Monday, May 14, 2012

Connie Claire Szarke Author Interview + Giveaway

Connie Claire Szarke Author Interview

Connie is the May author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob.  She agreed to answer some questions about her book and I would like to welcome her.  Connie's book Delicate Armor has recently been selected as a finalist in two categories at the Midwest Book Awards!  Yeah!  Connie is a former high school teacher and an avid reader.  Read her interview and find out some insight into her book Delicate Armor and check out her favorite authors!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I grew up in a small prairie town in Southwestern Minnesota, with lakes, sloughs, woods, and farmland for my playground. I have a special fondness for that area, especially Lake Shetek, meaning ‘pelican’ in the Ojibway language. This region figures into my book and becomes a character in its own right. I think of Dylan Thomas’ lines from his poem, “Fern Hill,” when I recall growing up there: “Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs/About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,/The night above the dingle starry,/Time let me hail and climb/Golden in the heydays of his eyes,/And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns/And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves/Trail with daisies and barley/Down the rivers of the windfall light…green and golden…famous among the barns.” Often, on a summer’s day, we children sat under Hottie Holenbeck’s mulberry tree, eating berries and sugar cookies, wearing Hottie’s gifts of ribbons in our hair.
Now I live on a bay west of the Twin Cities, and I have two Shetland Sheepdogs who go rowing and kayaking with me. I was a career teacher of the French language and culture at Chaska Senior High School. Since my retirement, I have been writing fiction and poetry full time. Music is equally important. I’ve played classical piano since I was a girl and have incorporated songs into this novel. My mother loved poetry and sang and hummed tunes as she went about her housework. My father was a terrific story-teller.

2. What inspired you to write Delicate Armor?

Over time, several real life experiences/scenes persistently popped into my mind and wouldn’t let go. The only thing you can do when that happens is to write them down. Those became nuggets for a series of short stories, then linked stories, and finally, a novel. I’ve always read a great deal and kept journals. Beginning as a tomboy, I had such a wonderful relationship with my father. He was a charming, easy-going, likeable man who taught me how to fish, hunt, respect and get along in the natural world.
A novel also needs conflict; one of the plot points is a Cain & Abel-type situation between Callie’s father, Will, and his brother. Other family members and townsfolk make themselves known, as well, and not always for the better. Every character, though, is dear to me. But at the heart of Delicate Armor is this strong bond between Callie and her father, which greatly influences her formation as she comes of age and helps to prepare her for the inevitable losses she must face.

3. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?

I came into writing as a profession during middle age. In retrospect, it seems that my pursuits and endeavors prior to ten years ago, came together like a series of beacons converging in preparation for this challenging, yet rewarding stage in my life. While growing up, I read everything I could check out at our local library, so the writer in me likely began forming at the age of 10 or 12, when I read Treasure Island and imagined myself stowing away on a pirate ship. I kept journals, continued reading, studied great literature in college, and have always been keenly aware of my surroundings: places, individuals and their speech patterns, how and why they behave as they do. During my last year of teaching French, I signed up for evening writing classes, attended summer conferences, and joined a writers’ group. The key is uninterrupted seat time, alone at the desk. Now, writing is as important to me as eating and sleeping.

4. Usually, an author puts some of her own life experiences in the book. Did you do that?

Yes. Delicate Armor is semi-autobiographical, layered with lots of fiction, conflict, and subtext. It was liberating once I determined not to write a memoir. For me, fictionalizing my material allows me to go deeper. A friend of mine once said, “You picked through your life and had fun with it.”

5. What authors or books influence you?

I keep going back to Chekhov, Steinbeck, Truman Capote (especially his short stories), Saki, O. Henry, Kurt Vonnegut, Rick Bass, and some Irish authors, such as William Trevor. I love excellent poetry and am a fan of scores of poets, including Joyce Sutphen, Ted Kooser, Arthur Rimbaud, W. B. Yeats, Wendell Berry, Maxine Kumin, William Stafford, Dorianne Laux, Jane Kenyon, Paul Verlaine, Marge Piercy, Joe and Nancy Paddock. I love great lyrics, too, such as Johnny Mercer’s line from “This Time the Dream’s on Me,” “…to see you through, till you’re everything you want to be…”  
I’m currently reading Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections and Freedom, and am impressed with his style, exquisite word choices, and turns of phrases.

6. What is the most important lesson/idea you want readers to take away from Delicate Armor?

Callie begins her story as a young girl and ends it as an adult. I wrote with readers in mind and hope they will appreciate my carefully worked prose and be able to identify with the universal truths and experiences I was trying to set down within this family saga.

7. Are you working on another book?

Yes, I’m very excited about A Stone for Amer. Several of the characters from Delicate Armor take the lead in this next fictionalized story, some of which serves as an important thread in the novel. It is based on my father’s experience as a teenager in the early part of the twentieth century, when he and my grandfather traveled by train from Southwestern Minnesota to Eastern Montana, in order to claim the body of his uncle Amer.

8. In one sentence, tell readers why they should read Delicate Armor.

As Dave Wood wrote in his February 2, 2012 review, “Peel the layers to find the soul…[of this]…startlingly good first novel...”and as Mary Ann Grossmann wrote in her October 28, 2011 review, “Callie Lindstrom is one of the most appealing protagonists in this season’s crop of debut novels by Minnesota writers.”

Thanks Connie!!!

If you would like to win a copy of Connie's book Delicate Armor please click the link: