Pete Fromm is the author of the new novel If Not For This. His other books include the novels As Cool As I Am, and How All This Started, and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles. He lives in Montana.
Q: How did you come up with your character Maddy, and why did you decide to include multiple sclerosis as an important part of her story?
A: About 15 years ago, I wrote a short story about a couple marrying on a river bank and setting off in a raft to start their lives together. I always liked the voice, this sharp, funny, intensely present tense woman telling her story.
Nearly 10 years later, I began to wonder what had ever happened to her and that lucky guy. I wanted to write the life story of a couple so wildly in love, and, wanting to ratchet up what time does to us all, I put MS in their way. From there I just watched how much grace and strength they built from their love in negotiating around it.
Q: How was the title “If Not For This” selected?
A: It’s a line from the Dave Matthews Band song “Two Step,” which I listened to a lot while writing this.
So, my love, do you believe that we
Might last a thousand years or more
If not for this
Our flesh and blood
It ties you and me right up…
Tie me down
To me, the idea that this love they had was invincible to all but their own flesh and blood was exactly what I was after in the book.
Q: What role does the natural world play in the lives of your characters?
A: Well, Maddy and Dalt meet as whitewater river guides, and eventually open up their own guiding business. It’s something they throw themselves into, but her MS forces them out of the business, forces Dalt to work as a carpenter for the health benefits.
Maddy never works outside the home again, but the river life stays with her for the rest of her life. They both see the world in river terms, the rush and flow, the eddies and reversals, the endless forward drive.
Q: When you’re writing a novel, do you know how the book will end, or do you change things around as you’re writing?
A: I never know where I’m going, which is what I love about writing. I follow the people in the story, see where they’ll go, what will happen to them, and discover how they will handle it. I started to get ideas, but Maddy was always the boss.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve got a collection of stories finished, and a draft of a novel ready for major revisions, and a new memoir that also needs time. Too much, really.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: In every novel I’ve written, an emotional attachment develops, but never quite like what happened with Maddy and Dalt. It was a tough story to write, but they continually amazed me, and it was maybe an even tougher story to finish, knowing that I was sending them out into the world, out of my life.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb