darkness is as Light, although I couldn’t find a publisher until 2005. Subsequently, I have written six additional novels.
Q. Your most recent novel, Gavin Goode begins with a startling revelation. What made you decide to open the novel that way?
I was working on another novel and feeling stuck. During that time, a phrase entered my mind: “I don’t know how and I don’t know why but I think I’m going to die today.” I couldn’t shake it. And then it changed: “I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but I think I died today.” I was hooked. I set aside the other novel and began writing in a stream of consciousness form about this character. Soon I realized that there were many questions to answer: What exactly happened to Gavin Goode? Who are the people in his life and how are they affected by his tragedy? What else is going on in their lives? How do these other matters overlap with his situation? What happens in the end? I kept writing so I could answer those questions.
Q. What is your writing and editing process?
I write several times a week, for brief and long periods, depending on the time I have and what I hope to accomplish. Following Hemingway’s suggestion, I try to stop each day when I know what I want to write next. That way, getting started again is less difficult. When I am not writing, I let the ideas percolate, often discovering new trajectories and unanticipated twists and turns in the story. When I sit down to write again, I re-read what I have written most recently, edit it and then continue writing new material. The writing-and-then-editing process goes on throughout the project. During editing, I focus on words and sentences, but, perhaps more importantly, I examine the continuity in each character, the plot and subplot trajectories and whether they ring true, and whether there is ‘flow’ to the story, and whether there is enough uncertainty to keep the reader curious. I stop at page 50, 100, 150, 200 and re-read and re-edit the whole manuscript. When I am done with the story, I let it sit for a while, so I can get some distance, and then I re-read and edit again.
Q. Has your writing changed since your first novel, Darkness is as Light? Looking at your seven novels, is there anything that ties them together?
I have always felt that all my fiction writing has been autobiographical in a way; not that they are all based on my personal life (although in some cases they are), but that the themes in my novels reflect matters of consequence in my own wrestling match with life. If you were to read all my novels, you would learn that there are certain topics that are of greatest importance to me: family/interpersonal relationships, loss, time, uncertainty and hope. You would also learn that I am interested in the extraordinary nature of what look like ordinary lives.
I think what has changed most in my writing is that I have found my voice with greater consistency over time. In my early novels, there was little humor. Oftentimes, these stories were dominated by a sense of weightiness or gravity. But from my fourth novel (Charlie No Face) onward, I have blended humor and seriousness with more ease. I think that reflects my personality — my voice — more accurately.
Q. As a reader, what books do you enjoy? Do you have any favorite authors?
I am always reading, mostly at night before I fall asleep, mostly literary fiction, but also history and some nonfiction. There is a pile of books beside my bed and I slowly make my way through them. Right now I am reading an oldie but goodie, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game by William Kennedy, part of his Albany trilogy. Before that I read Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which was extraordinary. Authors I love include Jesmyn Ward (best American writer, in my view), Whitehead, George Saunders, Ian McClellan, Alice McDermott, Philip Roth, Nikos Kazantzakis, to name a few.
Q. What can readers look forward to in your your next novel?I have gone back to the novel that I set aside when I started writing Gavin Goode. The working title is Broken Pieces. It was stimulated by an obscure news article I read online about seven years ago. I am only about fifty pages in at this point, so can’t say much more yet . . .
A native of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, Seaburn was a Finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award (2011), a second place winner of the TAZ Awards for Fiction (2017), and was short-listed for the Somerset Award (2018). His 2015 novel More More Time made the finals in Rochester City Newspaper’s “Best of Rochester 2015.” He also writes a regularly featured blog for the magazine Psychology Today entitled Going Out Not Knowing (http://bit.ly/1V64fsV), and is a writing instructor at Writers & Books in Rochester, NY. Visit David’s website at http://www.davidbseaburn.com/
Seaburn and his wife have two married daughters, two adorable granddaughters and a wonderful grandson.
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