Thursday, December 31, 2009

Author Laura Bynum

I recently finished reading a debut novel, Veracity, by Laura Bynum. Classified as science fiction, or dystopian, it was disturbing in its portrayal of a future where government takes total advantage of society's every little abdication to wholly consume it. The government's new version of society revolves around complete, around-the-clock control of entire citizenry. The most alarming aspect of Bynum's story is that, regardless of your political affiliation, anyone could see how easily freedom could fall.

I was glad to get the opportunity to review Laura Bynum, but I was unprepared for how compelling her personal story and thought process is. It was a great interview, I only wish I could claim any relevant amount of responsibility for it.

PW: Will you please give a summary of your journey from hopeful writer to the publication of Veracity?

Bynum: I knew as a kid that I wanted to write but I put it off until I was well-entrenched in a corporate life I didn’t want, and until my creative self had nearly starved to death. Why? Partly because I was terrified that I wouldn’t be as good as I’d imagined myself to be, and partly because I needed that paycheck. We had kids and a mortgage. Writing was a decision that took me a long time to make as, by the time I’d rallied up the courage to do what I was meant to do, it wasn’t just me anymore. But a few things were happening in the world that finally pushed me to go down that lesser trod path. Much of the idea for Veracity came from the fallout of the 9/11 tragedy. The quick exchange of freedom for security concerned me, but even more so, the lack of discourse that went along with it. I was mostly concerned about the lack of critical thinking; of so few of us knowing why we believed what we believed, and that sort of thing. So, armed with an early version of Veracity, I signed up for the Maui Writer’s Conference (the biggest and the best according to my research) and entered Veracity into the Rupert Hughes Literary Contest. The first night of the conference, the announcer provided an anxious audience the identities of the ten finalists and, to my huge surprise, my name was one of them. The second night, I was one of the five semi-finalists. The last night, the gentleman at the podium, John Tullius, a founder of the event, said instead of providing the author and title of the winning submission, he would read a few paragraphs. It took me about three sentences before I realized he was reading from my book. From Veracity. It was surreal. As a consequence, I was offered agent representation from two houses (I chose the Writer’s House in NYC). The rest of this journey was a little more convoluted. After turning forty, I went in for my first annual mammogram. On the day of a subsequent biopsy, I received a bid from Simon and Schuster’s Pocket. A few days later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and signed a contract with Simon and Schuster. The publishing-leg of editing was done while having radiation and recovering from the fallout of a few complications, and, on the truly final day of edits - the proofreading round - my grandmother passed; it was her farm that served as the backdrop for Harper’s breaking place. It has been a circuitous, difficult, beautiful journey to publication.

PW: What, if any, works and/or authors have influenced you toward the creation of Veracity?

Bynum: There are so many authors who’ve influenced me, it’s hard to narrow them down. But, that having been said, here are some of the authors whose stories were like individual Masters Classes on writing: John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Strout, Salman Rushdie, C.S. Lewis, Dan Simmons, Tom Wolfe and so very many more.

PW: I found myself disturbed by the story, because it seemed all too plausible. Would you say that Veracity is simply a story, or is it more of a warning/wake-up call?

Bynum: I know this is going to sound Capra-esque, but I truly believe there is no crisis that can’t be averted with one-part sound critical thinking and one-part good-will. There was a trifecta of things that inspired me to write Veracity: the series of political events that occurred after 9/11 (wherein we willfully and somewhat easily gave away many of our constitutional rights in exchange for a sense of security); the absence of public discourse about this giveaway of our constitutional rights; and the sudden and terrifying realization that, if we don’t change the course of things regarding the way we communicate and ingest media, my daughters may never experience unbiased reporting in their adult years. They may never again be provided news without the color of agenda and the filler of prognostication. Twenty years ago, when I was a freshman in college, I took a course in journalism and nearly failed for using too many adjectives in an article! I am not asserting that we should put a halt to anything as I don’t believe in censorship. If we’re taught how to tell the difference between fact and opinion, we don’t need to. We won’t be so easily led to someone else’s conclusions, opinions, prejudices, product choices, political views, spiritual preferences, etc. We will have formed our ideas about the world and all things in it with a critical and emotionally staid eye and will truly own our own thoughts, and be - and stay - truly free.

PW: I searched the story as vigorously as I could for a ‘slant’ and found none, or instances where I could envision people supposing you to be either Democrat or Republican. For someone as educated as yourself, and thus thoughtful and opinionated, how were you able to keep your story so completely sanitized of the strong, even tribal, influences of political identification most of us in the US seem to carry these days?

Bynum: I have to take a sentence or two to say thank you for that observation. That’s just about the highest compliment I’ve been paid regarding Veracity. I believe extreme partisanship is what’s keeping us from coming to the table to talk, to exchange ideas, to get healthy and stay that way, and so forth. That’s not to say I don’t have any affiliations, I most certainly do. (I don’t believe in down-the-line party voting but have, to date, always voted for the democrat; I believe we must fight for homosexual rights; I believe in God and Jesus and Buddha and take great exception to a lot of what Paul has to say, etc.) But Veracity is a story that really didn’t need to be sanitized from me and my beliefs because it’s about thinking critically and really listening to and respecting each other enough to allow for this process; I believe that theory has been woven into my style of writing, and my choice of language all on its own. All of this is a long way of saying - to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from Veracity - there is no them, there’s only an us. If we can start thinking this way, so many walls will come down.

PW: I really liked the ending to the story, because of how it affirmed the desire of the human spirit to be free, no matter the cost. Do you think America’s national psychology, if there is such a thing, could countenance, suffer or succumb to the degeneration that creates a Confederation of the Willing?

Bynum: Unfortunately, I do. History has shown us at least two cultural/societal responses that are endemic to this kind of degeneration. One, we will do almost anything to feel safe. And two, once a position has been deemed ‘normal’, no matter how insane, self-defeating, or fatal, it’s often adopted as gospel, and no questioning of this new breed of normal is tolerated or one is called such terms as ‘unpatriotic’, etc. Until we own our own truth, the ‘truths’ doled out to us by those who stand to benefit from such false currency can buy our thoughts and our actions. As the phoneme is to the word, as the word is to the sentence, I believe language is to freedom. If we actually listen to what is being said, we will be ever at the ready, and prepared to guard against such a stealthy theft.

PW: Contractual obligations obviously withstanding, will you give as much of a sneak peak or teaser as you can on your pending work(s)?

Bynum: My second novel is a love story - a sort of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but with a twist. As with Veracity, this novel is also very much about communication but on more of an inter-personal level. Specifically, with how often proximity has nothing to do with closeness and how sometimes the greatest loneliness can be experienced in the company of our significant other and, the greatest fulfillment, in their absence.


Brook Stableford said...

This is truly inspiring. Barbara Kingsolver will be presenting writers' workshops at the San Miguel Writers Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico February 19-23 2010. I just signed up. It looks like a rare opportunity to meet her. Are you going?

PeterWilliam said...

I wish. Between work and the newborn, I don't stand a chance of going, but would certainly love to. Stop back by when you return and let us know how it went.

Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch The Eclectic Society, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.

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