For those of you following the progression of my broken wrist, I’ve got one week and one day until the cast comes off. It’s been a long and frustrating recovery, and I’m a little bit worried about how long it will take me to get back to lifting the weights I was lifting previously. Any tips from weight trainers who’ve broken limbs will be gratefully recieved.
But onwards! It’s time for my latest interview.
N.T. McQueen is a writer and professor in Kona, Hawai’i. His books include the novel The Blood of Bones (Adelaide Books, 2021) and Between Lions and Lambs (City Hill, 2010). He earned his MA in Fiction from CSU-Sacramento and his writing has been featured in issues of the North American Review, Fiction Southeast, Entropy, The Grief Diaries, Camas: Nature of the West, Stereo Stories, and others. He has done humanitarian work in Cambodia, Haiti and Mexico and teaches writing at several colleges and universities.
Welcome to the Fountain Pen, N.T. – tell us a little more about yourself.
This question always seems to stump me. When you are looking at 38 years of life, it can be a challenge to know what to share or, more precisely, what information people would want to hear. So I’ll share a blending of the professional, the personal and the embarrassing.
Professional: I have two novels published, a children’s books I illustrated and wrote, a novella, and a list of short stories, flash fiction and essays published in a variety of magazines and journals. To pay the bills, I teach college composition.
Personal: I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for 18 years, have three daughters and live on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I’m an avid fan of Bay Area sports teams, enjoy fishing though I’m not great at it, and like to travel though I haven’t done much of it lately.
Embarrassing: In 7th grade, I once “locked” myself in the boy’s bathroom. I realized, after crying out for help at the door, I forgot to push on the door instead of pull. The looks waiting for me outside were not ideal.
All through high school, I played drums in a punk band called The Wedgies and wore a dress at one of my concerts at the bidding of my wife (then girlfriend). Another concert involved a massive snot bubble exploding on my face.
Your school days sound pretty eventful!
Why literary fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?
My interests have always leaned toward character in film and fiction. While I admire plot, it was always the complexity of the characters that intrigued me. Their motivations, relationships, actions and other nuances felt, to me, the crux of a strong narrative. I remember reading Dan Brown or Michael Crichton and, while I enjoyed the movement and concepts, the characters took a backseat and that always struck me as odd.
So I guess if I’m wondering if I chose the genre or it chose me, I’m not sure how to answer. It is just how my brain functions and so, when I started writing, the natural tendency was to start with character and then put them in situations so they had to do things. To make choices and to react and to reflect. For me, this is the driving force of narrative.
What do you hope your readers take away from your work? What are you trying to achieve?
In any creative medium, I always look for a deeper meaning that transcends the purely physical world. I want the physical to reflect the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual. In my own work, I strive to touch this more ontological aspect through the foundations of a narrative.
I hope readers that take the time to read my work feel this even if they don’t understand it fully. I remember reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner and, once I closed the book, I knew I had to read it again because something lurked under the surface. Like the iceberg theory but on steroids. I guess I would want my readers to have that same experience of finishing the book and knowing, if they truly want to reach a deeper understanding of the work, they need to put the book back on their bookshelf and return to it later on.
Tell us about your most recent publication.
My recent novel, The Blood of Bones, was published in November 2021 by Adelaide Books. It revolves around a tribal culture that practices infanticide and revenge killings which is a key part of the central character’s conflict.
Writing the novel was quite a challenge because I was diving into a culture and region I knew very little about. The setting is in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia and is an amalgamation of the different tribes that exist there untouched by modernity. The task was to write the story in a way that was sensitive and respectful of the culture but also acknowledging the violent practices they still adhere to. Thank God for the internet to help with creating a world and characters.
Does social media help or hinder?
There is always a moment everyday where I want to delete every social media account I have and never look back. But, at this point in publishing, social media is a necessary evil. It is helpful to get information out but I feel it is ineffective unless the algorithm gods bless it. Mostly I get messages from women trying to marry or sleep with me or book marketers from overseas so I feel it is more of a hinderance than anything. I would gladly hand over all my accounts to a ‘social media manager’ or something and not have anything to do with this fantasy world we called Meta. More than anything, it just sucks up time and distracts me more than helps my marketing.
What’s next for you?
I am in the final revisions of a WIP that shifts away from what I normally write. It’s the closest thing to a romance I’ll probably ever write and mainly it is for my mom who passed away in 2015. She loved movies and books about older couples and this book focuses on a couple in their 60’s who hit a crossroads in their relationship after life kicks them and their dreams around awhile. The catalyst is a mystery note in a used dresser boasting of a treasure and this sends the wife, Bernadette, on a road trip to see if it exists. It’s a much more marketable and relatable story than my previous novels and focuses on what it means to love someone your whole life. I’m hoping to send it out to agents and publishers by the end of the year.
That sounds like a wonderful tribute to your mom, good luck with it. Thank you for being part of my interview series.