Pamela S.K. Glasner is a brand new author currently enjoying enormous success with her debut novel, Finding Emmaus, which was published by Emerald Book Co. on October 01, 2009. Finding Emmaus represents the first of three books in The Lodestarre series, and she kindly gave up some of her valuable time to answer a few questions especially for this blog. As I’m sure you will agree, the passion Pamela displays not only for writing but also for the topic she has chosen is patently obvious in her answers.
There are links to my review of Finding Emmaus and to Pamela’s website at the end of the interview.
Q: What first gave you the idea for Finding Emmaus?
It was actually a combination if things. I knew I wanted to write a story about Empaths and I knew that Katherine Spencer, the principal female character, would be one. I also knew, from first-hand experience, that being a highly-intuitive, highly-sensitive person in a predominantly intolerant society is not an easy way to live.
Perhaps that sounds cynical. I don’t mean it to. Of course I don’t believe that most of humanity gets out of bed in the morning with plans to lay in wait for an opportunity to strike out at the first unusual person to walk down the street. But the fact remains that most humans are not comfortable with anything that is out of their normal range of experience.
Our history is rife with examples, from films like “The Day The Earth Stood Still” where some soldier shoots the alien before anyone even knows whether it’s a threat, to artists and geniuses like Van Gogh and Edison and Pasteur who somehow have to summon up super-human strength and courage (and obviously not everyone succeeds) if they are to persevere in face of continuous failure, criticism, and even undisguised contempt. And aren’t parents advised to institutionalize physically challenged infants? “Don’t ruin your life,” they are told. And I wonder how many people are aware that in America, as recently as twenty-eight years ago, twenty-seven states were actively forcing surgical sterilization on people who were diagnosed as mentally ill. Never mind that there is no real diagnosis; we certainly don’t want to take the chance of them multiplying!
I don’t believe that humans have really evolved all that much over the last two thousand years, regardless of new laws that have been put in place in an attempt to appear more humane. I believe we’ve just become more sophisticated and clandestine about the way we ostracize, victimize and trample the rights of anyone who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not fit the societal mold.
Based on that and on what I knew about the outward manifestations of the Empathic personality — and prior to my extensive, heart-wrenching research into mental illness and psychotropic drugs — I thought it might be interesting to write about what it’s like to live with a gift (or is it a curse?) which is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to prove. After all, how do you definitively establish that the emotions you are experiencing are coming to you from an outside source? Therefore, how do you prove you’re not crazy?
And because the primary ‘eccentric’ behavior of the Empath is dramatic mood swings, I thought of how interesting it would be to draw the correlation between Empathy and Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t until I’d done some research into the “symptoms” and “treatment” of the disorder and saw the appalling abuses and conspiracy by and between the pharmaceutical industry and the US Food and Drug Administration, that I decided to propose Empathy as a fictional alternative explanation for the abysmal failure of psychotropic medications to “cure” or, in most cases — as it turns out — even help those diagnosed with the disorder.
The title of the book, “Finding Emmaus”, is a biblical reference, based on a story from the gospel according to Luke. Without getting into a whole lot of theology, suffice it to say that I believe the story of The Road To Emmaus is not at all about traveling to a geographical location. I believe it is a parable about people at the very edge of their mental and emotional endurance seeking shelter from the storm. And that’s exactly what my two principal characters do — not just for themselves, but for the millions of others who have been, and will continue to be, victimized unless someone does something about it.
(Empath, defined: For the purposes of my book, an Empath is someone who experiences another person’s emotions as if they were their own, meaning they can actually feel the emotions of others, but feel without any information which might let them know that the feelings they’re experiencing at that moment are coming from an outside source.)
Q: How long did the entire procedure take, from the original concept through to publication?
Well, it took less than 15 minutes to come up with the entire story. Of course, I didn’t have each and every little twist and turn or all the circuitous paths the story took as it grew and came to life, but I knew the beginning, middle and end and I had all that in my head just from standing in front of a piece of artwork I’ve had hanging on my wall for nearly twenty-five years. Then I sat down, picked up a pen and yellow pad (I wrote all 762 pages longhand) and, five months later, had a 173,000-word novel.
It took about another month of working with my five readers to edit the book and perfect it so it would be as close to flawless as possible for an agent. I chose five people I trust and respect — five very different people —and sent each of them the entire manuscript with strict instructions: find ANYTHING that might be a problem and let me know. Inconsistencies in plot, grammatical irregularities, factual errors, loose ends, typos, whatever they happened to notice, no matter how minor, I told them, I needed to know about it. And DON’T, I insisted, whatever you do, be nice about it just because you care about me!
One of my readers is a German linguist who lives in Düsseldorf and her help was particularly invaluable because she was able to point out “Americanisms” which anyone outside of the US might not necessarily understand. I left some of them in, but I did remove a significant number of them.
And then it came time to find an agent. And I panicked. It took me five months to write an entire book and two months after that to NOT write a query letter — I was that terrified of it. Fortunately for me I was personally introduced to someone who, in turn, personally introduced me to my publisher, so I never had to go through that part of the process.
And then came everything a publisher gets involved in. I wanted “Finding Emmaus” to be released in October of this year because if it wasn’t, it would not be released until the spring of 2010. My publisher didn’t want to release the book in competition with Thanksgiving, Christmas or the dead of winter, so it was either October or next year. We therefore had a very abbreviated production schedule.
All in all, from the first day I picked up my black ultra-fine Uniball pen to the day my book was officially “released,” the entire process took seventeen months.
Q: How close to home is the plotline (i.e. Are you an Empath?)
Am I an Empath? I believe that I, just like a lot of other people, have Empathic abilities. Not to the extent that my characters do, of course — that’s fiction — but I am especially sensitive to the emotions and the energy of those around me. I am particularly adept at “feeling” when someone is lying to me, or being duplicitous with me.
The plotline itself? Well, I’ve never spent an evening sharing a glass of wine with a ghost. My loss, I think! That said, I truly believe that drawing from personal experience, even if the storyline is not reflective of one’s life, is something that any good writer must do.
Aren’t writers always advised to write what they know? I don’t think that phrase means limit your book’s content to things you’ve actually, personally lived through. Rather, I think it means that authors should draw upon the complex history of their lives and be ruthlessly honest when they write their characters’ emotional, physical and mental reactions to whatever circumstances the author has created. That’s what makes the characters and the stories believable, even when the authors are writing about situations which are completely unbelievable.
I’ve heard it’s supposed to be some sort of insult to be accused of being even the least bit autobiographical in your novels and I think that’s ridiculous. Anyone who says that their creativity and passion does not come from their life’s experiences as well as their own views and values and beliefs is fooling themselves.
That doesn’t mean I think I’m Frank Nettleton – one of my characters – and that 300 years from now I think I might come back to Earth intending to help some civic-minded Empath save the world. It means that true creativity comes from your heart and your soul and your gut and some inexplicable, insatiable need to express it.
And it can be anything. It doesn’t have to be writing. It doesn’t even have to be an art form. Inventing the light bulb and the process of pasteurization came from the same place in Edison and Pasteur as my writing comes from in me.
Q: What part of the process was the most enjoyable, and what part was the most trying?
I loved — and I mean REALLY LOVED — all the research I had to do in order to write “Finding Emmaus”. I actually spent time with an experienced mariner who helped me work through and create a true timeline for Frank’s 1691 journey down the Connecticut River (called the Great River in my book), along the Connecticut Colony shoreline and down to New York. I learned just how long each leg of the journey would have taken, what kind of ship he’d have been on, how it would have been provisioned, the stops it would have made, the different industries in the different ports along the way, what shops and businesses would have been at each of those ports and further inland, the concentrations of the different nationalities of the folks he would have met as he traveled from Connecticut Colony to New York Colony and back again.
The entire book is researched to that degree and I feel honored and privileged to have been able to do such a thing.
I think the only difficult part for me was that life insisted on interrupting me when I was writing! I love writing. There’s nothing I would rather do. And there were times when I’d come up for air at the end of several particularly intense chapters and realize that eight, ten or twelve hours had flown by completely unnoticed. There were many times when the laundry did not get done, the groceries did not get purchased, dinner did not get cooked and I often joke about my poor dog standing at the front door with her little legs crossed, though, of course, the truth is she was not neglected. She’s very good at letting me know when she needs food or the great outdoors!
Q: With the benefit of hindsight, are there any parts of the book that you would write differently if you started over tomorrow?
Yes, there is one part, except I’ve not yet learned how to do it better, so, at least for the time being, there’d be no point. It’s one scene, in the very beginning of the book, where Katherine is haunted by a ghost. The scene builds tension, but is not nearly as scary as I wanted it to be. So I turned to my favorite scary writer, Stephen King, for inspiration — no-one frightens me on paper as well as he does! — but, alas, I am not Mr. King and I could not do what he does. Perhaps some time in the future…
Q: Are there any hints you can provide us on the remaining books in The Lodestarre series to whet our appetites?
I’m smiling right now because I’ve been asked that same question in lots of different ways — many times. “Finding Emmaus” leaves the reader wanting more and book #2 also has a cliffhanger ending, which means there will be a book #3. But beyond that, not wanting to ruin the suspense for anyone, the answer is ( J ) I’m sorry, but no, I won’t say! LOL!
Q: And finally, what type of books can we expect from Pamela Glasner after The Lodestarre series?
During the course of my research I became fascinated with one of the men who was involved in, of all things, the Salem witch trials. He was, like most people, a product of his time and, to me, quite an enigma. He was an eminently moral man who was clearly devoted to his church, his country and his family and yet he was complicit in the murder of twenty-six innocent people.
I’ve seen non-fictional accounts of his life and times, but I want to do something different: I want to explore what might have been going on in the deepest, most secret parts of this man’s heart and mind and, in order to do that, I’ve decided to create a fictional account of his life based soundly in fact.
Fortunately, personal memoirs and writings of his have survived through the centuries, so I think I have a real opportunity to walk a mile in his shoes and see if I can truly understand not just his actions, but his motives, reasoning and justifications — maybe even see what kept him up at night, worrying whether he himself was saint or sinner.
Review of Finding Emmaus: http://www.chrisbelton.com/blog/?p=3
Pamela Glasner Website: http://www.lodestarre.com/FindingEmmaus.html