L.C. Fiore’s debut novel, Green Gospel, tackles the controversial topic of eco-terrorism. He kindly took time to discuss his work with SLR contributor, Donna Meredith.
SLR: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
LCF: I consider myself a conservationist. I believe we need to preserve our natural resources, including parks and wildlife. I’d like to see America take the lead in renewable energy worldwide and allow it to be a true economic driver. I think both sides—all sides—will need to compromise to make it happen, and that’s a good thing. On a micro level, I try to be mindful of the environment. I don’t drive a hybrid though, or anything like that—I don’t even keep a vegetable garden.
SLR: What compelled you to write about an eco-terrorist?
LCF: I’m fascinated by anyone who can commit themselves so fully to one thing; who can care about something, in this case the environment, so deeply that they will strap themselves to the front of a bulldozer in protest—or firebomb SUVs. I’m a little jealous of their conviction—if not their methods—and I wanted to thoroughly explore that kind of passion, that motivation.
I remember visiting a friend of mine who was in art school at the time. In his apartment was a painting, done by another student, where the student, grieving over a recent breakup, had written the word “comfort” maybe a thousand times on an otherwise white, 4’ x 2’ canvas. Imagine the single-mindedness it took to create something like that. I found it…stunning, really. That kind of devotion.
SLR: For which of your characters did you feel the most empathy?
LCF: I feel empathy for all my characters. And if I’ve done my job as an author, the reader will too. I don’t think the book comes down too squarely on one side of any particular issue, and the same goes for the characters. I root for all of them. That’s why I chose to tell this story from many perspectives. I wanted the reader to consider not just one or two points of view, but all points of view.
As the author, I’m interested in what makes people tick. I want to try to figure out what motivates people, and to do that, I need to feel empathy for every character. I work hard to make my characters well-rounded, and hopefully that is reflected in the writing.
SLR: Do you write poetry? Many of the passages felt poetic with the strong images and careful word choices.
LCF: I don’t—but I take that as a compliment. Rhythm, how the words sound when read aloud, is extremely important to me. The first three sentences of the book, for example, I imagine as someone revving a motorcycle engine once, then twice, and then the engine firing up—and we’re off. I’m always trying to enhance the musicality of the language.
Sometimes I find myself sacrificing economy or even the precision of a passage to maintain or heighten its internal rhythm—and I think that’s ok. Every author has tools of the craft they value more than others. Rhythm and musicality are pretty high on my priority list. I like to get lost in the language of the books I read.
SLR: Describe the research required to write this novel.
LCF: I read books about Latino immigrants; I read books about solar power. I lived in Florida for a time, so I drew heavily on the things I heard about or experienced there. But really, I just tried to take the way I feel when I see a big, three-hundred year-old tree being cut down, or a new development going up across what used to be farmland, and amplified it about 400 percent.
SLR: Why did you decide not to use quotation marks for dialogue?
LCF: There is a good bit of religion in the book, specifically Christianity, and many of the characters know their Bible pretty well. The King James Version of the Bible doesn’t use quotation marks, because quotation marks weren’t standard punctuation in 1611, when the first version was published in English. Anyway, between the rhythm of the language and the religious themes in Green Gospel, it felt right to me not to use quotation marks either. It did present a challenge, but I’ve grown to like the technique.
SLR: What are you working on now?
LCF: I am working through the final draft of a new novel, still untitled. I also have a short story in a forthcoming anthology, Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories (Persea Books, 2011).
SLR: What do interviewers never ask you that you wish they would?
LCF: Well, I will say this: I wish revision was talked about more, taught more. As a beginning writer, it took me forever to realize the value of revision—what revision actually meant. Once I began to understand the difference between surface revision, where maybe you’re playing around with punctuation and grammar, and deep revision, where you’re cutting whole sections and rewriting things and combining characters… once I started understanding what true revision was, I started getting published. And the thing is, revision is merely a skill-set that can absolutely be taught.
Revision is also the difference between someone who wants to write for publication and a published author—it is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of the writing life. Despite this, during all my time spent as a student, and in the majority of the books I’ve read about the craft, revision is hardly ever mentioned, much less studied and taught in a way that students can implement editorial skills in their own work.
Most importantly, new writers need to understand that no one expects a fully realized story or memoir to come leaping out of their fingers. A published piece takes time, and a first draft is only the most rudimentary first step toward a finished product.
Spoiler Alert: The rest of the interview questions reveal character and plot outcomes.
SLR: One thing that surprised me is that the main character doesn’t express more regret and guilt over murdering Peter Moran. She clearly attempts to distance herself from thinking of him as a person by referring to him as “the Balinese.” And yet you could have easily have swamped the story with maudlin sentimentality if you had gone down that road. Could you talk about how you developed Edie’s psychology?
LCF: Spoiler alert! The book contains its own morality, its own sense of right and wrong. One can think about Edie as the book’s moral center; that is, she is the only one who walks a True Path, legal or illegal, from start to finish. She is the only one who stays true to her convictions—that the Earth requires protection at any cost. She refuses to compromise. Other characters who don’t get onboard with her True Path…well, things get difficult for them.
Another way to look at this is that the Balinese dies because he jumps ship—he couldn’t stand by his convictions and go all the way with Edie down her True Path. So in the end, he has to be “punished.” Can you hold avenging angels accountable for their actions? That’s kind of what I see Edie as.
SLR: The Reverend Dancer’s decisions mirror Edie’s in some respects. Could you address the similarities?
LCF: This is a pretty good insight, thank you for asking. Both characters care a great deal about the environment, and both are singularly committed to their individual goals. But there’s a huge difference between them. Reverend Dancer is a builder. He’s spent the majority of his life building his church, the solar farm—progressing toward something. Edie is a destroyer—she builds and cultivates very little throughout the book.
SLR: The Sheriff’s outcome was a twist I didn’t see coming. Why did you choose this ending for him?
LCF: I didn’t want all that to happen to John Whitney, either.
SLR: What has Mae found in her life post-Vester that makes her decide she is going to get rid of him? Once he is dead, do you think she will hang on to her feeling that post-Vester is a good thing? Or did you intend for Edie to be the main thing that was holding Mae’s life together?
LCF: I see Mae and her boys settling into their lives together—I think the book finishes on a positive note for them. Edie has taught them how to be self-sufficient; Evan is talking again; Mae has found the strength she’s been looking for all her life. I think by book’s end, the prospects of the Carson family are definitely looking up.
SLR: Edie as an angel at the top of the living tree was an interesting image at the end. What were your intentions in creating this image?
LCF: This is another excellent insight, and you’re the first person to ask me about it. I see this scene as Edie’s personal transfiguration. Remember in the gospels, Jesus goes up to a mountain with three of his apostles. Suddenly, he’s enveloped in this brilliant light. Elijah and Moses are hanging out, and then a big, booming voice, out of the sky, calls Jesus “Son.” There’s very little question, after this moment, what it is that Jesus is all about. And the same goes for what happens to Edie at the top of the Celebration Christmas Tree.
Obviously, the scene mirrors her experience in God’s Valley, Oregon, but there’s more to it than that. Before this moment, she’s been wavering from her calling a little bit, trying to reinvent herself. But then she is transfigured. It is the moment when her past and her future become one; when she is enveloped in brilliant light; the moment after which there is no turning back—she is fully recommitted to her life’s purpose.
SLR: Why did you decide to let Edie disappear in the end? What do you imagine her life would be like after the book’s final pages?
LCF: This comes back to the book’s inherent sense of right and wrong. She gets away because she is the only one who stays true to her convictions and sees those convictions through to the end. She makes a deal at the end of the book: one more radical act for the chance to escape a life of being forever on the run. She probably settles in as a kindergarten teacher somewhere in rural Maine, and thirty years from now is known all over the state for her award-winning lily garden.
SLR: Thank you for your time. I enjoyed your book and look forward to reading more of your work in the future.