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Author Interview: ‘The Blood of Bones’ by N.T. McQueen

About the Book:

The boy’s name is Tesfahun. Nestled in the vastness of Ethiopia, he lives among an ancient tribe untouched by modern civilization. His people live an isolated life where revenge killings are required and ruled by superstitions where mingi or cursed babies are thrown into the river for the sake of the tribe.

As friends are forced to avenge the tribe and children disappear in the night, Tesfahun begins to question his people and his beliefs, growing further from his grief stricken mother and hardened father. After his initiation into manhood, Tesfahun discovers a terrible secret about his family and himself.

Fearing for his life and the demons he tried to flee, Tesfahun crashes headlong into his blood-soaked fears and must come to terms with the violence inherent in his bones in order to find salvation.

The Blood of Bones is a mythic, coming-of-age tale that speaks to the struggles of humanity across cultural boundaries. Themes of belief vs. violence, community vs. the individual, and, above all, the quest for peace are imbued in the narrative. Based on actual, current practices among tribes in the Omo Valley, The Blood of Bones is a testament to the resilience of hope in even the most hostile circumstances.

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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US

Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I’m originally from northern California but recently made the permanent move to the Big Island of Hawaii. One of my goals was to, at some point, live close to the ocean. Both for therapeutic reasons and for fishing. I received my MA in Creative Writing from CSU-Sacramento, have had several publications and a couple books published. I’ve been married to my wife for 17 years and have three amazing daughters who are growing up too fast and we frequently threaten to send them to Neverland so they will slow down. 

When I’m not with my family or teaching college courses, I enjoy fishing, playing and watching basketball (Go Dubs!), reading and being in nature in some capacity.

I was never much of a reader or writer when I was a child or as a teenager. However, I always had an affinity with stories. My reading habits didn’t take shape until my first year of college. I came home for the weekend and my wife (then girlfriend) was engrossed in John Grisham’s The Testament and I, being a non-reader, sat twiddling my thumbs while she turned the pages. I thought, “Maybe I should read a book” so I jumped into Palahniuk’s Fight Club and off I went. 

What drew me to be a writer was a couple events. One was the birth of my oldest daughter. It seemed to awaken the writer within me and I started writing since then. The other was reading a bunch of bad literature during my undergraduate program and thinking, “I can write better than this.” Couple those together and my writing aspirations began.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I find I’m more productive in the mornings than any other time during the day. Mainly because my mind is fresh and I’ve had coffee. Other parts of the day, I can write but to get in the right mindset takes longer and I’m more easily distracted. In terms of a specific place to write, anyplace works but I enjoy sitting in coffee shops or at my home. This may seem a bit contradictory but it is what it is.

I guess I enjoy coffee shops or public places because it has the potential to inspire some facet of my writing. Whether it be a character, hearing a conversation or any small minutiae of life that lends to the creative process. When I’m feeling antisocial, then I head home and write.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

Robert Olen Butler talks about fiction emerging from our subconscious or “from where we dream” and I agree with that to some extent. To be honest, real life is the greatest inspiration. My first novel, Between Lions and Lambs, was inspired by my experience growing up in a Pentecostal subculture. I have a work-in-progress where the premise came from a radio news story about a woman who bought a used dresser and found a note saying where buried treasure could be found. My new novel, The Blood of Bones, came from hearing a non-profit speak at our church about the Omo Valley tribes which sparked the novel into existence. So I would attribute interactions, stories, and the coincidences of daily life are the muse of my ideas.

Music also plays a vital role in inspiring my ideas and the writing process. Often, I have a soundtrack in my head and I will play music as I write that is integral to the story. For example, when I was writing Between Lions and Lambs, I would play songs from Johnny Cash’s My Mother’s Hymn Book along with southern gospel tracks from Hank Williams and George Jones. For the work-in-progress I mentioned earlier, the protagonist is a jazz pianist so Bill Evans usually plays as I write. I even wrote a short story called “Porcelain” (published in Story Teller magazine) that was based on a track by Ben Gibbard called “Lady Adelaide.”

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

Yes and no. I usually have a plan for how the story will begin and end but how they reach the end is a mystery I try to follow. Even with this preconceived idea of beginnings and endings, it is all fluid and malleable. The end of The Blood of Bones changed about three or four times before settling on the right ending. When writing fiction, there is a zone you get swept into once the elements of the story take shape and following the natural sequence of the story simply happens. Doug Rice, my mentor during my grad program, often said, “Your stories are smarter than you.” I may have mentioned this before but it still sticks with me today every time I am surprised at how the drafts turn out.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

I kind of hate genres and labelling but I understand it makes diversity more palatable for the readers. I lean toward literary fiction which is character driven rather than plot. I guess complex characters fascinate me more than non-stop action. For example, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood is far more engaging and fascinating than anything Marvel has to offer. In my opinion, anyway. But I do enjoy Marvel films so I like to think of myself as not pretentious. But I also am not a fan of Harry Potter which automatically puts me into the pretentious category and puts me on the bad side of my daughters who love Harry Potter. All this to say, I write literary fiction.

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

To be honest, I can answer this question fairly easy with Between Lions and Lambs but my latest novel, The Blood of Bones, is a bit trickier since it is based in Ethiopia. My knowledge of Ethiopian and African actors is quite limited so I would have to go with actors I know so here it goes:

Tesfahun, the teenage protagonist: His age changes but the older version might be Jaden Smith. He has the look and build and I’m sure he could do a good job.

Kelile, his father: Mahershala Ali

Wagaye, his mother: Lupita Nyong’o

Dawit, his best friend: Jharrel James

Ogbay, his uncle: Daniel Kaluuya

The Old Man, recluse in the mountains: Delroy Lindo

Demissie, the vigilante warrior: Idris Elba

Any filmmakers think this is a good idea, feel free to let me know. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

My reading has slowed a bit lately but I try to always be reading a book. When I think of favorite authors, they have to have written several books I enjoy and not just a single book. With that being said, some of my go to writers are Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut, Percival Everett, Shusaku Endo, William Faulkner, Mario Vargas Llosa and others I can’t think of at the moment. 

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

I just finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson which was an extraordinary book. It’s amazing how a story with little to no plot can captivate the reader and I guess it is a testimony to why Robinson is such an incredible writer. Ted Chaing’s Stories of Your Life and Other Stories was another mind-bending collection that redefined science fiction for me earlier this year. Recently, I read several non-fiction books including a Bobby Fischer biography, a book on Michael Jordan and some others. This very moment, I am rereading The Road by Cormac McCarthy but I may put it off and jump into Home by Marilynne Robinson.

9: What is your favourite book and why?

This isn’t a fair question. It’s like choosing which is your favorite child. I can list a few books which stand out and I have read multiple times. 

The Bible is one since it is a staple of my faith and morality as well as having fantastic stories and characters. Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy is a book I love and hate. It’s brutal and beautiful all at once and Judge Holden is a character of nightmares who you want to hear every word he has to say. It’s quite a dilemma as a reader. Silence by Shusaku Endo is another book whose form and content speaks deeply to me. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is another fabulous book.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

Accept rejection. Learn from it but don’t let it stop you from writing, sending your work out and letting others hear your story. One reader will say hurtful, cruel remarks at what you’ve poured hours, months and maybe years into while another will praise it as life changing. You’ll get rejections by literary magazines, publishers and agents and others will publish it. My point is don’t allow rejection to define you as a writer. Yeah, it sucks sometimes and you might sulk around for the day, eating gallons of Rocky Road and watching syndicated episodes of Seinfeld. But don’t stay there. Get back to submitting, keep writing and do what you love.

In terms of feedback, take it with a grain of salt. Some people you allow to read your work will get hung up on a few misspelled words or misplaced commas and define your entire story based off a few errors. Those people aren’t worth your emotions. Find readers who give solid, constructive feedback on the good and the bad of your manuscript. Reviewers will do the same. Take what is helpful and shake off the dust and move on.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?

Social media is a necessary evil as a writer. Since I want to sell books, I have an Instagram (www.instagram.com/ntmcqueen), Twitter (@NTMAuthor) and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NTMcQueen). I’m also on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/author/show/5989274.N_T_McQueen) and I have a website you can visit (www.ntmcqueen.com).

For buying books, visit my Amazon page at: Amazon.com: N.T. McQueen: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

About the Author:

N.T. McQueen is a writer and professor in Kona, Hawai’i. His novels include The Blood of Bones (Adelaide Books) and Between Lions and Lambs (City Hill, 2010). He earned his MA in Fiction from CSU-Sacramento and his writing has been featured in issues of the North American Review, Fiction Southeast, Entropy, The Grief Diaries, Camas: Nature of the West, Stereo Stories, and others. He has done humanitarian work in Cambodia, Haiti and Mexico and teaches writing at several colleges and universities in California. For more info and events, visit http://www.ntmcqueen.com or follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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