Feature Date: October 12, 2012
"I have so much invested in this story and these characters, that I am satisfied with its ambitions, its simplicity, and
yes, even its imperfections."
1. How did you come up with the title?
I came up with the name in the unlikeliest of places—my morning commute. I was stuck in rush hour traffic listening to "New Slang" by The Shins when these lyrics came over the radio:
God speed all the bakers at dawn, may they all cut their thumbs,
And bleed into their buns ’till they melt away.
I misunderstood the first line to be: God speed all the makers of dawn. Those words—makers of dawn—kept repeating in my head long after my commute was over. I eventually derived Keepers of Dawn from that phrase both for its symbolism of the lighthouse keepers’ plight, as well as the crux of the story—that unspeakable dread that the protagonist, Jacob Hawthorne, wrestles with throughout the narrative.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Jacob Hawthorne comes from a wounded past. It isn't until he is sent off to boarding school that he begins to put together the pieces of his estranged family. THE KEEPER OF DAWN is, without question, a story of denial. And it's not until tragedy strikes that Jacob is forced to journey into the past to reclaim a well-guarded family secret. In this regard, the narrative unwinds much the same way as a mystery novel might.
But in a more general sense, it's about sons growing up in the shadow of their fathers. The old adage—the sons of great men rarely attain greatness—haunts these boys as they try to define their own identity.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
THE KEEPER OF DAWN is a work of fiction. Even the setting, a remote island off the northeastern seaboard, is fictitious. But I strived very hard to ensure that I didn't introduce any credibility gaps. During my research, I visited Christ School, an all-boys prep school outside of Asheville, North Carolina. In the short while that I was there, I was struck by a feeling of seclusion. The campus had a gravity all its own, something distinctly apart from family and community. Inherently, teenagers tend to form social networks that are a world unto their own. This segregation only gets accentuated when they inhabit a secluded campus. And in a way, the island in my book becomes a sort of character that both restrains and empowers the wolf pack of privileged, adolescent boys as they struggle to redefine themselves in the wake of the lives they have left behind on the mainland. So I was very mindful of crafting realistic characters amidst this fictional backdrop.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
For me, this question is on par with asking a parent if they would change anything about their child. I have so much invested in this story and these characters, that I am satisfied with its ambitions, its simplicity, and yes, even its imperfections.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Revising, revising, and revising. I think many people tend to romanticize the act of writing fiction. Since a person's creativity and self expression are at the forefront, the blood, sweat and tears often don't get noticed. Writing the first hundred pages of the manuscript, and then throwing them all away and starting over was one of the many hurdles that I had to overcome in order to cross the finish line.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that the writer doesn't have as much control as you might think. Many readers talk about how surprised they are by how THE KEEPER OF DAWN ends. This is probably because I was also surprised by the ending, meaning that the ending I had envisioned differs drastically from what actually occurs. Obviously with fiction, everything originates in the writer's imagination. But the composition of prose often takes place over such a long period (four years, in my case), that the characters that you start with aren't quite the same when you finish. They've taken on a life of their own. At that point, it's the writer's job to recognize this and make sure that he or she doesn't get in the way of their own story.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I didn’t make a serious attempt at creative writing until I was in my mid-twenties. I guess that makes me a late bloomer, but it was well worth the wait. My desire to pursue writing didn't come all at once, but gradually, over time. Although an initial spark happened when the idea for a story grabbed my imagination so completely that I hardly slept a wink that night. Although that particular story never made it past the concept stage, it started me down the path to become a writer.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I tend to be attracted to authors whose body of work stretches over several genres. Paul Theroux accomplished this with his novels as well as his travel memoirs. I'm also a big fan of T.C Boyle and John Irving.
I avoid series writers like the plague. Diversity is a rare commodity in almost any money-making venture, and the publishing industry is no different. I have a great deal of respect for any individual who can resist the temptation of pursuing the more lucrative path and craft stories that forces them to step outside of their comfort zone.
9. Tell us your latest news.
I’m putting on the finishing touches to a travel memoir, LATITUDES, that’s scheduled to come out next summer (2013). It details a trip my wife and I had the privilege of taking a few years back where we quit our jobs and moved all of our possessions into storage to backpack around the globe. Five continents and seven months later, we returned home with a journal written aboard trains, planes, buses, impossibly small automobiles, feluccas, and overnight ferries.
After that, it’s on to my next novel—HURRICANE CHARLIE—a story of a widower and former composer who tries desperately not to get swallowed whole by his midlife crisis. It takes place at the height of the housing bubble in the New South, where our dear protagonist wrestles with regret, gentrification, and his own flavor of mild racism. While the new generation seems to be forcing Charlie into obsolescence, it’s also the innocence of youth that gives him one last shot at life. The composer within Charlie finds himself in a conflict of music versus noise, harmony versus chaos, where his only chance of survival depends on preventing himself from becoming his own worst enemy.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Feedback from readers has been that of overwhelming surprise over how THE KEEPER OF DAWN ends. This has prompted me to make the first half of the book available online, free of charge (downloads available at Smashwords) with the following challenge: any reader who can correctly predict the ending will receive a complimentary signed book, as well as a free download of the eBook in its entirety.
To me, this is more than just some marketing gimmick to drum-up interest in my book. I really like the idea of a writer being more interactive with his or her readers. Let's face it—until recently, reading and writing have been very solitary pastimes. But thankfully, new technologies such as eBooks and social networking websites have brought the reading community much closer. And this contest (if that's what you chose to call it) is my way of meeting the reader halfway, of giving them a choice to keep going. Besides, if you already know what's going to happen halfway through the book, then I've failed as a writer to craft an original story.
Predictions can be submitted at my website: www.jbhickmanonline.com.