Thursday, October 06, 2016

A Conversation with Novelist Silas Dent Zobal

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Silas Dent Zobal

We are delighted to welcome author Silas Dent Zobal to Omnimystery News today.

Silas's new novel of suspense is The People of the Broken Neck (Unbridled Books; October 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk more about the book.

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Omnimystery News: Suppose the lead character of The People of the Broken Neck was interviewing you. What would be their opening question? And what would your answer be?

Silas Dent Zobal
Photo provided courtesy of
Silas Dent Zobal

Silas Dent Zobal: Dominick Sawyer is the lead character in The People of the Broken Neck. (My favorite character is his daughter, Kingsley.) Dominick's an ex-Army Ranger. He's very physical, very strong, very capable. He built the home his family lives in. He's smart, too, but he isn't book smart or school smart.

(Dominick is very different from me. Or: his mind is very different than my mind. But our hearts — I think they are the same.)

Dominick isn't the kind of guy you'd find interviewing me. He doesn't talk all that much (at least compared to how much I talk). He doesn't read or have any aspiration to begin. If he was to interview me, he'd ask, with a great deal of skepticism, "Why would anybody want to write a book?"

This, I think, is a good question.

It would take me some time to answer, because there are so many ways I could answer. I'd sit there feeling self-conscious next to him: next to his strength and his grace, his focus and determination and single-mindedness. He would not even grow impatient (though he's the kind of man who prefers action to thought) because he has learned to wait. At last I'd say, "I wrote this book, Dominick, so that I could get to know you."

OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

SDZ: There's a ghost in my book. And the ghost leaves messages for the Sawyers written in salt. While there's no mention of this in the publisher's synopsis, you can see the title written in salt on the book's cover.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

SDZ: Books have been at the heart of all my research. (I like Internet research, but it's really, really not enough. Though it's a start when I'm bewildered.) As I've mentioned, Dominick is an Army Ranger who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm not a veteran and I had to do some heavy reading to make myself comfortable with writing from this position. I found it helpful to read memoirs — and I read too many to name here. I found Andrew Exum's This Man's Army: A Soldier's Story from the Front Lines of the War on Terrorism useful. My favorite was The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education by Craig Mullaney.

As wonderful as they are, books aren't enough. A friend of mine, who had recently returned from Iraq, read The People of the Broken Neck for me, and offered advice on what I'd gotten right and what I'd gotten wrong. I've corrected my errors as well as I could.

First-hand experience is critical, too — when I can supply it. My main character takes his children and runs across the country. He is wanted by the FBI. His wife is missing. Each of the places he goes is a place I know and love. They begin in Pennsylvania, which is where my house is. There is a stop in Wells, Maine (on a beach I've been to repeatedly), and in Milford, Illinois (where my brother owns a home), and outside Bellingham, Washington (where I lived until I was twelve).

In terms of fact checking, my editor, Fred Ramey, and my copy editor, Connie Oehring, found many things to correct and questioned me on every small detail. For this, I'm still grateful.

OMN: How did the book come to be titled?

SDZ: I'll give two reasons for the title. First, someone in The People of the Broken Neck has their neck broken, and the novel is an exploration of the effect that violence has on the Sawyer family. Second, the title is a line from Toni Morrison's Beloved that goes like this: "The people of the broken neck, of fire-cooked blood and black girls who had lost their ribbons."

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your stories?

SDZ: I like gardening, running, cooking, child-rearing, and woodworking. That said, I'm living in Aix-en-Provence, France this year, so my ordinary interests are off-kilter.

At home in Pennsylvania, I have a workshop. There, I like to build things. I'm a novice and so there's very little pressure, which means I can go slow and built things with hand tools. I've been practicing cutting dovetails with chisels and a dovetail saw. I've made a chicken coop, storm windows, spoons and forks, end-grain cutting boards. I've built a mortise-and-tenon bench and attached the seat with blind dovetails. The process is very slow, and no one can really see the handwork I have done (so in this way it resembles the tedious way that I write and rewrite), and it feels just right to me.

If you look closely at my dovetails, it's not hard to spot the errors.

In The People of the Broken Neck, Dominick, the main character has built his own home. I think my interest in building things always raises its shaggy head.

In the book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, Peter Korn, a furniture maker, writes, "Every man-made thing, be it a chair, a text, or a school, is thought made substance." I agree with him. And my thoughts are so slippery, so quick, that it's a joy to try to slow down; to catch them in wood or words, so that they hold still for me to examine; to build a record of my thoughts in a fork, or a bench, or in a book.

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Silas Dent Zobal is the author of the short story collection, The Inconvenience of the Wings (Kirkus Reviews "Best Books 2015"). His short fiction has been published in the Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, New Orleans Review, North American Review, Green Mountain Review, Shenandoah, Wisconsin Review, and elsewhere. He has won the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, been a scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and been awarded a fiction fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Harrisburg, PA.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at SilasDentZobal.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal

The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal

A Novel of Suspense

Publisher: Unbridled Books

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)Kobo eBook Format

From the woods where he hides with his nearly grown son Clarke and his young daughter King, ex-Army Ranger Dominick Sawyer watches Agent Charlie Basin's flashlight beam bounce on the walls inside his cabin. Dom's wife is missing. His post-trauma hallucinations rip at him explosively and bring him to his knees. And a local deputy sheriff is dead. When the FBI agents recede into the night, the Sawyers begin to run, across the country in stolen trucks, leaving a trail of blood behind them. Together with a young girl they pick up on the road, they hope to run until they find a peaceable place in the American Northwest.

But Agent Basin sees his own troubled family reflected in Dom's haunted existence, and his pursuit is relentless.

All any of them want is to spirit King away to someplace safe.

All she wants is not to be afraid of her father and to find out why her mother disappeared.

The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal

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