Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we talked to Dianne Ebertt Beeaff, the author of six published books, her latest being the short story collection, On Traigh Lar Beach, released by She Writes Press in October 2020 (read the review here). Dianne has published poetry and magazine articles throughout the U.S. and Canada. Her artwork has appeared in both local and national galleries.
A native of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff has published poetry and magazine articles throughout the U.S. and Canada. Her artwork has appeared in both local and national galleries. Dianne is the author of six published books, her latest being the short story collection, On Traigh Lar Beach, released by She Writes Press in October 2020. Also in print are the 2000 best seller A Grand Madness, Ten Years on the Road with U2, its sequel A Grand Madness, U2 Twenty Years After, released October 2019, along with a reprint of the first book, the poetry collection Homecoming, an historical fiction novel Power’s Garden, and the non-fiction book, Spirit Stones, Unraveling the Megalithic Mysteries of Western Europe’s Prehistoric Monuments. Dianne and her husband, Dan, live in Arizona and are the parents of two children.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma, or something else?
My short story collection, On Tràigh Lar Beach, developed from one specific moment in time and place. Many years ago, I had the privilege of staying several weeks in the tiny hamlet of Rodel on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of north-western Scotland. Tràigh Lar Beach was literally just down the road from our rental cottage. The Outer Hebrides are magically remote and stunningly beautiful, all white beaches and breakers, misted mountains, and wild-weather summer days. Walking on Tràigh Lar Beach one afternoon, on our way to visit the MacLeod Stone, a monolith high on a hill behind the strand, I noted in my journal several motley items tangled in the seaweed. I jotted down the experience and the items in my journal, thinking they might one day be the seed of a collection, short stories connected by the thread of how each item, swept in from the New World by the Gulf Stream, came to be lodged in the flotsam of that beach.
Years passed and as I completed my book, A Grand Madness, U2 Twenty Years After, which was released in the fall of 2019 as a sequel to an earlier 2000 memoir, I began the individual stories that would make up the collection. The first story, Erica, which fictionally recounts the discovery of the items, is taken almost verbatim from my journals. On Tràigh Lar Beach was the natural title for the collection.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
In general, I have a lengthy list of names collected over many, many years, from which I choose a name I feel is appropriate for the character’s personality, time and place, as well as any other story consideration. I’m especially drawn to unusual names.
With On Tràigh Lar Beach, I decided to use protagonist names derived from the wildflowers that grow on the machair beaches of the Outer Hebrides, of which Tràigh Lar is one. Each story’s title, which is also the name of that story’s protagonist, is therefore taken from a flower found growing on Hebridean beaches. For example, in Mari (A Plastic Cigarette Lighter), Mari Goldman is a fading actress in New York City. Her name was taken from the machair wildflower, marsh marigold. Each story’s opening also includes my graphite drawing of the title flower.
How often do you base your characters on real people?
I have never based a character completely on any real person. Some characters are inspired by a characteristic or a visual of some real person, or they are an amalgamation of several traits, but I’ve never used any personality in its entirety. The general appearance of Granny Bee in my historical fiction novel, Power’s Garden, was taken entirely from an old woman traveling with her family in a car that had broken down on a backroad in Arizona. My husband and I had stopped to see if we could help them out. I think I possibly left out the woman’s straw hat.
Similarly, Annie Brenner, one of the characters in the novella, Fan Girls, which is the last story in my current On Tràigh Lar Beach short story collection, was developed from a music fan with whom I corresponded briefly. I built Annie’s character on the tone of these letters.
What in particular attracted you to this genre?
My past publications have been quite lengthy—several memoirs, a non-fiction book on the standing stones of Western Europe, a book of poetry, and an historical fiction novel. Apart from the poetry book, all of these required an intense and substantial commitment. In that light, I found writing short stories very liberating. Dealing with small slivers of lives, generally short, bounded moments, was very freeing and lots of fun.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
For me the first draft is by far the most difficult part of being a writer. What to put in; what to leave out. Whatever I’m working on, that first draft is like a span of chain mail thrown across my shoulders. I work and rework sentences and paragraphs for ages before finally feeling I can move on to the next sentence/paragraph. After that first draft, it’s more or less a piece of cake, as I love editing and can edit ‘til the cows come home.
Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?
There were various English teachers in my grade-school years who encouraged my writing, though looking back, I think much of their emphasis was on what I would call ‘purple prose’. Nevertheless, they inspired me to keep going. The single book that made me want to be a writer was a children’s biography of Marion Anderson called Deep River Girl, which I found in third grade at the book-mobile that stopped once a week one street over from my home in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. I loved that book; the challenges Marion faced, the arc of her life. That book showed me that every person, every thing, every place has a story and that, perhaps, I could tell some of them. I began my writing career in magazine journalism, often writing profiles.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
The amount of research I do depends on what I’m kind of writing I’m doing. For my book on standing stones, Spirit Stones, Unravelling the Megalithic Mysteries of Western Europe’s Prehistoric Monuments, I spent many, many months with hundreds of books in a variety of libraries. My historical novel, Power’s Garden, took about three months to research, looking especially at the Special Collections section of the University of Arizona’s library. Both books were done before the advent of continual internet access, so that made things that much harder and more time consuming. Accumulated research then has to be organized in some fashion, in notebooks or index cards to be made workable. I have always hoped to write a follow-up to Power’s Garden, but the prospect of immersing myself in the necessary research has kept me from tackling that project.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
At this stage in my career, I don’t really do either. There are stories, both factual and creative, that I still want to tell. For the most part they are independent of both what is trending, popular, selling and salable, and what is innovative or novel.
Are you a feeler or a thinker?
I write with a combination of logic (thinker) and intuition (feeler). With a first draft, the thinker just throws down all the information I want in that section or chapter. Sometimes this is hard to do as I tend to have a creator sitting on one shoulder and a critic on the other. They are always arguing or trying to dominate each other. I try to keep the critic quiet at least until I can get the first draft down. My process often depends on what the project is. With fiction especially, there are times when you get to ‘ride the golden horse’. Those times are few and far between, but they’re pure gold when they come, and they come more or less our of intuition. You just sit back and sort of take dictation. More often though, it’s hard work, no matter what you’re working on. As I’ve said, I can edit until the cows come home, so for me I have to reach a point in a chapter, a section, a paragraph, a sentence, when I can let it go and move on. At that point, I have to rely completely on intuition.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently putting together a second collection of short stories based in Arizona. I also have a third memoir in the works, this one, narrative non-fiction, a predominantly natural history account of the sixteen acres along the Conestoga River in Southern Ontario, Canada that my father built two cottages on in the late 1950s. Structured around the seasons, I hope to include physical, historical, and spiritual perspectives of this extraordinary place where I grew up, along with a few pencil drawings and photographs as illustrations.
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