Q&A: Pamela Binnings Ewen
A flash of light. For some, it's a flash of inspiration. For some, it's a flash of unwelcome memory. In Pamela Binnings Ewen's most recent novel Chasing The Wind, paths will cross and lessons will be learned.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION DRIVING THE STORY IN CHASING THE WIND?
In Dancing on Glass I was so involved with Amalise and Phillip and Jude, and also New Orleans in the 1970’s--one of my favorite periods living in the city--that I wanted to carry on with the story and characters. Chasing the Wind takes a serious look at certain issues, but it was great fun to write and I hope readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
But one of my inspirations for the book came from the news. Dancing on Glass is set in New Orleans during a turbulent period in the 1970’s—the end of the war in Vietnam (and the covert war in Cambodia), and the U.S. exit from Southeast Asia. One particular nightly scene on the television news used to really get to me. It was a mission of mercy—filmed by one of the few reporters still left in Cambodia in 1975. This involved a particular group of small children, orphans stranded in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Every night the children would stand together on a burned-out tarmac at the Phnom Penh airport, waiting for the Air America plane that would arrive with food for them. One day, when the U.S. exited Vietnam, the plane didn’t arrive. Soon after, the Khmer Rouge invaded the city and the ‘killing fields’ began. This story really broke my heart. You may have noticed in Dancing on Glass that this event is often depicted in the background on television, and it breaks Amalise’s heart too. So Chasing the Wind is sort of an emotional resolution of that issue too.
OVER THE COURSE OF WRITING THE STORY, WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST?
One character in Chasing the Wind revives a real and legendary mystery from the 1970’s that involved a notorious figure. (No spoilers here—I hope you’ll be surprised.) I was always fascinated with this person and the character just popped into my mind as I was writing. This was so much fun; this character is a catalyst that brings the story-line together in a nice way.
WHAT PARTS WERE INSPIRED BY REAL LIFE (EITHER RESEARCH OR EXPERIENCE)?
Two of the characters in Chasing the Wind were inspired by real-life stories in the news, as I‘ve described above—the 1970’s unsolved mystery and the children in Cambodia. I do get a lot of my ideas from things that happen in the news, or in real life.
The law firm in the story, Mangen & Morris, however, is fiction as are all the other characters in both Dancing on Glass and Chasing the Wind. Still, some of the scenes of Amalise and Rebecca dealing with problems that were new in those days--like how to take a client to lunch when women couldn’t get credit cards, or the struggle to find balance in their lives, or to stay on the right path that faith requires--come from personal experience, or friends stories, and some comes from research.
Achieving balance in a busy life is a big issue for every woman. One of my first novels, The Moon in the Mango Tree, was based on my grandmother’s life in the 1920’s. Women in those days had just won the vote and new opportunities were opening up. Women, as a group, for the first time in our country’s history were given the opportunity to actually choose between working at home or outside the home and to pursue careers, if they wanted that. Still, the idea was new. There was no support system outside the home for my grandmother’s generation. So, Dancing on Glass and Chasing the Wind depict the continuum of how women then, and in the seventies, and now, analyze this choice, and how they keep things right side up.
I do love that period, the jazz age, the nineteen-twenties. I think my next book (after the one I’m working on right now) will be set in New Orleans in the 1920’s. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT STORY IS SUCH A POWERFUL WAY TO COMMUNICATE TRUTH?
I believe that story-telling illustrates ideas and issues of faith better than non-fiction, and a good plot can weave the ideas together in a way that pulls the reader right in. Even if a reader disagrees with a character’s choices, if the characters and plot capture her interest, she’s moving along with the story as she reads, putting herself in the character’s place and thinking through the reasons for the choices, and experiencing the emotions, and considering the alternatives and the possible consequences. It’s much more complex, and entertaining than reading a straight pronouncement by an author about the way she thinks things ought to be.
Jesus, of course, used this technique with his parables. He was the master of metaphor.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I’m working on a new novel involving the character Rebecca, from Dancing on Glass and Chasing the Wind, and I’m very excited about it. This one is set in New Orleans in 1982. Rebecca became interesting to me in Dancing, and then, in Chasing the Wind there is a scene that, I think, peeled away the outer layers of her personality. This, together with some startling news that haunts me opened up a new story line that I wanted to explore--something rather explosive. The story is emotionally compelling, but as you’ll see when this book comes out in September 2013, it’s not something that is easy to describe.