Who: Steph Post
What: Author of the novels A TREE BORN CROOKED and LIGHTWOOD. She teaches writing at a performing arts high school in St. Petersburg.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on the release of LIGHTWOOD. How did this book come together?
Thank you! I think in a lot of ways LIGHTWOOD was sort of an evolution from my first novel, A TREE BORN CROOKED. After I finished A TREE BORN CROOKED, I knew that I wanted to go in a different direction, stylistically, but the area of north-central Florida still had its hooks in me. I still wanted to write about that particular place—the landscape, the people, the microcosmic circumstances—but I wanted to really ramp things up. I wanted to write about underdogs and unusual villains and beautiful-loser characters, but on somewhat of an epic scale. So that was the genesis. Everything else came from wherever it comes from in the writer universe: that swirling vortex of moments and interests we collect along the way that eventually surprise us by popping up on the page.
I think it’s funny how we (or at least I) write a story, but the real meaning of it, the themes and symbols and Lit 101 stuff, doesn’t come until almost the last draft and, sometimes, not until the book is out in the world. Not until someone else has connected with it and shines a light. That’s yet another reason why readers are so valuable and so much a part of the book itself.
But to answer your question, I’ve always had a complicated relationship both with my actual family and, perhaps more importantly, the idea of family. The idea of people who are bound to you by blood—who are tied to you, not by love necessarily or by interests or by convenience, but by history and by DNA—is both fascinating and unnerving to me.
Most stories of family are stories of revenge, of hurting and healing, and of trying to find your way through a difficult web. Of trying to balance right and wrong in an arena where perceptions are distorted by the past and by the weight of expectation. I think perhaps my own family experiences might have led to me exploring these themes on a more Shakespearean level, but I hope they are in some ways relatable to all.
How does LIGHTWOOD differ from your previous novel, A TREE BORN CROOKED? How have you evolved as a writer?
I know I already touched on the relationship of A TREE BORN CROOKED to LIGHTWOOD, but I appreciate you mentioning the evolution aspect. I think all writers are constantly evolving. I mean, how else would we keep from getting bored? But I think to evolve, you have to learn and to do that, you have to pay attention. Both to what you want and to what you need. And to what you fear. For example, I think with A TREE BORN CROOKED, I was afraid of plot. I didn’t think I understood it. So, with LIGHTWOOD, I pushed myself on plot, to see if I could do it, and the result was a complicated, fleshed-out crime caper involving three separate storylines merging into one. Bingo.
One other thing I’ve learned along the way, that really hit me during the writing of my third novel, is the importance of laying the groundwork. Putting in the research hours, creating fully formed characters, doing all of that, before ever hitting the page. There’s still always room for surprises, but if you go into it really knowing your world and everyone and everything in it, I think it allows you a lot more room for the story to grow.
You’ve also published a lot of short stories and fiction. Do you see any connection between your shorter and longer form writing? Is one more difficult than the other?
Writing a novel is a commitment. It’s devoting an entire year to a single project. It’s almost like going out on a journey: you have to pack and prepare, find the maps, make a plan and then start slogging through the jungle, fighting off pythons and leeches and malaria with a rusty machete. Oh, and doing it every day, sometimes ten hours a day, for the next six-nine months.
Writing short fiction is a completely different experience for me and this is probably because nowadays I really only write flash or the occasional three page tale. So it’s a 180 from writing a novel. It’s parachuting straight into the lagoon instead of cutting your way through the forest. Short fiction for me is usually about capturing a single moment—a scene, a feeling, an encounter—and preserving it. It’s fun, sometimes much more fun and more rewarding, but novel writing is where my heart is.
A lot of your writing centers around Florida. Has your opinion of the state, and the people who live there, evolved as you have explored it as a writer?
I’m one of those rare breeds—a true Floridian going generations back. So I wouldn’t say my own feelings about the state and its people have changed. I think that I’ve come to identify with it more, though, than I did before I started writing about Florida. As a kid, all I ever wanted was to get the hell away from Florida. As an adult, I was adamant about coming back. I think maybe in writing about Florida, I started to own it and to therefore own that part of myself that was tied to it.
Well, in a lot of ways, Florida really is as fucked up as people think. I think what folks need to understand is that we’re okay with that. People everywhere across the country are proud of their state’s little quirks. Only with Florida, it’s not like “yep, we like corn” but “yep, that’s a mammoth alligator in the parking lot trying to eat some guy who was most likely going to attack someone and try to eat their face first, but hey it’s a Publix parking lot, so it’s all cool, let’s go get a sub.” The craziness just doesn’t faze us.
What other publishing plans do you have for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
LIGHTWOOD just debuted, so the rest of 2017 is about the hustle and also about keeping at work on the latest novel. The sequel to LIGHTWOOD should be out sometime in 2018 and I’ve got another novel of a completely different genre waiting in the wings, on the lookout for a home. So with any luck, the next few years will be very busy.
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S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, was published in October 2016. His first Tommy & Shayna crime caper, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books. The second novella in that series, CROSSED BONES, will be published in May 2017.