Cheryl Pallant Interviews Lenore H. Gay, Author of “Other Fires”

Cheryl Pallant

CP:  Other Fires is your second page-turner of a novel with well developed characters. Your background is as a therapist. Do you think your work as a therapist helped your development as a writer and how you write and if so, how?

LG:  That question takes me to childhood. I watched people. My parents were lenient, had parties and took me to parties with their artist friends. I watched grown-ups, listened to their conversations and asked questions. An early reader, I went through the two bookcases in our living room, lots of books were over my head, but I’d struggle a while and ask questions. Curious and nothing was censored, rather it was explained.

My curiosity focused on what made people who they were. In school I watched suffering and daily sadness, also shyness, boredom and joy. Why? The school work was hard so perhaps some girls were fearful of failing a test, or having to sing a solo or being happy to get a part in a play. There were many challenges.

My first full-time job at twenty was at a children’s psychiatric hospital. The three years I worked there I learned more, at times, with those children than in the classroom. I enjoyed the work and knew where I was going. Writing characters is about understanding what people think and feel.

CP: What did you decide to do differently with Other Fires from your previous novel Shelter of Leaves and why? What excites you most about your new book?

LG: Shelter of Leaves was about a national crisis. In Other Fires I decided to explore what might happen to a family when one person suddenly had a crisis, a brain injury. What sort of impact would it have on Phil’s wife and children? His wife and older daughter had their own problems, so what would be the impact of Phil’s head injury on top of other problems.

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I’d read about Capgras Syndrome and I did more research. Capgras is usually seen in dementia and schizophrenia. But a certain head injury can also cause it. I wrote an Author’s Note on Capgras Misidentification Syndrome at the beginning of the book, Other Fires, to guide the reader.

I was most excited writing the ending. There was loss and yet there was a hopeful future for most of the family.

CP:  The lives of Joss and Phil are obviously full of challenges and you are telling their story. As their friend, and not their author, what advice might you give them and how do you imagine they’d receive it?

LG:  Joss was stubborn about wanting to go to therapy. As her friend, I would’ve talked with her about getting help from someone skilled and who had your best interests in mind. She would’ve been irritated and still said no. A smart independent woman, Joss did eventually take care of herself. I’d probably tell her she might have suffered less if she’d listened to me.

Capgras Syndrome changed Phil. Already a philanderer, now he was hateful to Joss. Convinced Joss was an imposter, Phil wouldn’t talk with her while he was still in the hospital. He worked with a doctor familiar with Capgras syndrome patients, but he still thought Joss was an imposter.

As his friend, I wouldn’t have made any headway. While trained doctors did help him enough to go to another facility, they weren’t able to help Phil let go of his belief about Joss.

CP:  When a reader finishes your book, what comments would you most want to hear?

LG:  I’d like readers to understand all the characters, find them believable: their motives and feelings. I hope they’ll feel compassion for this family’s situation.

CP:  I imagine you’re already set your vision on what to write next. What is it and what if anything of Other Fires will continue?

Lenore H. Gay (photo by Sasha Gay Overstreet)

LG:  Yes, I’ve begun writing another book, I’ve only written a bit over 10,000 words so far. The book’s title is: Sabine and Sharp. This book is a sequel to Shelter of Leaves.

While writing Shelter, one of my writing friends cautioned me not to let Sharp run away with the story. I laughed because she was on target, and I listened. I’d become interested in this cipher and wanted to develop his character and background more, but there wasn’t enough room in Shelter of Leaves.

Now I have the time for this new manuscript. This book needs a different kind of research than Shelter required. I’ve begun.

This doesn’t mean I won’t return to themes in Other Fires. Maybe I’ll follow the family on their journey. The truth is I don’t know yet.



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