Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Inspirational Medalist Roberta M Roy Talks about Her Novel Jolt: A Rural Noir

Book Blurb:

Poignant, extremely well-researched science fiction. Dirty bombs, arson, and a nuclear meltdown cause residents of the village of Locklee to seek informed and creative answers as they struggle to respond to the needs of forced emigrants for decontamination, clothing, food, water, shelter, and medical care. Estranged lovers Natalie and Thaw find their passion matured but rekindled. Winter is coming. Radiation sickness, decontamination, lack of food, housing, and proper sanitation threaten Newees and Townies who come together resolved to survive. The passionate and thrilling story of a small mountain village's fight for survival. 

Author Interview

Roberta, could you tell us what inspired you to write your book, Jolt: a rural noir?

Well, when the Twin Towers were brought down on 9/11/2001 I realized that while I understood the difference between an act of terrorism and war, I had no notion as to how I or my community might best respond in the event of a mass attack. My concern for my family, in particular the children, overwhelmed me. I had to do something to lessen my ignorance.

At the time I had been involved in an online list serve as the only speech language pathologist among an international group of neurologists. Among them, one mentioned he was going to present as part of a panel on how to respond in the event of a nuclear meltdown. It would be beamed down so I arranged to attend it at Castle Point, a veteran’s hospital near me. And therein began my one hundred and more hours of study with the military, usually as the only civilian in each class. My studies took me to weeklong intensive courses with the military in Bethesda, MD, and Washington, D.C.

It was in Washington, D.C., that it became clear to me that most civilians had little idea as to what to do to help themselves survive in the event of a mass disaster. And as about thirty miles from us we have one of the most severely degraded nuclear power plants in the nation, I took the point of view of a resident living thirty to forty miles from such a plant and imagined a poorly described meltdown at a nuclear power plant which I coupled with the use of dirty bombs and arson and wrote Jolt: a rural noir. The story that evolved from those imaginary mass events is one of uninformed residents accepting the leadership of informed residents as they carve out a means for community survival and healing using unlabelled what is in fact the military POD or Point of Distribution organization in response to disaster.

The key characters in Jolt: a rural noir are Thaw, the artist, lover, and former military man; Natalie, his estranged lover; Lem, a retired military man; Martha, a retired NYC librarian; and the Matters brothers, a teen and preteen informed by their father as to how to respond in the event of a nuclear meltdown should they find themselves within fallout distance from the Plant. I set the story in an imaginary northern state in the USA. I have yet to write what could become either one or two sequels.

When did you realise that you wanted to write a book?

I had always written and I recall arguing in college with a professor who stated, “If there were a Milton in this class, he would out!” It enraged me. The professor, a woman herself, had offended me on two counts. One, I could write and I was not a he. Secondly I was a poor student working many hours to put myself through school, effectively for one and a half of my undergraduate years, too busy surviving to even have time for friends. So for me, even then, the lack of time to write was a sore point. But then, having just finished the two intensive courses I mentioned above, my Airedale . . . a real horse of a dog in size . . . pulled me down and I broke and dislocated my right ankle. It was then, despite the pain and discomfort, that I used my three months at home healing, to outline and begin the writing of Jolt: a rural noir. Yes. Finally, I had not only the time but an idea.

Who helped you in writing the book and please say about their contributions?

My teachers in the courses with the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, MD, had given me hard information on nuclear survival which I integrated into the book. Also, in high school I had learned to outline. As for the actual writing, I believe one only learns by doing it and if one is as lucky as I to have had effective criticism along the way. And finally someone to proof the final manuscript for the their/there/they’re errors, awkwardly made statements, and missing commas.

Jolt: a rural noir went through five rewrites. I recall there being one to remove the preface and integrate the information previously found there into the text; one to ensure I had maintained the past tense throughout; one to add and weave into the story the Matters family; and the final one, to cut Jolt: a rural noir from what was 315 pages to 215. Every word in Jolt: a rural noir is mine, however Joan Schweighardt was my editor and helped me through the five rewrites with kind suggestions and criticisms and corrections in the text as necessary. Joan was wonderful . . . although we never did come to agreement on the need for the story to be written without flashbacks and in sequential order. I felt I simply could not do that or as it does in Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, I feared the story would break in two . . . pre-disaster . . . post disaster.

How is your book going to inspire the readers?

In book club discussions I remain struck by the lack of common knowledge readers have expressed in relation to having a survival plan in the event of a nuclear meltdown. And in Vergennes, VT, where a book club read Jolt: a rural noir before the contamination of the Connecticut River prior to the seepage at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant, in discussing the book with them they were mostly interested in the characters, plot, and book structure. However after the nuclear contamination of the surrounding area around the Vermont Yankee, many of them reported returning to read Jolt: a rural noir for the hard information on post nuclear meltdown survival that in their first reading they had attended to less than the characters and action in the story.

If you are given the chance to change one thing in your book what would it be?

I might have given the Matters family a larger part in it. But as it is, my plan is to feature them in Jolt’s sequel, Too Close.

How did you find time to write and which part of the day was best for writing for you?

As I mentioned before, the first half of the first draft of the book I wrote while recuperating from a broken ankle. Thereafter, however, I had the privilege of taking a year off from my usual professional responsibilities as a speech language pathologist and during that time I did the bulk of the rewrites, including the final one. During that year I wrote and edited the book. Generally I wrote Monday through Thursday from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon. Less than that seemed to achieve too little. More than that was not possible.

Which books have inspired you the most, in the journey of writing this book?

It was not any particular books. Possibly it was the high esteem in which my mother held all great writers that inspired me first and still does. But for me, personally, the writings of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Saul Bellow, William Roth, and Jane Austen stand out as most influential. And then I suppose, as I love acting, some of the great playwrights have surely helped me have some sense of what is effective dialogue.

What is the best advice, you would give for writers who are trying to write a book?

Write. Keep writing. Hear what others have to say about your writing. And when you know you have a large enough sense as to what exactly encompasses the content of a book and sense of a plan or better yet, a plan, write the book and find an excellent editor . . . not so much to rewrite it for you, rather more to suggest areas of strength and areas for possible improvement and then work some more and continue in this fashion until you know you have the book you sought to write . . . or as close to it as you can manage.

What are your hobbies?

I’m not sure I have or ever have had any hobbies, however my weeks fly. I provide speech language evaluations and therapy to children with emotional disturbances, most of who live in a residential setting. I run ALVA Press Inc and work with my writers, all of whom I love and with whom I feel quite close. And then, of course, there is my family, in particular my sisters and two of my grandsons, Sebastian and Cameron, whom I visit with and care for at least a couple of times a week to eat with and help out with their homework. And, I suppose, the sudden passing of their dad, my son, a year and a half ago continues to absorb a space my life.

What can we expect from you in the future?

If I knew I would tell you. My last two books, Straight from the Robin’s Nest and The ALVA Axiom Anthology of Author Interviews, came somewhat as a surprise even to me when at a point I recall saying to myself that I no longer did much writing. But then it occurred to me that essays and written interviews are also writing so I pulled a bunch I had written of each of them into anthology form and, voila!, there were two more books.

Currently I have a number of books in the early development stages: Too Close, the sequel to Jolt: a rural noir; Yell’n’Tell, a children’s picture book; Life’s a Dance, a fictionalized memoire; and Grace, a play. And some place, if I can find it again, is a children’s book I wrote called Wedding Ready. Meantime I keep my hand in the trade by writing for the ALVA Press Inc weekly newsletter, ALVA Axiom, distributed free online with sign up on our homepage at http://alvapressinc.com

In closing, I’d like to thank LevyingKishan for so generously inviting me to share with you here on his website. Thank you so much. It has been truly a pleasure!

About the Author

ROBERTA M ROY, medalist in Inspirational Fiction in the Jenkins 2011 Living Now Awards, holds a B.A. in English from the State University at Albany, NY; an M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Nebraska; a Certificate of Clinical Competency in Speech-Language Pathology from the American Speech-Language Association (ASHA); and a license as a Speech-Language Pathologist in the State of New York. Roy's degree in English and her experience as an allied health profession particularly qualify her to write humanistic sci-fi with literary quality. Other titles by Roy include The ALVA Anthology of Author Interviews of which she is the interviewer and editor and Straight from the Robin’s Nest, a collection of essays previously published in the ALVA Axiom.  Currently Roy serves emotionally challenged children in a mixed day and residential setting in Rhinebeck, NY.

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