Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Q&A with Ned Bachus


Photo by Kathleen Bachus


Ned Bachus is the author of the new novel Mortal Things. His other books include the story collection City of Brotherly Love. He taught for almost four decades at Community College of Philadelphia, and he lives in Camden, Maine.


Q: What inspired you to write Mortal Things, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: Sarah Goins and Mike Flannagan, two of the novel’s three protagonists, first presented themselves to me as a star-crossed couple back during my MFA program at Vermont College around the end of 1986. Right away, I grasped their backstories, which intrigued me as much as whatever direction their relationship might take.


The original short story that subsequently morphed into a novella then a novel focused on one volatile evening in their lives. I saw myself as a writer of short stories, but draft after draft left me obsessed about what would happen next to these two people.


Once I imagined Sarah and Mike moving through the next few days after the original triggering incident, seasoned curmudgeon Domenic Gallo appeared, and I realized that the story had leaped into far greater complexity, with each character’s relationship with the other two becoming increasingly intertwined, for better or worse.  


Q: The novel is set in Philadelphia--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Typically, characters’ backstory contributes mightily to who they are when we meet them on the printed page, the screen, or on the stage, but so does the setting in which they exist.


My fictional terrain is populated by characters who are parts of—and, to some degree, products of—that cultural niche. Their way of speaking, cultural icons, and collective history all mark them as Philadelphians of a particular time, but their struggles, passions, and foibles are common to folks living and dying anywhere in the world.


In so many of my favorite novels, films, and plays, the deeper the artists dive into the specific cultural world, the closer they get to the universal.


I hope that readers who know Philadelphia well and those who don’t know the city at all will find the characters and the setting of Mortal Things believable and engaging.  


Q: The writer Susan Conley called the book “a gorgeously written portrait of human friendship and all its longing and connection and loss.” What do you think of that description, and how would you view the concept of friendship in the novel?

A: I’d be thrilled to learn that anyone thought that about the novel, but because Susan Conley is such a superb and soulful writer, I’m blown away by her very kind words.


I hope that people who read her endorsement and feel moved to read Mortal Things will also go out and get any of Susan Conley’s books that they haven’t yet read.


Mortal Things is very much about those personal bonds that we might call love or friendship—close connections that matter to us. Amazing that she seized on the “longing and connection and loss” that come with those relationships.


Those three powerful emotional states are both consequences of our relationships and influences upon our behavior towards others. The aftereffects of certain relationships can haunt us down the years, but they also can save us.    


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I followed the characters’ choices, one step at a time, until I saw the ending. We’re talking a process that happened over the course of decades of revision.


But several years in, I saw where the story was headed. Much of my subsequent work was making sure that the intervening steps really fit, a tricky process when you’re dealing with three protagonists who each experience a full character arc. That’s a very long story short.    


Q: What are you working on now?                                                                                  

A: A novel that I began drafting a scant 20 years ago, hopefully a mere fraction of the gestation period required of Mortal Things.


Did I mention that this is not a process I recommend to anyone? I’d love to put together a book in a year or so, but my brain has never worked that way.


It’s a picaresque adventure involving former band members who make a mid-life musical tour and discover more than they’d expected. Two of the band members make a cameo appearance in Mortal Things.       


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Readers can check out my Turning Points blog at nedbachus.com, follow me on Twitter at @NedBachus, and like my Open Admissions Facebook Page.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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