A few weeks ago I reviewed the wonderful novel In Hovering Flight, which was published by Unbridled Books in September and was the Indie Next pick that month. I am so pleased that the talented author, Joyce Hinnefeld, expressed an interest in talking with me further about her work. Please sit down and “listen in” for further insight into the author and her work, including more about her research and references for IHF, a teaser about the novel she’s working on now, and look at Joyce’s reading and writing habits. (Photo credit: Armen Elliott)
Joyce, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us this morning. I truly enjoyed reading In Hovering Flight; I found it very satisfying, the kind of novel that evokes a pleasant sigh when the last page is turned. I’m always interested to get to know the author behind such a beautiful story. I have a few questions for you, and I expect readers of She is Too Fond of Books will chime in with some of their own.
Thanks very much for inviting me here, Dawn, and thank you for your lovely review of In Hovering Flight.
Well, I’m committed to giving an honest opinion of every book I review; books like In Hovering Flight turn that commitment into a pleasure!
This novel is ultimately the story of Scarlet, but it encompasses the love story of Tom and Addie, and their history. Which character did you begin with? Was it obvious to you when you began writing that this was Scarlet’s story?
A long, long time ago I drafted a scene involving a distraught young woman who shows up at the home, in a coastal town, of an older woman; this older woman is not her mother but a good friend. That young woman became Scarlet, and the older woman became Cora. So I definitely began with Scarlet, but I think I decided pretty early on that this young woman was going to have a complicated relationship with her mother.
Using Addie’s field journal as a tool for her to share her budding feelings for Tom is brilliant; had you considered other devices, such as letters, or a more traditional diary/journal?
No, I don’t think I ever considered another device. I got the idea of using the field notebook entries when I audited Professor Dan Klem’s Biology of the Birds course at Moravian College (where I teach) in the summer of 2004. I loved the whole idea of the field notebook, and even though I hardly kept my own faithfully (I had a two and a half-year-old a that point, and though I was beginning a sabbatical, I still felt that my time was limited), I did get the appropriate black binder and the lined paper (on which I drew the appropriate margins with a red pencil). I used my field notebook to take notes for the novel. And I decided pretty early on that it would be great fun to create some real field notebook entries, and to give Addie her young voice in the narrative portions—to present her as a rule-breaker already here, early in her life.
You put so much “birding” detail into the novel, describing not only the field journals and spotting conditions, but the physical movement and calls of the birds, the blind where Addie sat, etc. Do you have experience as a birder?
I don’t really have experience as a birder, which kind of feels like my dirty little secret. But as I noted above, I took a course, and I really did immerse myself in material about birds. I went on a field excursion with Dan and some other students in the class. I also grew up with a father and older brother who love birds and can readily identify many of them; their influence was important too.
As I’ve said many times now, I’m almost as fascinated by birders as I am by birds. There really are these people (I’ve met several) who just fall in love with birds at a very young age and then can’t stop looking for them. I had a student some years ago, Billy Weber, who is one of these folks; Cory Husic, the young son of my colleague Diane Husic at Moravian is another one. Another person who fascinates me is Maurice Broun, who, along with his wife Irma, was the original overseer at the Hawk Mountain preserve here in Pennsylvania. And then there’s Roger Tory Peterson. I had people like this in mind when I began imagining the young lives of both Tom and Addie.
You mention quite a few (real) books within In Hovering Flight. Many of these were books that influenced Addie in her work as an ecologist and environmentalist, such as Rachel Caron’s Silent Spring and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Did you read these before you began the novel, or as part of your research?
I’ve read Rachel Carson, but (another dirty little secret) not Aldo Leopold. A lot of people that I have read (including the wonderful naturalist Scott Weidensaul, and also Jonathan Rosen, author of The Life of the Skies) draw on Carson and Leopold and others. I need to read Sand County Almanac, because I’m so taken with Leopold’s language—with the idea of a “land ethic,” and the sense that we need to try to be worthy stewards of the planet. That’s so beautifully expressed.
I was quite taken by Addie’s art as you describe it. I know one piece, her “River Nile” is inspired by an actual piece of contemporary art. Aside from your craft of writing, do you have any of the visual arts in you?
I have no talent as a visual artist whatsoever, though my husband and daughter both draw well and just have a terrific visual sense. For a long time I didn’t trust my own eye when it came to visual art. But at some point I think I admitted that I do have a fascination with art and artists; clearly this was important enough to me to immerse myself in Käthe Kollwitz, and even in the basics of taxidermy (in trying to imagine Addie’s work with dead birds). One thing that I did feel pretty confident about, though, was Addie’s sense of deep sadness and disconnection when she wasn’t producing any work (writers feel this too), and also her tendency to question her own talent and the value of her work. I have those doubts and questions too.
I haven’t yet read your collection of short fiction, Tell Me Everything and Other Stories. Were “prototypes” of any of your In Hovering Flight characters or situations found in any of the stories in that collection?
I don’t think there are any direct prototypes, but I would say that a number of stories in the collection, which were written when I was a younger—also single and childless—woman, express the feelings and struggles of Scarlet; I’m thinking particularly of the four brief pieces that provide a kind of framework for the collection (“Unsubjected,” “Baby,” “La Facultad,”and “Slipstream”) and the essayistic story titled “Echo Guilt” (which, interestingly, has hints of the environmental theme that’s explored more fully in IHF).
Who would you say are your influences as a writer?
Like so many contemporary writers, I’m enamored of the work of Alice Munro; I will never stop wishing that I could write short stories like hers. I’ve been influenced and wonderfully supported by my mentor since my graduate school days, Gene Garber, and also by my friend Ursula Hegi. I love Flannery O’Connor, though I don’t write like her, and I also love Virginia Woolf, though I certainly don’t write like her either. But at one time I did think that I wanted to somehow emulate Woolf’s The Waves in writing IHF; the structure of my book reflects that desire, I think, though in pretty subtle ways.
Do you have a routine that you follow when you write – a specific time of day, or place to write for example? Do you use a computer or write your scenes longhand? Are there pictures or other prompts that inspire you?
I write best in the morning, the earlier the better. I do have a study in my house, but that room also serves as a guest room and, at times, as a play area for my daughter (still struggling with that “room of her own” thing). Sometimes I’ve been able to write in a quiet study in the library at Moravian; that’s where I did some of the earliest work on IHF, and I’m gearing up to spend some more time in that study in January, when I get going on a major overhaul of an earlier novel manuscript (more on this below). I’ve become a big fan of writing initial drafts in longhand; it serves me well to be slowed down in this way, and then the process of typing that initial draft allows me to do some important reworking early on.
Obviously images by Audubon, Peterson, and others—and also Käthe Kollwitz—inspired me as I worked on IHF. I’ve been working for a while now on a story about a painter (yet another visual artist! Yikes!) who aspires to the impeccable realism of painters like Van Eyck; I looked at lots of images and read about a number of painters as I worked on early drafts of this story. Music has worked the same way for me at other times, especially jazz; I was trying to capture the rhythms of jazz in one of the stories in my collection, called “Jump Start.” And music is important in the novel I’ll be reworking next—jazz again, music for piano, but also Southern hymns and early country/mountain music.
Would you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?
I have a couple short stories in the works, and as I’ve mentioned, the main thing I’ll be focused on in the new year will be this earlier novel manuscript, set in central Kentucky in the first half of the twentieth century, and dealing with the lives of three generations of women in two experimental communities (real places): the Shaker community at Pleasant Hill, and a school called Berea College.
Can you tell us a little about yourself as a reader: What types of books do you like to read when you’re not researching? What was the last book you read, and what are you reading now?
I read some nonfiction, but my first love will always be fiction; I also like to read poetry. I’ve just finished reading John Addiego’s The Islands of Divine Music and Julia Glass’s I See You Everywhere, and re-reading (for a class I’m teaching) Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan’s As the World Burns: Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denialand Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio’s Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Now I’m on to Franz Wright’s collection of poems, Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, Erica Abeel’s Conscience Point, and Akiko Busch’s Nine Ways to Cross a River: Midstream Reflections on Swimming and Getting There from Here.
I have The Islands of Divine Music and I See You Everywhere on my nightstand now; I feel like I’m in good company! Before we say “goodbye,” is there anything else you’d like to share with readers of She Is Too Fond of Books?
Just my gratitude for your support of the written word! I can’t think of a better way to “addle your brain” than by reading good books.
Thank you, Joyce! And thanks to all my readers who stopped by for this interview. Tune in tomorrow for Joyce’s guest post, a Spotlight on Bookstores!