Monday, April 4, 2011

Formed Of Clay

Today we'll be talking with Thea Atkinson. Here is the interview. Enjoy.

What is your earliest memory of writing?
I remember writing an essay in grade 3 or 4 as an assignment and the teacher was planning to submit the best of them to our local radio station. My best friend won and was allowed to read her paper on the radio. I was so thrilled for her that I wanted to pull her hair out. As terrible as it sounds, she actually inspired me. I hadn’t realized until then that anyone could write and other people would ‘read’ it.

How does it feel being published?

Once upon a time, I thought the most magical thing in the world would be to be published. I remember getting the first magazine my short story was published in and I immediately started dreaming of the next. I wanted more. I felt validated as a writer. I’ve published dozens of short stories in journals and magazines since then and even more nonfiction, and the hunger has never left. I wanted more: I wanted the same for my novels. Publishing always made me feel like a real writer—but only because of the reaction of other writers when you can admit to some publication credits. In these last years of my writing career, that’s changed. I’ve learned to eschew publication as validation for my efforts. Now, it’s “Have you written today,” Meaning: Are you working on your craft. That’s what matters to me. Of course, it’s still always nice when someone reads your writing and wants to publish it.

When did you decide to be a writer?

Not sure there was a decision. I’ve just plugged at it since forever because I wanted to tell stories.

Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?

I must admit to having it once. Right after my agent took me on. I remember lying in bed that night thinking, “Holy Hannah, what if people read me? What if they buy me and read me and ask for their money back?” I totally froze.

What I did was spend a couple of years with my camera and with a graphics program and fed the creative beast until the writing wanted back.

Where do you write? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?

Anywhere, but typically my kitchen with the sun streaming in like now. My black lab, Abbi, sits at my feet sometimes groaning that I’m not petting her because my fingers are busy typing. Sometimes in a notebook with a pencil. I’m not picky.

Tell us about your Latest Book.

Hmmm. Formed of Clay is a novella that opens a series I’m working on. It lays the foundation for a variety of characters and how they are connected. FOC is a tale of betrayal and a search for redemption, all set in ancient Egypt. It’s still my regular genre, though, of what I suppose is called psychological thriller.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Always take criticism graciously even when you don’t agree with it. And always help the next writer coming through the door.

Formed of Clay Excerpt:

He wanted justice black as shade, and sure as death.

They were strangely deep feelings for a ten-year-old to fathom, stranger still, that he could articulate them clearly at all, but fury settled into his organs and twisted them into a hate he'd never felt before. Some part of himself felt broken off, and Sentu wondered if he looked up at the thatched ceilings, would he be able to see that shadowed part lingering there before dissipating like smoke through the crevices.

Someone was speaking. Yes. His father. He tried to offer respectful attention but all he saw as he looked into the almond colored skin and black eyes crouched next to him was a face so unlike his that he finally understood. Fellahin. That's what he was. Poor mud digging class born to do nothing but turn the fetid land into some sort of substance, to fish the waters, to drink from the edges of the Nile, braving the beasts within as they waited for their supper.

"Sentu, did you hear me?" the man was saying. "Did you hear me say it doesn't matter to us?"

He stood there trembling, the limestone walls threatened to fall in. This man. This man was not his father. That's what he was saying.

"Sentu, it is okay. But you needed to know."

He needed to know. And why was that? For all these years that he has endured the taunting of his neighbors, fought in the dusty avenues to protect his mother's honor. Why does he need to know this now? What of that man who sired him: that coward. That he would leave these people to lie for him year after year.

Sentu felt a strange clump in his throat, one that had the feel of choked off words that his mind had to break apart, to separate into sounds. His true father: who was he, really, but a traitor to his flesh. A man not worthy to carry the label this foster father had owned all these ten years.

And when some sense of words did come, they were hateful ones, formed in curses that had Sentu begging for Set to come in furious victory, to seek out and dismember that man like he had done to his god brother Osiris; scatter his body to the four winds.

He wanted to speak. Words tangled in his voice box.

"You came to us straight from your birth," his foster father said, trying to soften the news. Such a wonderful man, was this man, so considerate. "She was young, too young to be birthing."

The woman spoke then: his supposed mother. The woman whose honor he had fought for. "I am barren," she tried to explain. "You were a gift from the aten; who were we to refuse it?"

She snicked in closer to her husband and reached out so that his palm met her elbow, drawing her closer as though to create a wall that fury could not get through. A jasper amulet swung from her long neck, a large drop of rock that she had fashioned herself with bits of scavenged gold. Sentu had helped her craft it, spent hours melting and shaping and hammering the links to wrap around the tiny pebble. "Jasper is for inner power," she'd told him. "It fosters loyalty and courage."

She wore it everyday, and Sentu often wondered why she would need a stone to remind her to be devoted. Now he knew. He wasn't of her flesh. This thin, graceful woman next to this man of sturdy build--almost too sturdy for a man of wisdom within Pharaoh Menes's court--was so doting Sentu had never questioned his heritage. But he should have known. Their skin was far lighter; he should have known he didn't belong. He was foolish. Stupid.

Both of them were the color of the brief bit of skin that surrounded the almond, a seed prized in Kamt for its rich oil. Prized. Valuable. His more base hue of Nile mud revealed his true worth. He'd been foolish enough to argue when the other boys insisted he was different, when he'd overheard their mothers gossiping about the dark boy and how he might have ended up in such a light skinned household. Surely, some educated person of the elevated hedj shentis would never debase themselves by fostering such filth. He must have come from an outside union. An unholy union. A disgrace.

Sentu had spat in their bread, those gossip mongers, as the rounds lay on benches outside to cool for the shame they spoke of this woman he'd always called mother. He saw the moisture collect in the stamped initials they put in the dough so they got the right loaf from the ovens.

The same shame thickened into a sludge that crept along his veins and hardened his heart. He felt it cure the muscle to a stone that barely trembled with its own heartbeat. He wondered if his blood would move through his veins at all. He certainly felt like a ruin.

1 comment:

Thea Atkinson said...

thanks so much for having me over to your place. The tea and crumpets were delish. Just means i won't have to buy grocies this week: thanks! Every penney counts, you know