Mary Akers: Hi, Patty! Thank you for agreeing to speak with me today about your emotional short story “Time to Go Home.” Warrior is a great character. And I find myself wondering if there was any specific inspiration for him. Do you have a “Warrior” in your life?
Patty Somlo: The character, Warrior, was actually inspired by a Native American man I sat behind on the bus one day, riding from my home in Southeast Portland, Oregon, to downtown. As in most of my writing, though, details of my own life slipped into the character and the story. My father was a career Air Force officer and a veteran of the Vietnam War. I also grew up in an alcoholic family. Many years ago, I worked on a documentary film entitled, Warpath Against the Devil, about Native American Pentecostal ministers, and we filmed several camp meetings on the Navajo and Apache reservations. I met many “Warriors” there who had turned to Christianity for recovery.
MA: One of the things I liked most about your story was the changes of scenery that divide the story into a series of vignettes. This strikes me as being very much the way memory works over time. Was that your intent in structuring this story?
PS: Yes, it was. As someone who has spent time in therapy, I understand how much the past unconsciously seeps into the present, affecting who we are. Especially for a character like Warrior, who for many years tried to drink away his demons and has lately begun to confront them, the past and present are inextricably linked.
MA: Many editors shy away from characters that express emotion in stories. But I worry sometimes that when instructors and/or editors equate emotion with melodrama they end up scaring writers away from exploring the deeper emotional lives of their characters. Honestly, I feel like we’re all overflowing with emotion all the time–some of us just hide it better than others. Did you ever worry about letting Warrior have his good cry at the end?
PS: I tried to make sure earlier in the story that what Warrior had experienced made it possible for him to “believably” sob at the end, and was the right thing for him to do. In some popular fiction and movies, emotional endings sometimes feel fabricated, because the emotion hasn’t been earned. Characters need to develop emotionally and then an ending suggests itself. I always have to fight against some pat ending, tying everything up too neatly and it seems false.
MA: When I choose an illustration for each piece, I sometimes find that the authors make connections to the artwork in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. How did you feel about the image that Lori McNamara gave us to illustrate your story?
PS: I loved the painting for a number of reasons and thought it fit the story. “Home” is an important theme of my story and the image spoke of home. I also felt that the painting’s brush strokes, being more impressionistic than realistic, captured a quality of the story. And, of course, it is just a beautiful image with lovely colors that makes you want to look at it a long time.
MA: What have you read recently that knocked your socks off, or that you’d like to recommend others read?
PS: I would have to say the novel, The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It’s young people from India who go to Europe for better opportunities. It had everything I like in a novel. I was pulled in almost from the first page. The story was compelling. The characters were well-developed. And it was dealing with something important going on in the world right now. Especially in this time when we have a huge refugee crisis in Europe, the book really gave me insight to the lives of people who, for economic or other reasons, have to leave their home countries and try to make it in the West.
MA: And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?
PS: I think of recovery as both going backward and moving forward. To recover, one must go back and find what was lost, usually the person that was there, before abuse, addiction, illness or grief happened. Then, you can move forward, building on that, to create a new person you weren’t capable of being before. As the word suggests, recovery is active and ongoing, not something that happens in a short period of time, but a way of living.
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Wonderful interview. Loved the painting. Must read!
Looking forward to reading your new book.