Today I am pleased to announce an interview with Randal Eldon Greene, author of the newly released Descriptions of Heaven which I have reviewed. There will be a chance to win a signed paperback copy of the book and extras plus runners up prizes too at the end of this post, but first, the interview!
1- Please tell us a little bit about Descriptions of Heaven. What is the book about and what inspired you to write it?
The book is about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death. At the start of the novel we learn that Natalia’s cancer has returned, and this time there is no hope. It’s told from the perspective of her husband, the linguist. While they try to carry on as normally as they can, gothic elements intrude into the family’s life—a lake monster, the secret passageways that riddle their house.
The main inspiration came from watching a TV show that gave details about the myriad lakes around the world that locals claim have lake monsters. Apparently, this is a phenomenon not unique to Loch Ness. The environmental problems we face today inspired the fictional background and thematic undercurrent of the story—a worldwide drought. I was also inspired by a now-aborted novel I was writing at the time, in which the main character’s mother was dying of congestive heart failure (water on the heart). I started work on Descriptions of Heaven right after watching the TV show about the lake monster. I intended a writing exercise, maybe a short story—not a book. But it consumed the themes and either excised the imagery or transformed them into something much more poetic than what I was writing at the time. And that’s how Descriptions of Heaven was born.
2- The main character Robert contemplates a lot and has some very deep thoughts. Is this something you do yourself?
I like to pretend that everyone has “deep thoughts,” though I know this isn’t true. Music, television, phones—all of these people tend to use as distraction. And, though they can be utilized for revolutionary action or. . .learning, the typical person doesn’t use these tools to those ends. Some people simply don’t like to think. Yet we humans have encephilized heads. That is, we have really big heads for our body size, and our big heads hold big brains. We’ve basically evolved to be thinking creatures. In many ways one could say that if our species has a purpose, that purpose is to use our brains to think, question, and discover. And while thinking can lead to unpleasant experiences, it’s thinking that lets us contemplate the unpleasant realities of social injustice, environmental issues, and warfare. And by thinking about these things, we can find solutions to them.
So, yes, I think deep thoughts quite regularly. I also shut off my active thoughts when I meditate or walk or just sit in silence. But that’s not to be mistaken for distraction. Distraction is pumping in things to keep from thinking. Meditation is letting the brain be input-free. And out of thought-free meditational states often comes brilliant ideas for creative pursuits—stories and lines of dialogue in my case. So our brains are also fantastic “content creators” at that level of thinking which occurs in the depths of the unconscious sea.
Both active and passive thinking styles need to be free from distraction to work well. I admit, attaining deep thoughts is a struggle in our modern world with our modern distractions, and it’s probably been a struggle for most humans throughout history, having their own unique sets of distraction, but having time for deep thoughts is something I find worth striving for because it is the greatest of human purposes.
3- You have an amazing ability to describe things in an original way that really evoked vivid images in my mind. Is this something that comes easily to you or something you had to work on while writing this book?
Writing is tough work. Writing with the vocabulary of a linguist was even tougher. What I find easy is the flow, developing lyrical rhythms in my work. Choosing the right words for Robert was difficult. The images—both real and metaphorical—themselves weren’t difficult. I see my images before I write. Finding the right words to describe them through a linguist’s eyes was the challenge.
4.Did you find the subject of Natalia dying a difficult one to write about?
Yes and no. Yes, because I didn’t have a lot of experience with morbidity, let alone cancer. No, for the exact same reason. It wasn’t too personal, though my grandmother was suffering from the maladies of old age—still, it wasn’t cancer.
The topic was perhaps made easier by choosing to twin the false outward health of Natalia with the false hope in the rain that falls more frequently over the New Bedford Lake area. It’s a false hope because the world is still parched and the cancer is still multiplying within her.
But on a psychological level I believe that as a writer, I need to be prepared to write even worse outcomes than that I gave Natalia. It’s a writer’s job to explore the human experience and tackle themes which may require our characters be tortured, maimed, killed, and even ripped out of paradise to be placed in the hellish confines of a cubicle.
5-Your book is published by Harvard Square Editions. Did you enjoy or have any problems with the publishing process?
They gave me a little too much control. I didn’t expect to have so much say about things like the back-cover text or to even be taken seriously when I suggested a font change for the front cover they designed. That made me feel uneasy. But they’re a small publisher, and they wanted my input and approval.
There were communication problems. Sometimes I’d ask a question and the response would seemingly answer a totally unrelated question. So there were things I didn’t like. (An author annoyed at his publisher—that’s a first in the history of book publishing. Not!)
Yes, I wish my liaison would have read my emails a little more closely. And I wish that they would have used their own clout, name, and brand to help market my book more effectively. But they believed in my book, saw its value as a work of art, and decided to take it on. They design quality books and have the ability to make my novella available just about everywhere by way of several major distributors.
As far as small, independent presses are concerned, Harvard Square Editions is quite competitive. I think if they work on their image and brand as a company run by Harvard alumni, they’ll start to get noticed by more major book review outlets. That may be the direction they are heading—I don’t know. But if my book does well, they’ll do well. And if they do well, my book will do well. Our success is now bound, and I think that’s reason to encourage each other to do our best to get the word out about this book.
6- What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not writing?
I like to cook, watch great movies, go on long walks, and read. Yeah, I’m sort of boring.
7- Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on a backlog of short story ideas. I’ve a half-written novel in a box on my desk. It’s patiently waiting for when I’m ready to start writing it again.
8- Are there any tips you would give to aspiring authors?
Short stories are a great way to practice writing. If you need to work on dialogue, write a short story focusing on that. If you need to work on setting, write a short story focusing on that. While these stories will most likely be no good, they’ll help you grow as a writer. Eventually, even if you’re writing simply to focus on an area that needs improvement, you’ll find yourself incorporating all that you’ve learned into your writing.
9- Dogs, Cats, Meerkats, nothing or something else?
Lake monsters for sure. Mythical sea beasts of all stripes. Fifel is the old English word for sea monster (pronounced like the little mouse, Fievel, from An American Tail, which is fitting considering his arrival to the United States by sea).
I’m also a fan of jackalopes, native to South Dakota, which is where I attended University.
10- As a British tea drinker I’m always curious: tea, coffee or something else?
Coffee is my blood type. I tend to drink tea only during the winter months.
11-If you could live in any novel which would you choose?
Probably Little, Big by John Crowley. It’s my pick for the one true fantasy novel about America, and I love the characters and the world of magic that Crowley reveals to be hidden just under the surface of this one
Thank you very much for your time Randal :).
About the Author:
Randal Eldon Greene is the author of the novel, Descriptions of Heaven (Harvard Square Editions, 2016). Greene holds a degree in English and Anthropology from the University of South Dakota. He is a volunteer judge of fiction for Heart & Mind Zine and works full time as a seeing eye human for his blind dog, Missy. Greene lives in Sioux City, Iowa. His typos are tweeted @authorgreene and his website is found at authorgreene.com
Buy Descriptions of Heaven
To win a signed copy of Descriptions of Heaven plus a flash drive of bonus extras, or one of 10 runner-up prizes of the flash drive please enter the draw below!! The competition closes at 12AM on the 1st January! There’s a free entry for everyone plus additional entries if you have social media! Entries from ALL countries welcome so what are you waiting for? Enter! (please click to be sent to the rafflecopter website to enter – html wouldn’t allow me to embed the giveaway in this post).
This is the first competition Happymeerkatreviews is running and we’re using Rafflecopter. Please click the link above to enter the competition (any problems let me know). There’s one free entry everyone can have (just click Enter in that option) and after that you can have up to 4 other entries by visiting facebook pages or following the author and/or me on twitter. Winners will be contacted via email and will have to provide an address to the author (if you are not comfortable with sending it to me). If there are any issues please contact me via email or comment on this post and let me know. Thank you and good luck!!!
Terms and Conditions
Entries from ALL countries allowed. By entering you agree for your name or username to be announced as a winner (if you do win). You also agree to give the author a valid address to deliver the prize(s) to. Happymeerkatreviews is not responsible for the delivery of the prize(s). The author is responsible for sending those. This giveaway closes 12AM GMT on the 1st January 1017. You must submit entries by 11.59PM GMT on 31st December 2016 to be eligible. After the giveaway closes one entry will be selected at random to win a signed copy of the book plus a the flash drive. After that a further ten entries will be chosen at random to win one flash drive each. One prize per entrant (i.e. an entrant may not win the book and flash drive and then an additional flash drive). Winners will be contacted via email and announced publically soon after. Any questions about the giveaway can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org