Jack Remick is a poet, short story writer and novelist. In 2012, Coffeetown Press published the first two volumes of Jack’s California Quartet series, The Deification and Valley Boy. The final two volumes will be released in 2013: The Book of Changes and Trio of Lost Souls. Blood, A Novel was published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, in 2011.
VS: I want to thank you for being my guest here on The Writing Mama today. What do you do to help balance your writing life with your family life?
Jack: I am married to a world class quilter, Helen Remick (http://helenremick.com) who understands the world of art and writing. We share a creative life that connects writing to family to quilting. I am fortunate to have this situation because I know a lot of writers struggle to find the balance. Without Helen to hold up half the sky, I wouldn’t be free to enter the novel world at all.
VS: How long have you been writing?
Jack: My entry into the writing universe came when I was at the Conservatory of Music in Quito, Ecuador. Writing and composing are natural complements. I began as a poet, morphed into a short story writer, transformed into a novelist and screenwriter. Music and writing have so much in common that making the transition from composer/pianist to novelist wasn’t very much of a leap. Music and writing are rhythm, beat, cadence.
VS: What inspired you to write your book (if this is a personal story about you, please share about the decision to open up about your life)?
Jack: My mother turned 95. What used to live in her mind as her history ebbed away until little remained of who and what she was. We’re all confronting this in a world where we live longer. The anguish of this situation eased when my sisters and I found a caregiver with as much compassion for our mother as we had. I wanted to write about that. Gabriela and The Widow took shape as the relationship between the Widow and Gabriela grew. At some point, I knew that this connection was somehow universal—it was mother and daughter. It was two women from different cultures sharing a moment in time that all women share. I watched how the lives of the women changed as they became closer. I also watched Gabriela take in what was left of my mother’s history and, in that way, pass it down. So the novel, while marginally based on real characters, takes a different turn—in the book, we see how the Widow’s stories will be lost until Gabriela writes them down. This notion makes it all the more clear that we have to capture our family stories and history. Writing is what makes us what we are.
VS: What is a typical writing day like for you?
Jack: Get up early—5 or 6. Wake up at 7 or so with a cuppa joe. Get to work. I write with a group two days a week. We write by hand in a café. I then spend time typing up what I’ve written, working on the novels, the poems, the short stories—I have two collections of stories. The day breaks into three parts—early morning work, prep for meeting with my group, working up the changes. Writing is what I do. It’s all I want to do. I spent a long time acquiring “experience” so what time I have left I want to spend getting it into readable form.
VS: Can you share with us a little about your current book(s)?
Jack: Gabriela and The Widow—Paula Lowe, managing editor at Solo Novo magazine and publisher of Big Yes Press, sums up the novel much better than I can: Together, day after day, night after night, La Viuda fills Gabriela’s world with lists, boxes, places, times, object, photos, and stories, captivating and life-changing stories. It seems that Gabriela is not hired just to cook and clean; she has been chosen to curate La Viuda’s mementos while giving loving care to an old woman in failing health. “As you grow thick, I grow thin,”says the widow, portending the secret of immortality that will enrich the lives of both women.
VS: What did you find to be the most challenging part of writing your book(s)?
Jack: The most challenging part of writing Gabriela and The Widow was how to get into Gabriela’s mind. The novel is written from her point of view. The question is—how can a man write a novel about women for women from a woman’s POV? Hadiyah Carlyle, who wrote Torch in the Dark, a memoir of the 1960s, asked me how I did that after she read an advance copy. I told her that I grew up in a household with four sisters, three cousins, a mother, two aunts, two grandmothers. All I had to do was transcribe memory to get Gabriela. She’s like one of my sisters now.
VS: What part of your book do you feel really stands out to you personally?
Jack: Gabriela’s transformation is the grabber for me. She starts out as thin, undeveloped adolescent who becomes a rich and wonderful woman. When I was reaching into the cosmos for her character, I wrote a lot about her and the Widow and I found that their relationship was built on the idea of thick and thin. This is a little piece of the writing about the writing that made Gabriela come alive for me:
Gabriela is thin in body and thin in experience. When the story opens, she is fourteen and is bringing her sick mother to Paso de la Reina because there is no doctor in her village (thin). In Tepeñixtlahuaca Gabriela has learned to read and write, but has read only one book—the Bible (thin). She can sew and cook but knows nothing about food other than what she has learned from the woman around her. (thin). Her life experience is thin and routine until the sixth year of the war when soldiers came to her village and her life changes in an experience that will scar her.
VS: If this is a work of fiction, what character is most like you?
Jack: The men in Gabriela and The Widow are marginal characters who pay short visits to the world of these women. So I suppose I’d have to say that the character most like me is the author: present but invisible. Isn’t that the perfect man?
VS: Do you have any other works in progress? Can you share a little about them?
Jack: Catherine Treadgold at Coffeetown Press is bringing out The California Quartet. Two of the four, The Deification and Valley Boy are now available, while the next two, The Book of Changes and Trio of Lost Souls will appear in late 2013. I’m also working on a new story line for something I’m calling The Prison of Desire. I can’t say much about that novel yet.
VS: What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
Jack: Vulnerability is the key to the sympathetic character. A wound, coupled with character flaw, gives you a human character. The more obvious the wound, the more likely the reader is to identify with the character. For me, digging into pain, shame, guilt, and betrayal are ways to create strong characters. Getting to know the character’s shame and guilt leads you to the essential element of dramatic conflict that all stories must have in order to engage the reader. In Gabriela and The Widow, we see the effects of betrayal in the coins. Each time The Widow’s husband betrays her, he brings her a gold or silver coin. Each time he is away but faithful, he brings flowers. The irony is that the symbol of betrayal—the metal—is permanent while the symbols of fidelity—flowers—are transient.
VS: What do you feel as parents we need to do to help our children see success?
Jack: Love them unconditionally until your heart falls out of your chest. Teach them discipline. There is a difference between discipline and punishment. Punishing—there’s enough of that in the world. Discipline—finish what you start, push through to the end, be tenacious—apply not just to writers and their craft, but to the art of raising children to become beautiful, productive, compassionate adults.
VS: Where can the readers of The Writing Mama find out more about and your writing?
Jack: I keep three blogs or websites devoted either to my writing or the art and craft of writing. http://jackremick.com is my author site with links to all my work. http://bobandjackswritingblog.com holds everything I know about writing. It’s there for any and all who want to use it. On that site, you’ll find such items as: Writing Tips for the Committed Novelist, and Twenty Steps to Starting Your Novel as well as an inventory of other creative writing tools. Help yourself, please.
The World of Ink Network will be touring author Jack Remick’s contemporary women’s literary novel, Gabriela and The Widow published by Coffeetown Press throughout January and February 2013.
Gabriela and The Widow is the story of Gabriela, a 19 year old Mexican woman who migrates north (to El Norte) where she meets a dying 92 year old woman, The Widow. The novel is their story.
You can find out more about Jack Remick, his books and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/akw7kk6
Follow Jack Remick at
Author page: http://jackremick.com