Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Mystery writer Terry Wolverton opens up about her latest book

In Terry Wolverton’s psychological thriller Season of Eclipse, Marielle Wing is a highly popular literary novelist whose triumphs on the page are matched only by her failures in finding and loving another woman. We talk to the author about her latest.

At JFK airport, Marielle encounters a terrorist bombing; rather than running, she begins snapping photos and this brings her to the attention of Homeland Security, who insists she enter the Witness Security Program. Denied her vibrant Los Angeles life, banished to a dreary suburb of Detroit with only her cat, Dude, Marielle convinces herself that her identity shift will be temporary–and she imagines resurfacing with a blockbuster book. But once she reads her own obituary in The New York Times, she feels stripped of everything she values and utterly alone.

Please enjoy our recent conversation with Terry about the book.


Queer Forty: Will you begin by summarizing what Season of Eclipse is about and what made you want to tell this story? 

Terry Wolverton: My previous novels have tended to take place in insular settings—a family in Bailey’s Beads, the feminist community in The Labrys Reunion, a spiritual community in Stealing Angel. I wanted to write a story that was situated in the larger world, in which events beyond the personal could have big impacts on an individual’s life.

My protagonist, Marielle Wing, has a pretty enviable existence—a successful career as a novelist, a comfortable home in the Hollywood Hills. She takes for granted it will always be this way. While waiting to check in for a flight from JFK back to Los Angeles, she witnesses a terrorist bombing; the next day Homeland Security appears on her doorstep and informs her that she must enter the Witness Security Program, surrendering her identity, her career, and her life. She is faced with the question of “who am I?” once everything that has defined her sense of self is stripped away.

You’ve explored the question of identity before, especially in Bailey’s Beads. Why do you think that’s so important to you?

Terry Wolverton: A lot of late twentieth century philosophy and cultural criticism centered around whether each of us has an innate self-hood or whether the “self” we identify with is just an accumulation of projections by the people who know us and the overlays of culture. 

When I was a young and then a not-so-young adult, I clung fiercely to those behaviors, attitudes, expressions that seemed to make me “unique”—a vegetarian, an out lesbian, an artist, a feminist. That these things define “me” is a very Western, individualistic way to regard oneself; in indigenous cultures there is more identification with being part of the community. 

When my mother was dying, I saw how all the things that had been important to her, that she had taken such pride in, routines she had faithfully practiced—it all fell away, none of it was important to her. 

As a fiction writer, I’m always trying to render vivid characterization, overlaying qualities and habits that make one distinct, so it was interesting to write about Marielle, for whom all those skins are peeling away.

A colleague once asked you why you write “unlikeable” protagonists. Do you agree that you do and if so, why?

Terry Wolverton: I think this is a question more likely to be asked about a female protagonist, and perhaps to be asked of a woman author who’s created that female protagonist. There is still a cultural expectation that women are supposed to be “nice,” agreeable, pliable, pleasing, to want to be liked. I’m more interested in writing women who are demanding, difficult, uncooperative, who are not merely victims of other people’s circumstances but whose actions or reactions actively contribute to the bind they’re in. These are the kinds of women I gravitate toward in my life. 

Marielle is not easy to love; she’s driven by ego and ambition and entitlement, and when she’s knocked down from her pedestal, she finds she doesn’t have the inner resources to cope. Even then she doesn’t do as she’s told, and that both gets her in big trouble and ultimately saves her.

What does the title, Season of Eclipse, mean to you?

Terry Wolverton: Marielle has been used to shining her light in the world; she’s privileged, so she’s never questioned her ability or her right to do that. When she is forced to enter Witness Security, she’s told she will never again be able to be in the spotlight; if she wants to remain safe, she must live under the radar. This is the worst aspect of the situation for her; she feels her entire self has been eclipsed.

Why did you decide to set the bulk of the novel in and around Detroit?

Terry Wolverton: I grew up in Detroit, so the geography and the cultural vibe are baked into me. Detroit fascinates me, its near collapse in the 1990s and 2000s, and the multiple visions for its resurrection. There’s a feistiness and inventiveness to the city I still admire. I see a parallel between Detroit and Marielle’s story—losing everything, having to figure out what’s worth preserving, and fighting to come back re-formed.

Several memorable secondary characters guide Marielle’s journey through the book. How did you imagine or find these characters?

Terry Wolverton: My philosophy of characters is that they already exist, just waiting for someone to tell their story. As I was writing this book, I was open to being surprised (and therefore surprising the reader), so when characters made themselves known to me, I was eager to incorporate them. As Marielle changes, she starts to draw different people into her life than she might have when the book began, and they facilitate further change.

Several of your books, including this one, explore spiritual themes; how does this play out in your own life?

Terry Wolverton: Since I was an adolescent, I’ve been interested in metaphysics, in the tools and practices that make us aware of unseen energies, the worlds beyond the material world we walk around in. This perspective helped me to make sense of growing up in a dysfunctional household and to override destructive patterns I absorbed growing up. Since 2001, I’ve taught Kundalini Yoga and consistently meditated, but I didn’t always. 

Marielle doesn’t start out with any spiritual inclinations, but as circumstances get harder for her, she begins to find the tools useful to help her navigate increasing chaos and threat. 

You’ve written other books besides novels. How does writing in other genres influence your fiction?

Terry Wolverton: Poetry grounds me in image and in lyricism. I once revised a novel by hand writing it, breaking every line as if it were a line of poetry; I later reassembled it as prose, but it made me more aware of the music in the work. I also wrote a novel in poems—Embers—which taught me a lot about fractured narratives and bringing history to live.

At its best, creative nonfiction draws upon the techniques of fiction—plot, characterization, setting, theme. I believe fiction and nonfiction, invention and truth, exist on a spectrum, rather than as unbreachable opposites.

I even wrote the libretto of an opera, an adaptation of Embers, with the late jazz composer David Ornette Cherry. Writing for the stage taught me about what can be left unsaid.

I have a mercurial mind and I don’t like to keep doing the same things. I’m constantly seeking out something new to learn, new ways to test myself.

Which begs the question: what’s next?

Terry Wolverton: I have a nonfiction project about women and power, a hybrid memoir/self-help text called Guru Grrrl, which I will release serially on medium.com and as a podcast later in 2024. This is an example of attempting things I haven’t done before and trying to figure out how to do them!

You’re a creative writing instructor and you’ve also edited several books. Do these activities feed your own writing or take energy and focus away from your own practice?

I’m love engaging with other people around our creative practice. Working with students and other authors is inspiring; in a metaphysical way we’re all just participating in this ongoing conversation about what it means to be human. Interacting about writing is such an intimate activity; people bring their deepest selves to the page, and I get to share that with them!

For more information: https://terrywolverton.net

Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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