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Interview with T. Greenwood
Known for her heart-wrenching mainstream fiction, author T. Greenwood's newest novel, This Glittering World, tackles the troubling issue of race relations between the Navajo people and the Americans they live amongst in Flagstaff, AZ. When a young Navajo man dies on Ben's front lawn, his search for answers leads him to re-evaluate his entire life. Now the author shares an insider look at This Glittering World in this in-depth interview!
RT BOOK REVIEWS: Where did the title This Glittering World come from? What does the title indicate about your story?
T. Greenwood: Much of this novel centers around the main character, Ben Bailey’s, relationship with a young Navajo woman whose brother, Ricky, he finds murdered in front of his home. In pursuit of justice for Ricky, he enters into a very new world, one which is foreign but captivating to him. In the Navajo creation myth (depending on which version you read), there are five “worlds”. I thought it would be interesting to divide the book into five sections, each named after one of these worlds. My understanding is that the Glittering World (or fifth world) is how the Navajo perceive our contemporary world…one which sparkles on the surface but can be deceiving. Each of the colors (Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White and Glittering) metaphorically reflect what is occurring in the corresponding sections of the book.
RT: The novel begins with the first day of winter weather in Flagstaff, Arizona, not normally a place associated with the cold. Was this the way that you originally planned to start the story?
TG: People are always stunned to hear that not all of Arizona is a hot, barren desert. Flagstaff, at an elevation of 7000 feet, is a four-season city. And winters in Flagstaff can be brutal as well as beautiful with a lot of snow. I began this novel with the image of a Navajo man beaten and dying in the snow. Flagstaff seemed the obvious setting for such a story.
RT: Over the course of creating This Glittering World, what is something that you learned about Navajo culture that intrigued you?
TG: Navajo culture, despite the research I conducted, remains mostly elusive to me. The oral tradition is a strong one, and sometimes there are simply no words in English to explain Navajo concepts. I think the most helpful information I got was gleaned not from books but from the stories my father’s Navajo poker buddies shared with him when I sent him to his poker games with lists of questions.
One fascinating cultural curiosity is how Navajos feel about death. Both their beliefs about the afterlife as well as the expectations for the grieving are very different from Christian beliefs. I knew I needed to explore this because Ben is also new to this as he becomes closer to Shadi, the young man’s sister.
RT: Ben's two love interests, Sara and Shadi, are two very different women and paths for Ben to walk. Which women came to you first when you began to create the novel?
TG: Sara was there first. I literally wrote the first chapter without knowing that Ben would meet Shadi. But it is crucial that the two women are very different people. He is drawn to Shadi because she is the polar opposite of Sara. But, perhaps most importantly, Shadi and he also share the loss of a sibling, something that Ben believes Sara, whose life has never been touched by tragedy, would be incapable of understanding. Sorrow drives Ben. A need to connect with someone like Shadi in this sorrow is what ultimately pushes him so far away from Sara.
RT: Which scene in This Glittering World was the most gut-churning for you to write?
TG: There were a couple of scenes that broke my heart. I don’t want to give anything away; the first will be obvious to most readers, and it occurs pretty close to the end of the novel. But to be honest, the final page might have been the hardest. I actually cried and cried in that truck with Ben.
RT: We have heard that you also have an interest in fine arts photography, what is a moment or image in This Glittering World that you wish you could capture on film?
TG: I think this book is one of the most cinematic ones I have written. It presented itself to me in a series of vivid images. I would love to capture the moment when Ben is following behind the Native American musicians in their pick-up truck, with the San Francisco Peaks rising behind them. I actually was behind a truck full of men on their way to a festival in Flagstaff a couple of years ago, but I didn’t have my camera. So I wrote about it instead. I have a fantasy cast for the film as well, just in case…
RT: You write about incredibly sad subjects: abuse, Munchhausen syndrome, terminal disease - how do you keep yourself thinking positively in the face of so much sadness?
TG: I am a very positive and happy person, actually. But to me, fiction is a venue to explore painful and difficult things. Narrative is nothing without trouble. I write in order to understand people in crisis.
RT: You've been writing since 1999, what's one way that your style has changed over the last twelve years?
TG: I was so young when I wrote my first novel, fresh out of graduate school: wide-eyed and fearless. I think over the last twelve years, I have become a more skilled writer, a more experienced story-teller, and (hopefully) a wiser person. I am bolder when it comes to exploring characters who are different from myself. I do think that some of that reckless abandon has dissipated with age and experience; I am a more careful and cautious writer now when it comes to narrative structure and point of view.
RT: Can you share a detail that RT readers can keep their eyes open for in the next T. Greenwood project?
T. Greenwood: The next novel opens with a father taking his thirteen year old son out to a field behind their home, a shot-gun aimed at his head. The rest of the book follows this family in the year leading up to this moment.