I've recently had the opportunity to interview Flash author Michael Cadnum through a series of email exchanges. This was the first time I've done a back and forth interview like that, rather than sending a list of questions at once, and I have to say.... I really enjoyed it!
FLASH centers around several characters, each with their own strong histories. Which one did you find the most interesting to develop and bring to life?
I found all the characters in Flash rewarding, in different ways, and they kept me guessing. What surprised me was how much the characters kept secret from me what they would ultimately do. I didn’t know what Carraway had in mind, for example. Was he going to commit a crime in his home town, or was he going to prove fair-minded and honest? I didn’t know. Was Nina going to get drawn into wrong-doing--and what harm had Carraway committed in Iraq? The novel kept hiding things from me, keeping me in suspense even as I wrote it.
I don't often hear authors speak of their characters in that manner. Were there any other surprises your characters threw at you while you were writing?
Writing is an adventure for me--I rarely know what is going to happen until it happens. That keeps the writing vivid--what the readers sees is what I see, as I see it. Even when I write a novel based on a true event, such as The King’s Arrow, I am not sure what each horse or each rider will do until they have saved their lives--or died. Writing is exciting, and emotionally harrowing. I did not know whether Milton would kill Bruce or not during the fire on the hill. I think he seriously considers it at one point. I don’t want to give away any of the story for readers who have not finished the book, but this novel was full of emotional twists and challenges as I created it. For me, all the guns in the novel were loaded.
Given what led Bruce and Milton to even try for the bank heist, how do you think you would have reacted if you were in a situation similar to theirs? Try for the heist or find some other option?
What led Milton and Bruce to rob a bank was more than the need for money and their bleak career prospects. They were stuck with each other. Milton’s view of Bruce is that Bruce is potentially difficult, hard to handle, and it is a challenge to think of a scheme that uses Bruce’s penchant for violence and his vigorous sense of right and wrong. Bruce, for his part, finds Milton exasperating and not always respectful of his younger brother’s talents. Their criminal behavior is rooted, I think, in their sibling chemistry as much as any real need for cash.
Now that we've shifted a little towards you, what is the most private thing you're willing to share here? And on a random but fun note, what kind of cookie would you describe yourself as?
The most private thing would be: I really dislike spiders. I have a particular aversion to tarantulas, and we have a very persistent and creepy species of tarantula that fingers his way down from the hill in the late summer, early autumn, which is right about now, since you ask. Did I mention that I don’t like them?
What kind of cookie would I be? Something chewy.
Oh, I'm terrified of spiders. Disabling fear. Nonfunctional. *shudders* Apart from spiders, is there anything else you're scared of? What's the most fearless thing you've done, besides live somewhere with a disturbing brand of spider?
I tread-water in the silence every day--that‘s basically what a writer does. It does not take courage, exactly, but it does take nerve. I have to say, though, that none of my daring would equal Nina‘s renewed faith in her brother, or Terrence‘s love for Nina.
I admit, I think of all the characters, Terrence still stands out the most for me. Have you ever read a character in another book that even months after you've finished reading, is still memorable for you?
Of course I have. But what I really enjoy in reading is discovering the extra, invisible character in a writer’s work--the character or spirit, you might call it, of the author. I feel that know Emily Dickinson, for example, without really knowing her at all. And Sappho--we know her through only a few fragments. Still, we feel her as a presence. Through reading, you feel you have mingled with another human being’s innermost thoughts. I am glad that you found Terrence memorable, Kari. I like to think of the two of you meeting. I wonder what you would talk about.
Hmm.... I'm not sure what we would talk about, but I think it would be interesting. Now that we've mentioned memorable characters, are there any authors you look up to, or books that really resonate with you?
Of course there are! I admire many novelists, poets, and short story writers. Probably hundreds of creative people have taught me something about how to write. But I’d especially like to emphasize here what are called emerging writers. I like the sound of that--emerging writers. It makes authors sound like mammals crawling out of the ground after a fierce storm. On my desk today I have the Santa Monica Review, The Greensboro Review, The New England Review, and several other magazines that feature exciting new writing. Some writers are yet largely unknown, but the work in these magazines is fresh and full of life. I also enjoy the work new writers send me through my web site. There are so many innovative voices!
I agree on the potential and promise in emerging writers. There is a vast range of talent out there. Apart from writing sent through your website, what are some of the best things that you've heard through your website and/or in regards to your own writing?
This really seems to be two or three questions in one. I’ll answer the question I think you are asking--if I can name some of the new writers who have sent work to me. I don’t think I should--my correspondents should be free to communicate with me in confidence. As far as the more established writers I have been reading lately, they include Jorie Graham. C. K. Williams, Sarah Vowell, and John Banville, and I’ve dipped once again into William S. Burroughs and Gerard Manley Hopkins in the recent past. I also do something that is like reading, but not actually reading as such: I write things down that people say, bits of spoken English I hear on the street. I especially like things that almost don’t make sense. Or almost do. For example, I once heard a woman ask her friend, “What is the luxury of rage?” And I wrote that down in my notebook--I still find it fascinating. I have no idea why she might have been asking that, or why. Is rage a luxury?
Interesting... I'll have to think on that one. But, to wrap this interview up- and thank you for your time- just one final question. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
You can probably tell, by the variety of subjects I write about, that I would not like to be restricted to one type of food. If I had to be limited to one kind, then I would try to prepare the food in so many different ways that it would always seem new.
That‘s what writers do, basically, in their art: They make it new.
Thanks so much, Michael! Now make sure all of you go check out Michael's release Flash!