Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Valerie Miner on Crafting Her New Novel, "The Roads Between Them"

Valerie Miner’s new novel, The Roads Between Them is a story “about family and what it means to be a woman at different periods in our lives,” according to Valerie. “Things I'm exploring in part are age, family ties and risk taking in various ways,” she says. “I’m also interested in how geography shapes us and the ties in families that both bind us, in a good way, and also constrict us in not such a good way.”

Set in Northern California (where Valerie lives) the novel centers on two sisters, Angie and Marta Fraser and their mother, Gillian Fraser. 

The story moves back and forth physically between cosmopolitan San Francisco, suburban Santa Rosa and rural Madrone Ridge. It also moves back and forth in time with numerous flashbacks to the women’s childhood.

All the women are politically and community engaged and dealing with issues that are both universal and particular to their age groups. In her late 60s, Gillian is finally coming into her own. After a number of tragedies in her life including being widowed early on followed by single motherhood, she has finally finished her college degree. She tutors at the local tutoring center helping people get their GEDs. No spring chicken, she's caught the fancy of a certain Dr. Alvarez and is navigating this unexpected romantic terrain blind having no models on how to behave. “We'll see what happens there,” says Valerie slyly.

The eldest daughter, Angie, lives in San Francisco. She's a professor of art at San Francisco State. She has two kids, Anna and Colin and a husband, Richard, an investigative reporter whom she's not quite sure about.

Marta, two years younger than Angie, is a lawyer living in a small community in the far north of California. She works mostly with migrant laborers, many of them embroiled with immigration issues. Like any country lawyer, she also does more basic legal work: wills, real estate, etc. Marta’s domestic life is “both more complicated, with a modest succession of male and female lovers and less complicated than Angie’s since she has no children.” The two sisters are close, and of course worry about the other’s way of life.

When she originally embarked on the book, Valerie wanted to write it as a series of short stories that would be interconnected to create a segmented, fragmented novel. But, as she was writing during her recent residency at VCCA, she discovered the characters didn’t want to have their own stories. “They weren’t cooperating!” she exclaims. She decided it’s because they're more entwined than she anticipated. In any case, she is following their lead.

While Valerie has certain goals whenever she's writing, a lot of the story unfolds as she's working on it. “I think if the book isn't a discovery for the author, it's not going to be a discovery for the reader and then it's not going to work.” She sees her work as social and political fiction because it raises questions and points out the contradictions that we represent as human beings. “I’m interested in deep questions about our place in the world and about our responsibilities to ourselves and one another.”

Valerie is the award-winning author of 14 books. Her novels include Traveling with Spirits, After Eden, Range of Light, A Walking Fire, Winter's Edge, Blood Sisters, All Good Women, Movement: A Novel in Stories, and Murder in the English Department. Her short fiction books include Abundant Light, The Night Singers and Trespassing. Her collection of essays is Rumors from the Cauldron: Selected Essays, Reviews and Reportage. In 2002, The Low Road: A Scottish Family Memoir was a Finalist for the PEN USA Creative Non-Fiction Award. 

Valerie’s work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Triquarterly, Salmagundi, New Letters, Ploughshares, The Village Voice, Prairie Schooner, The Gettysburg Review, The T.L.S., The Women’s Review of Books, The Nation and other journals. Her stories and essays are published in more than 60 anthologies. A number of her pieces have been dramatized on BBC Radio 4. Her work has been translated into German, Turkish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, French, Swedish and Dutch. In addition to single-authored projects, she has collaborated on books, museum exhibits as well as theatre. 

Valerie has won fellowships and awards from The Rockefeller Foundation, Fondazione Bogliasco, Fundación Valparaiso, The McKnight Foundation, The NEA, The Jerome Foundation, The Heinz Foundation, The Australia Council Literary Arts Board and numerous other sources. She has received Fulbright Fellowships to Tunisia, India and Indonesia.

Winner of a Distinguished Teaching Award, Valerie has taught for over 25 years and is now a professor and artist in residence at Stanford University. She travels internationally giving readings, lectures, and workshops.



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