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Sam returns home from a business trip a day before his son’s thirteenth birthday and is looking forward to being with his family, when his world is cruelly shattered in one fell swoop. Initially he thinks he can cope with the loss, but finally seeks the help of Cynthia, an experienced therapist, to regain his equipoise. What he does not know is that Cynthia herself is trying to cope with a debilitating divorce and the sinister shadow of her ex-husband over her daughter…
What happens when doctor and patient find themselves in the same sinking boat? Moreover, when they are rowing in opposite directions–one clinging to the past, and the other unable to get rid of it! In the midst of it all is Lily, Cynthia’s daughter, who harbours a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
Dark Blossom. I love the title of this book. Was this your first fiction book? What’s the story behind it? (No pun intended)
Thanks! To be honest, the title appeared to me in a dream. And since I’m being honest, I must also admit that I fell into writing rather serendipitously as well. Dark Blossom is indeed my first work of fiction and both the story and the characters were more or less cleaved by an imagination that had run amok at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life.
While the characters are all very different from me and the ordeals faced by them are exaggerations of what I was going through, my innate spirit wanted to describe their experiences and interactions in a way that was entertaining for readers. This duality of finding entertainment and perhaps even levity in daily strife exists in everyone including my characters and the title from my dream captured that essence. Here’s a snippet from my book launch on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iodpyiw4Z7Y&t=3s
What do you enjoy most about storytelling?
Given how and when I fell into storytelling, I soon found writing to be an unbridled expression of empathy. First, I needed it for my characters to allow them a full and vibrant range of expression and then, for my readers to help them partake of such expression in a riveting way. So writing afforded me a double dose of empathy if you will – and it helped fill that personal void in my life too.
In retrospect though, there is one other thing about writing and storytelling that I enjoyed as much. Call me a masochist, but I fell in love with playing around with language – its syntax, semantics, and subtleties, all of it! How a word here instead of there, a moved punctuation, or a replaced synonym can affect the way people understand intellectually and perceive viscerally is all very fascinating. As a life-long learner too, I think I have fallen in love with this process of reflection followed by articulation.
Which came first idea, theme, or character?
If I were to think about just the idea and the characters, I would have to say it’s a judicious mix. In order for a story to take place, not only must the idea be important to the characters but also they must have something important to say about it. Once this scaffolding is in place, then the idea might change less and the theme is driven by its interplay with the characters, but it’s the characters that really have to evolve the most. They have to – to fight increasing stakes, win small battles, and eventually come out on top at the end of the war!
What’s your method for character creation?
Good stories take place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. Ergo, good characters must be borne from a place of sincerity. If that’s not the case, then it will be difficult to convince readers. Once I am able to make this genuine empathic connection with my characters, I follow a five-step process to give them substance – Read, Research, Reflect, Rest, and Repeat. First, I read and research a lot and this includes conversations with people who might provide inspiration. Then I let it percolate by backing off completely after a period of reflection, of course. Lastly, I find myself having to go back to the start of the loop at times when I get stuck.
What can you tell us about Sam?
Phew! Now that’s a toughie. Let me explain. Part of the inspiration behind the novel is my belief that the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities. And Sam’s character is supposed to catalyze readers to reflect on how we judge the motives of those around us. In fact, I have even incentivized such reflection with a contest at www.WinTrip2NY.com.
So while Sam’s loss and his tribulations are real, his characterization has been somewhat abstract. Let it suffice to say that he is an immigrant who has assimilated well and is unsure about how to cope with a very deep loss.
Who is Cynthia and what role does she play in the story?
Cynthia is a psychologist and she finds herself alone with her patient and her daughter in a sinking boat. Moreover, they all seem to be rowing away from one another. While trying to heal from a debilitating divorce, Cynthia is helping her patient, Sam, who is struggling with the worst kind of loss there is. She is also trying to mend her relationship with her daughter, Lily, who is not only fighting her own demons but also holding on to a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
What was your experience writing the point of view?
From the very beginning, I wanted to narrate the story from Cynthia’s perspective. This was daunting since I am neither a woman psychologist nor do I share a cultural background with her. So I knew I was trying to fill shoes much larger than my own and I had to both step out of my comfort zone and dig deep. And I’d like to believe that I have grown much as a person because of it. So not only was the process personally gratifying but also her perspective turned out to be most relevant for the plot.
Was it easy writing about flawed characters?
Aren’t we all?! But yes, confronting these flaws, let alone embracing or articulating them, is never easy. Fortunately, I strongly believe that such duality exists in all of us and I’m quite comfortable with both my flaws and my struggles with them. Even though writing about these flaws in characters that are different from me wasn’t easy, the fact that I enjoyed this process helped me immensely. Now, as to whether or not I was able to do justice to such expression – I think I’ll let readers be the judge of that.
What’s next for you?
I have only recently started researching and outlining my next novel. It’s also going to be narrated from the perspective of a young woman, Abigail, who has just started her first job as a nanny at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year-old Stewart, fighting for his life in the pool. And Abigail soon discovers that June, the boy’s older sister, may have been the one who pushed him in.
Neel Mullick is the author of Dark Blossom. The Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company, Mullick is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD. He mentors female entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially aware leaders with Nigeria’s Steering for Greatness Foundation, supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers through Peru’s Emprendedoras del Hogar, and works with IIMPACT in India to help break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. Dark Blossom is his first novel.
Two young Vushla questioned what everyone knew about death. What should they do with the answer?
When the time comes for Vushla to die, they go into the ocean and are dissolved away. Or so Terrill has always believed, and still believes after taking part in his father’s final journey. But when he meets a young Vushlu who lives by the sea, Terrill must confront information that calls this fundamental belief into question. Will the two of them discover the truth? And what should they do with what they find?
*How did you come up with the title for this book? It sounds rather poetic.
–The idea came from a familiar phrase in the English Burial Service: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
*What exactly is a Vushla?
–The Vushla (plural — singular is Vushlu) are one of the sentient species on a planet humans haven’t found. They could be described as a cross between a centaur and a tortoise: their general body configuration is that of a centaur, and they are largely covered by many small plates of a hard substance they (and their neighbor species, the Weesah) refer to as armor. The armor is often moved as part of gestures and body language. I envision them as roughly human-sized.
*Tell us how the idea for this book came about.
–That was a first for me. The way Vushla typically meet death came to me as an image in a dream. My husband contributed a key plot twist.
*What is the connection between the Vushla, water, and death?
–As described in the Preface and in the book blurb, when a Vushlu knows it is dying (I use “it” for unidentified Vushla and Weesah, and he or she for individuals of known gender), it tries to get to the ocean, where it swims or wades into the surf to dissolve away. If it dies on the journey, the friends and relatives accompanying it on the funeral journey hire fisher folk (who have custom-made waterproof suits) to carry the body into the ocean.
Whether there are other connections . . . you’ll need to read the book to find out. 🙂
*Was your approach different in writing this book?
The origin — a dream, as I mentioned above — was different. Otherwise, I did what I usually do: wrote a (very) rough draft during National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo or NaNo; put it aside for a month or so; did multiple revisions and editing passes over the next nine months; sent it to beta readers and made more revisions based on their comments; did the final proofread/edits; and published it (as a preorder) on Amazon and Google Play and via Draft2Digital. (The paperback will, I hope, be ready by the release date of October 17th, at least on Amazon. B&N will take a little longer due to a cumbersome proofing process.)
*What comes first the idea or theme?
That’s an interesting question, especially this time around. What thematic concerns inspired that dream? I can’t say for sure. I certainly had both mortality and parent-child relationships on my mind, as my father died a little more than six months before NaNo began. (I don’t remember exactly when I had the dream, but I would guesstimate it was a month or so before NaNo.)
*What was your experience like writing Water to Water?
I can generally keep up with or stay slightly ahead of the pace NaNo requires (an average of 1,667 words per day), and this time was no exception. My confidence in the story fluctuated about as much as usual — which is to say, frequently but not to the point of either ecstatic certainty or profound gloom. I frequently consulted my general science adviser, aka my husband Paul Hager, on various aspects of world-building.
I approached cover design a little differently this time. I’ve most often collaborated with a particular designer, but that collaboration works best when I have some fairly definite starting ideas. This time, the one idea I had felt insufficient. I decided to spring boldly into the red, financially speaking, and invest in a cover from a designer (or rather, a group of designers) I’d long admired, Damonza. I am delighted with the result, which has gotten consistently favorable comment during the book’s Silver Dagger Book Tour (continuing through October 26th).
Karen A. Wyle is the author of multiple science fiction novels, including The Twin-Bred Series: Books 1-3; near-future novels Division, Playback Effect, and Who: a novel of the near future; and YA near-future novel The Link. Her one novel (so far) outside the SF category is afterlife fantasy/family drama Wander Home. She has also published one nonfiction work, Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers, a resource for authors or for anyone interested in understanding more about American law.
Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. She now considers herself a Hoosier. Wyle’s childhood ambition was to be the youngest ever published novelist. While writing her first novel at age 10, she was mortified to learn that some British upstart had beaten her to the goal at age 9.
Wyle is an appellate attorney, photographer, political junkie, and mother of two wildly creative daughters. Her voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction. It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice. Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.
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