The Readers’ Writers: Author and photographer T. Greenwood
T. Greenwood has written seven novels to date. Her work in literature has taken her into the classroom where she has taught creative writing to students at the University of California San Diego, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., and for San Diego Writers Ink. A Vermont native now residing in San Diego with her husband and daughters, Greenwood still returns to Vermont each summer. She is also an avid and aspiring fine arts photographer whose passion for understanding and capturing the elegance of light and dark has melded to her writing.
“Grace” is Greenwood’s latest release and a classic example of how two arts – photography and literature – can come together to create a poignant and creatively detailed journey inside a contemporary family on the brink of self-destruction. Within this dramatic novel, Greenwood infuses what on the surface may seem to be a cacophony of issues; such as hoarding, bullying, shoplifting, parental bias, and loss of control. Yet, Greenwood masterfully intertwines the individuality of the characters, their personal crises, and the mental life preserver each finds to stay afloat as their world plunges into murky depths.
Q. One question that seems to arise in some readers’ minds regarding stories like “Grace” is how much of the author’s personal life was infused into the work. So how much of T. Greenwood’s life is in this story?
A. This novel, like all of my novels, arises from an inherent curiosity about the world rather than a need to articulate my own personal experience. The spark of a novel for me is always some sort of question, and I write the novel to find the answer to this question. In the case of “Grace,” the question was, What would bring a man to the point where he would be aiming a gun at the back of his own child’s head? Obviously, the opening scene of “Grace” is not one that I have ever experienced firsthand. However, my own life does inform everything I write. I am a parent, and so much of this story is about motherhood (and fatherhood). The empathy I feel for each of my characters comes as a direct result of my ability to relate (in even the smallest ways) to each and every one of them. Lastly, the setting (while fictional) is based on the area in Vermont where I grew up. I have returned to this setting again and again in my novels.
Q. Hoarding, bullying, shoplifting for attention or to counter insurmountable anguish, and the character Trevor’s use of photography as a cry for help are a myriad of issues. Why did you incorporate so many topical problems into “Grace”?
A. This was not a conscious decision. These issues grew from the characters all having a shared need to possess something. Elsbeth shoplifts because she feels deprived of things; stealing trinkets relieves her (if only momentarily) of this sense. Pop hoards things because he is really trying to hold on to his past. Kurt too is trying desperately to hold onto his life (his house, his wife, etc.). Crystal has lost something she can never, ever get back. And for Trevor, photography allows him to capture the fleeting beauty he is able to find in his dark world.
Q. While I see “Grace” as a watershed for your passions, how do you view your melding of these two arts into your story?
A. I have always wanted to incorporate photography into a novel. And I truly believe that art has the power to save people. Art, for Trevor, validates his perception of the world. It gives him a lens through which to understand it as well. I care deeply about my own photography, and I wanted to be able to give this gift to one of my characters. Trevor was the perfect (and most deserving) recipient.
Q. You have a preference for using small towns as the backdrop for your stories. In fact, Two Rivers, where this story takes place, is a return to the town where the novel “Two Rivers” took place. Why smaller, rural communities?
A. I grew up in a very small town in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I find small towns to be fertile ground for fiction. There’s a sense of connectedness in a small town that doesn’t seem to exist in larger cities. There is also less transience. People stay in small towns. This has allowed me to create a credible fictional world for my characters. I have now set five of my novels in Vermont. And many characters make repeated appearances in these books.
Q. Any parting thoughts for your fans and those yet to discover your books?
A. I think that my novels offer a glimpse into a place that not many people know well. And the characters who live there are as real to me sometimes as my own family and friends. I am eager to share their stories with anyone willing to listen to them. And that is why I continue to write.
DA Kentner is an author and journalist. http://www.kevad.net/