Saturday, November 3, 2012

Clotho's Loom by Shawn StJean: Interview & Excerpt



CLOTHO’S LOOM is the story of a man and woman who met and married before they were ready. They are torn apart just at the moment when they should most be together, her mid-life pregnancy. The next year is devoted to adventures that mature them, while they seek reunion. While all events, like Will’s military reactivation, appear to conspire against them, StJean questions whether the forces of chance and Fate, as well as ignorant human will, are not actually working together for ultimate good.

Glas Daggre Publishing, 2012

Kindle | Goodreads

BOOK EXCERPT (from Chapter 1 of Clotho's Loom):

The next day, Easter, Will woke thinking of his father. He and Nexus
had no children of their own; that meant no egg hunting, no rabbits.
Normally, Will visited the old man's grave on Memorial Day in early
summer and Veteran's day in November, but he still wanted to talk, and
he had only one coherent thought during the night. He felt no one
living would understand. So he brushed off Nexus's offer to accompany
him, murmuring that it was an ugly day, he'd be back in an hour, and
made the short drive to the vet's cemetery on the other side of their
little township. It slept, deserted this early, but he preferred the
stillness, the silence, and his suffering.
He would not allow himself to think much about what he was doing, and so when he arrived and left his car parked down by the open iron gate and climbed the long, grassy, hill to where his father lay
inconspicuously buried among scores of others with identical stones,
he discovered he had forgotten to bring anything. He had meant to stop
for flowers, something. The low headstone stood flanked by the two
tiny American flags he had stuck deep into the earth last Fall,
casualties of the ravages of winter. The cheap dye had run into the
ground. A strong breeze rippled them, and he wondered how they stood
it. It made so depressing a sight now that he plucked them out,
stuffing them inside his windbreaker, and the plot showed that much
more lonely.
His father had been involved in Vietnam when Will was a toddler. He
spent two years, doing. . .what? Will did not really know. It was
during the very early '60s, before Lyndon Johnson incorporated the
whole enterprise. The official word was that Kennedy had sent in
several hundred military "advisors" to assess the threat from the
Communists; combat in those days was more limited, mostly espionage,
prosecuted by black operators. Some CIA, some paramilitary, and
others. To the Vietnamese, it was a minor ebb in the thousand-year
tideflow of war. His father was mixed up in all that somehow. He had
managed to survive his time in-country, returned, and resumed his
life. Two rows of ribbons and sergeant's stripes adorned his dress
uniform, with a rumor of a presidential letter of commendation inside
the pocket, all of which disappeared into the dust of his bedroom
closet. He went out to some meetings at the American Legion post, and
seemed to be well-respected and liked around town. Certain
people--other vets, people who knew the war from inside--were even a
bit deferential when they met him. The local firechief addressed him,
not by name, but by his former rank until the day he died. As for the
war, it went on for many years, but Will could not remember much
mention of it, or events connected directly to it, from his childhood.
The adults in his life had been shielding his young sensibilities.
His father might easily have gone into business or politics, but he
had little formal education and less interest in public matters. His
first and only foray into public service, as a shop steward, ended
abortively. A welder by trade, he labored in the nearby General Motors
plant for a dozen years, becoming an inspector with a future before
him. But combining circumstances--a very poor year for the company,
and major union grievances over insurances--ended that: the plant
closed up with a lot of others, the jobs went south, or out to Canada
and Mexico. The community was devastated and Will, Sr. took it harder
than most. They might have moved away, but somehow did not. He got
what work he could for a few years. And one day he sat dead in the
morning, in his shirtsleeves on the porch, of heart failure. It was
the worst winter in years then, snowing every day in November. The
ground was so hard that, in January when the old man died, they had to
put his body in storage until it thawed. The church service proceeded
around an empty coffin, and when they did actually bury his father's
remains, he and his mother made the trip a second time, out of decency
she said, but no minister came, and nothing was said; just unfinishedbusiness put to rest.
That afternoon, the boy Will had gone off into the woods without
telling anyone. He carried a paper grocery bag under his arm. He
leaned his gaunt body against a tree, swaying in the cold Spring,
wrapped in a barn coat that the old man had worn to deflect welding
slag, and steadily drank down the bottled beer that had ice clogging
the necks before he could swallow half a dozen. He found some trash in
a burned-out truck near him. Among the refuse lay an old dartboard,
the kind hung in taverns. Will propped the target against another
tree, nearby. Every time he downed a beer, he tossed and smashed the
bottle, from a distance, against it. As the hours passed and the day
grew colder and he felt more and more sober, he drank faster and his
throws grew harder and more accurate. The crash of exploding glass 
made him grit his teeth and laugh, and each time he heard it he felt a
little piece of his pain break off. Later, he woke up and found
himself in the same spot; darkness had fallen and his fingers and toes
and face were frighteningly numb. The stars only knew how close he had come. He peeled himself up, trudged home and threw himself into bed, hoping he would never wake up. His mother had been anxious for him, but let his disappearance wordlessly go.
Will’s mother managed, through extraordinary effort beyond the  meager insurance benefit, to scrounge the final fifteen months of mortgage payments together, and paid off a dilapidated house which they could not sell, in the middle of a region with hardly so much as a hardware store for needed supplies.
Twenty-five years ago now. A couple of nebulous years in high school.
The college that admitted him on grants represented one of the only
relatively stable institutions of the district, saving the few little
towns around it from utter ruin, and then Will had escaped into the
service and sent home most of the money, little as it was, and his
mother had survived into old age. Her son returned to live close to
her and resume his education, and by loaning himself through graduate
school and, in turn, becoming an academic, was able to insulate
himself against the general economic conditions and earn a decent
living. He had fixed up his mother's house on weekends, followed by
one for himself, immediately after his wedding.
Wind flattened the green grass. Clouds glowered. The son stood over
his father's grave, and wondered what the old man would think of him
now. Would he approve of his returning to this place, of his career,
of his marriage? And what would he say about this new situation, the
latest mess Junior had gotten himself into? He had been, before the
plant closed, a bear of a man who knew how to hug and how to deliver a whipping, sometimes within minutes of each other, and he had plenty of occasions to do so. Clearly, the boy knew where to find trouble. But
he had also brought real hope to the father's life. Will remembered
the time, when he was ten, that his father had brought home a deer
rifle and taught him how to shoot at a local range. It was a hunter's
weapon, no .22 caliber toy, but the real thing. He wanted his son to
respect and learn the proper use of firearms. It hurt the boy's
shoulder terribly to fire it, and left an ugly black and blue bruise
the next day, but Will would never have mentioned it. He made several
good shots early and never failed to hit the target somewhere, and his
father had patted him on the back at just the point when tears might
have started to leak from his eyes, and said they'd done a good
morning's work, it was time to go home.
Maybe it was the promise of better things that he represented to his
father that brought Will to the grave comparatively often. He knew
many people who could have barely found their parents' burial sites.
Why then did he feel that he had let his father down, that
disappointment could be his only judgement if he were still alive? It
was irrational, the son knew: he could never live up to his father's
legacy as a military man, one that had a semi-mythical, unverifiable,
and therefore unimpeachable air about it, but otherwise Will had "made
good," as the world called it. He had married a fine woman of modest
but respectable background, gotten a good education which led to one
of the best careers available in that area. No children, though, but.
. . in ways, he still felt like a kid himself, wandering out here
because he didn't know the right thing to do. He had rarely agreed
with his father, but at least there had always been a defined position
He blindly read the inscription on the headstone. Not much there, but the rank and letters U. S. ARMY declared in no uncertain terms how he
would be remembered by others. He summoned an image of his father's
face before him now, a little stern, hair immaculate, always 
clean-shaven, a man of brooding intentions and actions. It both
attracted and frightened Will, staring back at him. He wished that the
apparition might beckon him toward it, and speak. And that he might
understand what it had to say.
Something triggered the rain. A critical mass reached by a last
half-ounce upon hundreds of tons of accumulated vapor, perhaps, or an
electrical misfire in a random collision of charged molecules, or a
shifting of air density by the insect launched from a blade of grass
at Will's feet--what tips such a balance? The clouds, pregnant too
long, now delivered giant drops, fast and hard and wailing. Darkness
came hard after. But Will stood unflinching, head slumped down as the
earth covering his father began pooling up into a little, grassy pond,
mocking him with its opacity. He knelt on his haunches and touched the
cool, white stone and irrelevantly brushed off some mud spattered
there. The engraved letters which named his father had filled with
water, and the drops on his glasses made it impossible now for the
child to read them. Finally, he turned away, and marched slowly down
the hill, never feeling so much like an orphan.


Tell us about a favorite character from a book.

I greatly admire Phaedrus (the narrator) of Pirsig's Zen and the Art

of Motorcycle Maintenance. He once had a psychotic break, and spends

the bulk of the novel distancing himself from who he “used to be”--at

great personal cost, since his adolecent son, of course, likes that

guy better than his current spoilsport Dad. In the end, Phaedrus must

accept who he is in his entirety, chaotic past and all. Change is

probably the scariest aspect of real human life (the one outside of

literature and films.) Take the guy who loses his job at 55, or the

woman whose kids are grown and move out in her mid-life. Who will she

be, now? When we can adapt to altered circumstances, we really have

become the heroes that we read about and marvel at on the screen, in

exaggerated guises.

How do you react to a bad review of your book?


I imitate the Terminator—systematically hunt down anyone foolish

enough to use their “real name” on Amazon.


Seriously, though, it's a good question. I got one recently. It just

reminds me of who I am, and that I'm not writing for everyone. I

deliberately wrote a big book with several experiments in it. There's

nothing “safe,” about it—

from the chapter structure, which alternates between male and female

protagonists, and creates gender parallels, to the morally

questionable choices they sometimes make, which risks alienating

readers, to the unconventional ending. I honestly felt there were

enough vampire books on the shelves. 


So tell us about your current release.

Clotho's Loom chronicles the story of a man and woman who met and

married before they were ready. They are torn apart just at the moment

when they should most be together, her mid-life pregnancy. The next

year is devoted to adventures that mature them, while they seek

reunion. While all events, like Will's military reactivation, appear

to conspire against them, I question whether the forces of chance and

so-called Fate, as well as ignorant human will, are not actually

working together for ultimate good.


Does travel play in the writing of your books?

I was not able to take a sojourn to the Middle East (where my

protagonist fights in a new war,) but I did go on a roadtrip to Utah,

west of Salt Lake City, where the second half of the novel is set. I

swam in the Great Salt Lake, and climbed some lesser mountains, hiked

in the desert. As far as was possible, I wanted to import the American

landscape into some very old myths I was drawing from, that predate

the settling of this continent by Europeans.

Are the names of the characters in your novels important? How and why?

Yes, although I tried not to make them all jump out, the way the two

protagonists do: William Wyrd, and his wife, Nexus. But I pretty much

adhered to Poe's principle of organic unity, which states that nothing

in the fiction doesn't do some work. “Wyrd” is old English for Fate or

Destiny (also referred to in my title,) but his first name is “Will,”

so we have a paradox or tension between choice and destiny—as with

Oedipus, Hamlet, Ahab and a number of other literary characters I

admire. Some of the other resonant names I used were Mr. Domino,

Thomas Wright, and Dr. M--.

What books have most influenced your life?


The short stories of Hawthorne (Romantic) and Joyce (Realism) are what

I hope are evident as influences in my own fiction. Hemingway and

Stephen Crane for dialogue and naturalism. Flannery O'Connor was a

master of blending the surreal and grotesque with everyday life.

Since short stories are harder to write than novels, are I try to

learn craft from those best at them, and steal it for longer fiction.

So many novels today seem like a plot frame hanging on huge blocks of

dialogue, expositional, quirky, and otherwise. It's like un-producable

drama. You can't get away with that in a short story. Clotho's Loom,

whatever other faults one may find with it, is more than characters

talking at each other, I hope.

What book are you reading now?

As an English Professor, I read almost nothing but classics, so I'm

probably out of touch with what's popular at the moment. I'm

revisiting The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, after 30 years.

It's pretty timeless—explaining how the personal frailties of nations'

leaders overcome their good intentions, and spawn wars. O course, as a

kid I just enjoyed the stories about how Arthur was transformed into

different animals by Merlyn.

What are your favorite TV shows?

TV has always had so much unused potential, and is, at odds, so

saturated with advertising and diluted by bean-counter, fear-driven

decisions that I've pretty much given up on it. But Joss Whedon is out

there carrying on the Star Trek tradition of thoughtful content.

Fringe, too. And for comedy, I like no-holds-barred stuff that

embraces its true job, which is to waste people's time with adolescent

scatology, like The In-Betweeners (US and UK). Opposite ends of the

pendulum swing.

Do you have a Website or Blog?


'Natch, it's . I do about 1/3 promo,

1/3 “puff” (fun, light, short posts that are the bread and butter of

most bloggers,) and 1/3 thoughtful content about literary

fiction—using my own book as occasion, mostly. It's tied to Pinterest

boards, a Tumblr micro-blog, Youtube trailers, you name it. I have

started doing reviews of Indie literary fiction, too. I think it's

enormously important that self-publishers support one another—so I'd

like to thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak about

myself, today.

Rather than try to describe who I am through a series of historical events or by listing my accomplishments while concealing my failures, I thought I would name several writers/books that I can honestly say have changed my life in a material way. I have also included a few remarkable films. These influences may not always be done justice to in my own writing, but they are definitely owed a substantial debt. In no particular order:

-Stan Lee, author of hundreds of Marvel Comics. Some have called him heavy-handed or naive, but to me, from an age even before I learned to read, really, Stan’s plots, characters, and dialogue epitomize soul. Considering the increasingly cynical environment in which his work appeared, it’s truly inspiring to see the spirit of the Romancer carried on with unwavering trust that young people still get it.

-Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos. This book showed me the interconnectedness of all things, and buckled my world-view at a period of my life when I defined myself against others. This caused me infinite trouble, but I would not trade away the experience for any amount of inner or outer peace.

-Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden and various political lecture-essays. Could anyone actually read these works and not walk away dissatisfied with the status quo, even as regards one’s own heart?

-Stephen Crane, the too-briefly-with-us author of more great fiction than many who lived three times longer. Those who have oversimplified naturalism, the most stark version of literary realism, have had to willfully ignore his works to do it.

-Oliver Stone, director of JFK. This film was for me what The Matrix was for the next generation: a dramatic reinterpretation of Plato. Valid or not, his presentation raises the spirit of inquiry to such a height that one must question every “reality” from then on.

-Stephen Speilberg, director of the quintessential monster movie Jaws, showed us that there is no outworn plot, archetype, or device, creative writing teachers be damned. By every professional standard, this film should be an obscure failure, and yet it’s one of the best and most well-known ever made in any genre.

-James Cameron. The Terminator proves, in its retelling of the Oedipus myth, that a solid premise can overcome any budget deficit: time, money, materials, personnel.

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