Thursday, September 14, 2023

Q&A with Ginger Pinholster




Ginger Pinholster is the author of the new novel Snakes of St. Augustine. She also has written the novel City in a Forest. She lives in Florida.


Q: What inspired you to write Snakes of St. Augustine, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: The characters in this book began taking shape during a workshop with Florida author Connie May Fowler, in St. Augustine, Florida. For me, the instruction and camaraderie at that workshop proved inspirational, and St. Augustine is a city so rich in history that it triggered my imagination.


Supposedly, my earliest ancestor, Juan Espinosa – or in English, John Pinholster, my late brother’s name – landed in St. Augustine hundreds of years ago.


The book’s basic plot formed when I saw a TV segment about the death of Jason Harrison, a man who was living with psychosis in Dallas. Jason was having a bad day when his mother called the police, asking for help getting “Jay” to the hospital. When police arrived, they quickly shot Jay multiple times, and he died. The police bodycam footage disturbed me greatly.


My late brother suffered from mental health conditions. We lose him in 2004. Currently, I live with a man, Michele, who has neurodiversity. His differences trigger a wide range of responses from other people, from laughter and insults, to dismissal.


By reading news and journal articles, I learned that the vast majority of people with neurodiversity pose no threat to others, yet those living with psychosis are far more likely to become victims of violence, compared to the general population.


In writing Snakes of St. Augustine, I did not seek to recreate any real-life events, but rather, to honor the lives of Jay, John, Michele, and all others living with neurodiversity.


One of the characters in my book, Jazz, describes feeling as if he is “a homeless, potentially dangerous ghost, out of focus and wavy around the edges.” In other words, he feels invisible because of his lack of housing and his obvious neurological differences.


My hope is that readers may look again at people like Jazz – people who are different, or on the margins – and consider the ways in which we are all similar, and all worthy of inclusion and compassion.  


Q: The writer Meagan Lucas said of the book, “The setting is palpable; this book is a portal to North Florida.” What do you think of that description, and how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Megan’s amazing book, Here in the Dark, has been an inspiration to me, so I am deeply flattered by her review.


As I was writing my book, the environment became its own character. I have heard that this is common in Southern fiction. In my case, I feel a need to preserve cherished natural places, at least in the mind’s eye. I love to read immersive descriptions of physical settings, and to do that, I try to engage all five senses.

Florida is a wild and beautiful place, and there is no end to the state’s weirdness. We have renegade macaques colonizing Silver Springs State Park, giant pythons overtaking the Everglades, and periodically, an alligator is spotted strolling through the ocean surf. Florida is a fiction writer’s paradise.


My home is located on a barrier island on Florida’s east coast, which is the largest loggerhead sea turtle nesting region in the world, and I am deep into Sea Turtle Patrol work. In between those experiences and my day job, I sit at my home computer, trying to immerse myself into a fictional world.


Sometimes, I take a break by riding my bicycle to a tower overlooking a thick marsh. Snowy egrets are plentiful there. Every now and then, I will see a pink roseate spoonbill. I can hand-write a whole scene from the lookout tower. In that way, Florida’s sights, sounds, and smells wind up in my fiction.


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


A: Some writers are plotters, who carefully map out their entire book in advance, while others are pantsers, who fly by the seat of their pants, discovering their characters’ motivations along the way. I call myself a North Star writer. That is, I can picture the climactic scene and I write toward that outcome as if it is the narrative’s North Star.


In the case of Snakes of St. Augustine, however, I knew in general what would happen during the climactic conflict, but I did not know the fate of the troubled brother. A traveling companion suggested that I could approach the scene like Thirteen Moons, in which Charles Frazier explores multiple realities. Trying that tactic as an exercise allowed me to move forward with the narrative when I was stuck.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: As I began to read about Jason Harrison’s death, I learned that it was part of a sad broader trend: Of 994 people who were shot and killed by police officers in 2015, at least 25 percent suffered from acute mental illness at the time of their death, The Washington Post has reported.


At the same time, many police departments lack adequate tools, training, or staff to deal with tense, unpredictable encounters with people who have mental illness.


Those with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed during an encounter with police, the Treatment Advocacy Center found. Yet, only 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to people who have a serious mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA).


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just completed a third book – a dual-timeline historical novel set in New Mexico. A wounded warrior, Jemi, is fighting to regain her confidence. In parallel, a nursing home resident, Rose, is struggling to have her Native American heritage verified. The historical story delves into a shameful period of American history when many Native American children were stolen from their families.


I have also begun to outline a fourth novel. I can’t divulge details yet, but sea turtles are featured prominently.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love connecting with readers! Henry David Thoreau said, “To read well, that is, to read true books, in a true spirit, is a noble exercise.” Cultivating a life of the mind by reading is a noble pursuit; readers make the world a better place. I can be reached via Thank you!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment