What about 9/11 inspired you to base a novel upon this era?
I began the novel An Affinity For Shadows, while I worked on my Master's Thesis in Clinical Psychology. For this novel, I incorporated the knowledge from the internship I took on in the world of broadcast journalism while studying for my undergraduate degree, the deeper understanding of human empathy which I felt bonded us after 9/11, and my passion to become a romance novelist. The brainchild of all of those interests is the book itself.
Writing had always been an ambition for me, but my first generation American parents discouraged any professions they deemed impractical. They didn't understand that in America you are free to do anything you have a passion for, and if you do it well, you can make a living at it.
A few friends have asked me how I come up with the stories I write. This is right before they tell me I should write a book about them, which I find a bit humorous. I think we all think our lives make interesting stories, but there are first and foremost most interesting to ourselves. We seek out fiction to find characters who are extraordinary and larger than life. In my experience as a writer, I never choose the stories. The stories choose me. I came up with my idea for my next novel, The Last Day King, by strolling around Pier 39 having an ice cream cone with my family, and looking up and imagining the wizard Merlin standing on the skid gear of a helicopter as as he hung on to the side while flying through the blue sky. The story simply grew from there, as preposterous as that sounds, it turned out to be a great story.
Life comes in cycles, and so do stories.
How do you feel the world will benefit from this particular piece of art?
The story is a mainstream literary romance, which in layman's terms means it is about more than just the romantic tension between Kate Theodore, the broadcast journalist whose life changes by being at the scene of 9/11, and whose solid gold ambition crumbles into dust when a beloved cameraman dies near the scene; and her Italian lover Sal Olivieri, who also happens to be near the scene of the 9/11 attacks, and merely blocks away. They do not know each other well at this point, and they both process the 9/11 attacks in different ways. The story is predominantly about Kate, and how she stumbles through life, trying to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while fighting to care for her sanity and fulfill obligations of friendship. Her Italian love affair is another delicious layer of the cake, and the reader is left to savor this layer at the end of the story, which concludes with a not so typical happily ever after ending.
How do you think people will react to a book about 9/11?
As the tenth anniversary of the attacks passes, I believe people will approach some art and literature that includes the theme of the attacks with an open heart. It really depends on what the art or literature is truly about. I had one publisher pass the manuscript onto an editor who rejected the manuscript outright without reading a single page. When I asked her for feedback, she brought up the movie "Remember Me" starring Robert Pattinson, saying it performed poorly at the box office. I read multiple reviews on the movie, and what seemed to bother the public the most was not so much the story but the "throw in" of 9/11 at the end, which was meant to elicit tears from the audience.
An Affinity For Shadows is not about using the tragedy to incorporate what is often termed as "cheap parlor tricks" to get a rise out of people. My hope for the novel is that readers will come away with the resolution that in order to find love, you must reach out for it, in order to have a true friend, you must be a true friend, and in order to truly experience joy, you must have had a taste of pain. I think I speak for millions when I declare these statements to be true.
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
My novel is about overcoming tragedy and embracing love. It's about viewing the world outside of yourself, and understanding that often times, personal loss is necessary for a person to change their life, and to help change the lives of others. But it's so much more than tragedy. It's about friendship, family, love and laughter, and all of their amazing and bittersweet counterparts.
Art for me is healing. From abstract paintings by Salvador Dali or Dante, to novels such as The Road or The Book Thief, to movies such as West Side Story or Hotel Rwanda, art has brought me to a higher state of consciousness more readily than any textbook ever has. The artist reaches out through their work, and I long to strike that rare and universal chord of connection between artist and beholder, through the best medium I know how. The written word.
Liz R. Newman holds a Certificate in Fiction Writing from the Gotham Writer's Workshop, an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, and a B.A. in Mass Communications with a concentration in Broadcast Journalism. She worked as an intern and staff writer at KTVU Broadcasting Station in Oakland, California.