Sunday, August 14, 2022

Q&A with Shawn Nocher




Shawn Nocher is the author of the new novel The Precious Jules. She also has written the novel A Hand to Hold in Deep Water, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including SmokeLong Quarterly and Pithead Chapel. She teaches in Johns Hopkins University's master of arts writing program, and she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


Q: What inspired you to write The Precious Jules, and how did you create the Jules family?


A: As a child, I once overheard my parents’ closest friends talking about one of their children. I had no idea the child existed. It turned out that they had placed their very young daughter in the institution I modeled Beechwood after. I was shocked to learn of this missing daughter.


I loved this family and they were the kindest and most loving parents to their remaining children, but I always wondered how having a banished child might affect the individuals within a family. And of course, it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that a mother, specifically, could give up a child. I’ve mulled this over for years. But I’ve done so without judgment.


I knew this family and I knew that giving up their child was the tragedy that defined them—each in their own way. To be clear, The Precious Jules is not their story. It is definitely a fictional work, but I hope it honors the pain that families like theirs had to endure in making such a choice.


Q: You tell the story from various characters’ perspectives--did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to the others?


A: For the most part, I wrote it in the order it is presented in the book. By the time I sat down to write this book the characters were so clear in my mind and I knew them so well that it wasn’t difficult to pick up the thread of a particular character as I moved on to each new chapter.


My challenge was deciding who knew what and who would tell a particular part of the story from their own point of view.

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title came to me easily once I had a family name. I liked playing with the idea that we are all of value but that sometimes we struggle to see that value in what we consider to be less than perfect.


On the outside, the beautiful and successful Jules family is the perfect family, though they hide—to some degree—not only what they think of as the family’s imperfection but also the decision they have struggled to reconcile. Yet Lynetta (Ella’s caregiver) refers to Ella as “a jewel of nature, a precious jewel.”


I think these two perspectives are so interesting and speak volumes about how we judge the value of individuals in our society.


Q: The Foreword Review of the book, by Karen Rigby, says, in part, “Without glossing over the challenges that are involved in taking care of a special needs child, the novel is wise about people’s reluctance to admit darker emotions, even while they ache for understanding.” What do you think of that description?


A: We all struggle with the big decisions and many of the choices available to us come with painful collateral damage. And so we make a choice—a decision—and then we second guess ourselves, maybe ask ourselves if the decision was a selfish one on some level.


We ache to be absolved of all the baggage that comes with that decision. We ache to be understood. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes, we just have to find a way to forgive ourselves and stop asking the world to do it for us.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next book is about a young mother who has lost her husband to an overdose and struggles to reconcile the choices she made—the ways she thinks she did and didn’t support him in his illness—and what that means for her and her children moving forward.


Just as she thinks she has settled around the worst of it, a mysterious teenage girl comes into her life and disrupts everything she thought she knew about addiction and her husband’s past.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m a serial rescuer of animals, I was once terrified of flying until I took a flying lesson, and I like rainy days because I use them as an excuse to curl up with a book in the middle of the day.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Shawn Nocher.

No comments:

Post a Comment