Hello! I’ve been lucky to grab a moment with American author Rich Garon to discuss his writing, his motivations for his work … and to ask him the all-important question about, ahem, wine gums. His second novel, Lee Fitts, was published in February.
Where did the idea for your new protagonist, Lee Fitts, come from?
There were a number of ideas floating in my head: (1) a person who has suffered mightily and was transformed into the essence of compassion, honesty, and forgiveness; (2) thrusting this person into the world of politics; and (3) showing how Lee, using a rare talent, strives to fulfil the potential of that talent and reclaim those parts of his life lost one terrible morning.
On your author site (https://richgaron.com), you set out the idea that books can be used as vehicles for change. Can you tell us a little more about this?
Both books speak about a protagonist who has suffered greatly and is driven toward creating positive change. So, there is this theme in the midst of very challenging obstacles. We will need that positive attitude as society faces what at times seem to be overwhelming challenges.
In both cases, the books are vehicles to help address these challenges by: (1) raising awareness to issues through media (such as what we’re doing here). In interviews and articles, I discuss the book but also speak about a particular issue. With Lee Fitts, it’s homelessness. With Felling Big Trees, it’s hunger; (2) providing funds to groups that work to alleviate these problems. Proceeds from the sale of Lee Fitts go to the Bill Mehr Drop-In Center for the homeless. Proceeds from Felling Big Trees go to WhyHunger, a non-profit in New York.
Thinking about your writing process now: is a plot shaped by your own sense of wanting to highlight social issues? And do you plan out an entire plot before you begin, or does a story evolve as you write?
Shaping the plot is definitely influenced by my interest in highlighting social issues. Bringing constructive change to problems we face is based on the response I referred to earlier of honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. It’s difficult to do. But that’s the beauty of fiction, you can show readers that characters who face similar problems can overcome them. It will take time overcoming hardships, but it can be done.
My first book was the result of precise planning of plot, think science project trifold with post-its, strings, paper clips. However, Lee Fitts evolved. I tried to stay inside the character’s head and view the world from the innocence with which Lee saw. Outside his head, I threw both negative and positive elements against him to show how he would react.
What advice would you give someone mulling over the ideas for their first novel?
I’d start with the characters. What are their main traits? What do you want them to accomplish? What situations can you put them in, so we can see how these traits respond. Also, keep an idea on verisimilitude; make sure everything ties together throughout the novel.
Sound advice. You’ve written about getting your first book, Felling Big Trees, ‘out there’ – what was the hardest part of this process, and what did you learn?
Well, there’s a lot of ‘out there’ out there. There are so many books written and a good number of writers who command a sizeable market share, that it is difficult to develop interest in your books. Concerning the first book, I mainly concentrated on the writing, editing side. I was overwhelmed by the demands of the production and marketing segments to getting a book out there. I believe I’ve learned a great deal; I had to.
Who do you read?
My favorites are C.S. Lewis, Graham Greene, John Irving, and Stephen King
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose and why?
Major Robert Rogers (Northwest Passage) because of his flinty nature and record of getting things done (if we decide to stay on the island or try to get off)
Sherlock Holmes, numerous titles, he can help temper Rogers. Holmes can provide a probing intellect to problems we’ll face.
Aslan (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) This lion will provide discipline and the spiritual guidance needed.
A sensible collection, I think! Now, I have to ask: wine gums or chocolate as your preferred snack of choice when immersed in writing?
I must admit I’ve never had wine gums. I’ve had small chewy candies (gummy bears –often lots of them) when I write. You’ve piqued my curiosity; I’ll have to order some.
Yes, do! Now, what’s next in terms of your writing plans?
I have a third, completed manuscript, The Line at Bacon Race. I’ll have to see what I do with that after focusing on Lee Fitts. I’ve done several articles is support of LF and would like to do a few more.
Excellent – good luck with the third novel, Rich, and in all you do to raise awareness and support for these important issues. Thanks very much for taking time out to chat.
Rich Garon works with the homeless in Northern Virginia. His career on Capitol Hill spanned more than twenty-five years, the last six of which he served as chief-of staff of the House Committee on International Relations. He and his wife, Karen, have two children, and five grandchildren. Proceeds from his first novel, FELLING BIG TREES (2017), went to WhyHunger. Those from LEE FITTS will go toward supporting a homeless shelter in Woodbridge, Virginia.