MA: Audrey RL Wyatt is right brained to a fault, so she tells me! Before attacking prose, she exhibited photography in juried shows and worked in theatre; acting, teaching and creating children’s theater curricula. So it was surprising that her writing career began in the non-fiction realms of politics, environment and law.
Finally succumbing to her creative nature, Audrey now writes fiction. Her debut novel, Poles Apart, is a story of family inspired by Audrey’s childhood among Holocaust survivors in Cleveland. Whether it was their silence or the horrific stories they told, their presence left an indelible mark. It has been honored with five awards. Her essays and short fiction, often featuring strong-willed, quirky women, have been published in various forums, both print and online.
Always one to foster aspiring artists, Audrey founded Southeast Valley Fiction Writers near Phoenix, Arizona, and Bay State Writers in Southeast Massachusetts. She gives a good deal of time to area schools and also teaches Memoir Writing to seniors. She is a partner in LitSisters Publishing, a boutique house publishing women writers, as well as a founding member of LitSisters, a networking and support community for writers.
Audrey loves to travel and has enjoyed living all over the country, from the Rockies to Boston Harbor. She currently makes her home in the Valley of the Sun with her incredible husband, their two terrific teenage daughters, and their beagle-basset mix, the Artful Dodger.
(Smiling) So, tell me more about this right brain and how you ended up in the fiction realm.
AW: I’m as right brained as they come. I started in the theatre at the advanced age of six and by the time I finished high school I’d tried every art that didn’t require fine motor dexterity. I wrote a lot, mostly nauseatingly syrupy poetry, and I acted. My mother called me “Audrey Heartburn.” I spent a lot of time on photography after that, having my work exhibited in juried shows. I worked my way through college teaching children’s theatre and creating children’s theatre curricula.
I got my education – college and grad school – and after some time spent at Legal Aid and County Children’s and Family Services I decided to stay home with my kids and write.
MA: You’ve mentioned poetry, and of course I know you’ve written a novel, but is there anything else?
AW: I also write short stories and essays. I think the story finds the writer and dictates what form it will take. But I love the novel form most of all. You have the time to stretch out and relax, letting the story unfold like a beautiful flower.
For me, writing is an exercise of will. On one hand, I will the story to come. On the other, the story will haunt me until I give it voice.
MA: Well said! Tell us about your first novel.
AW: I am a women’s fiction writer. I feel passionately about the stories that resonate with women. Women wear so many hats that nothing is ever simple. I find that intriguing. Poles Apart, my debut novel, is a story of family, of secrets, and of the damage that secrets can do, even over generations. Here’s the book blurb:
CHAIM SCHLESSEL lost his family to the Holocaust more than sixty years ago. He vowed to embrace life and protect his own wife and children from his painful memories and harrowing experiences. Finding solace in his family, his painting and the healing effects of his wife’s cooking, he has kept his nightmares at bay. But when a new neighbor unwittingly triggers the terrors of his past, Chaim is faced with the horrors that increasingly haunt his soul and threaten his sanity.
DAVID SCHLESSEL, grown, married and successful, is plagued by the always taboo subject of his father’s suffering at the hands of the Nazis. As a second generation survivor, he struggles with his father’s unwillingness to discuss the past and his own inability to communicate with those he loves. With his marriage falling apart and his relationship with his own children deteriorating, David, after numerous false starts, ultimately vows to conquer his inner turmoil.
UNITED BY A HISTORY they cannot discuss, yet starkly alone in their private struggles, father and son confront their demons as well as one another in a stand-off that will change them both forever.
All my short stories and essays can be found on my website: www.audreyrlwyatt.com.
MA: The storyline sounds complex. I take it there is more than one hero?
AW: Mine is a parallel plot novel, so the father and son protagonists – Chaim and David – are based on an amalgam of people I knew growing up in Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s. This is also true of the supporting characters in the novel. I find that once a character is created (and I do a very detailed character chart on each of my characters) they develop a mind of their own and take their story where they see it going.
MA: How about an antagonist?
AW: There is a nemesis in the story. But the bigger nemeses are in the character’s minds and hearts. Their struggles are both internal and external. This is an area where art imitates life. I think people struggle more with internal demons than the external forces that set upon them.
MA: You came to know Holocaust survivors early in your life, and their stories and experiences inspired Poles Apart. Please elaborate.
AW: Well, Chaim is a Holocaust survivor and I grew up around a lot of Holocaust survivors. I heard horrific stories when I was far too young to understand them/put them into context. In fact, it’s interesting how differently we interpret information at different times in our lives. I found the holocaust stories more horrific as an adult than when I initially heard them as a child. As a child it was information without context. But as an adult I had so much more experience and understanding to apply to the information.
MA: Are you working on any new projects?
AW: I’ve just started a new novel called Women’s Work. It’s about four women, life-long friends, who recreate their graduation road trip on its twentieth anniversary. Their lives are now complicated, their baggage much heavier. They have secrets – demons they need to exorcise.
I also have another project in the works called Happy Trails. I originally wrote it as a sitcom treatment and have plans to novelize it.
MA: It sounds like you write standalone novels, and nothing that necessarily lends itself to a sequel. Am I right?
AW: I tell a story until I’m done with it. It all happens in one novel. I don’t really envision any of my books garnering a sequel. As for migrating characters, I won’t completely discount it. But, having lived in a number of places, I set my stories all over the country so the characters are unlikely to meet.
MA: I don’t always ask this question, but why do you write?
AW: I was listening to NPR the other day and they were talking about why writers write. Talk about the coolest topic ever. Though I didn’t listen to the entire show (my work is a demanding taskmaster) I didn’t hear anyone talk about how social media effects the answer to that question. I think everyone wants to be heard above the din. That’s one reason why twitter and facebook are so popular. It’s a way for people to make a mark on the world. For me, writing is how I make my mark. It’s how I am heard above the din.
Along time ago I said, probably flippantly, that if I could affect another person – if my writing could speak to them in some way that benefited them – then I would consider myself a success. Well, like most writers I scan the reviews from time to time. On the Barnes & Noble site there is one lone review. In it, the reader said that he read the book and liked it but that he’d recently had a personal problem that caused him to return to the book. He read it a second time and found help for himself from the characters and story. In other words, something that I wrote helped him. It took my breath away. I spoke to someone through my story, through the characters I created. And that person benefitted. All I could think was that this is what success feels like. It still brings tears to my eyes. The point is that what we as writers do matters and success doesn’t have to be about the NYT best sellers list. Though that wouldn’t hurt.
MA: I second those sentiments. Thanks, Audrey. My readers can learn more about Audrey RL Wyatt and her stories at: http://audreyrlwyatt.com/