TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Rita: I woke up one morning about fifteen years ago convinced I had what it takes to write a novel. With both feet firmly planted in Ignorance is Bliss Land, I wrote one. It was terrible. However, I found that writing had a wonderful effect on me—sort of like the endorphins from running and the overall Zen from meditation.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Rita: My writing space has to be uncluttered. I have one desk that I write at, and one off to the left with all the mess on it.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a planster?
Rita: I’d say I’m a planster. I’ve learned the hard way that the best thing is to have a very general idea of plot—something simple that can be summed up in a few sentences and then filled in. One thing that always works for me is to write the ending and catch up to it.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Rita: I get caught up in a concept, so I have to overcome a tendency to do too much telling and not enough showing. It helps to remember what Anton Chekov said: Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
TQ: Describe The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow in 140 characters or less.
Rita: Mute little boy hears the universe, his dead father, and some locked-away family secrets. #New Orleans #mystical #voodoo #saints
TQ: What inspired you to write The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow?
Rita: Writing a short story was the very last assignment in my very last class in graduate school back in 2009. The professor pleaded with us to do something different, so I tried my hand at magical realism. I have no idea where the idea came from to write about a mute little boy with fantastical hearing; it just popped into my head. The original short story is a mere 13 pages long. In it, Bonaventure is nine years old, William was killed in Korea, and the only other characters are Dancy, Grandma Roman, William’s ghost, Brother Eacomb, and Trinidad Prefontaine. After grad school I occasionally went back into that story, adding characters and plot points. At about 75 pages, I began to think of it as a novel. Here’s an interesting tidbit: After THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW was acquired by HarperCollins, the first thing my editor said was that it needed more of a dramatic through-line, something suspenseful. Well……all I’d ever said about William’s death in the original version was that he’d been shot dead by a crazy man who’d gotten hold of a gun, so the crazy guy became The Wander, and he brought Eugenia Babbitt and Coleman Tate into the story with him.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow?
Rita: I actually talk about my research in an essay titled “The Southern Side of My Heart” that is included in the P.S. section of the book. In it, I talk about walking the story. Here’s an excerpt:
I ate beignets at Café Du Monde and was charmed by Antoine’s Restaurant. I took in the elegance of the Hotel Monteleone and checked the time on its wonderful clock. I went to the Roosevelt to see for myself where Letice’s wedding reception would have been. I strolled past Saint Anthony’s Garden tucked there behind Saint Louis Cathedral, that most beautiful church on Jackson Square. I looked in the windows of Rubenstein’s. I found houses like those I had imagined for my characters—Consette’s on Esplanade Avenue in Faubourg Marigny, Suville’s on Dauphine Street in the Quarter, and William Arrow’s on Washington Avenue in the Garden District. I rode the St. Charles Streetcar. I saw where The Wanderer had gotten off the train. I went to cemeteries. I saw Angels made of stone.Finally, using peer-reviewed sources, I researched medical things such as fetal development, muteness, hearing, and Trinidad’s dextrocardia situs inversus. The background for David Gaudet (Suville’s father) required researching the Académie Impériale de Médecine on Rue Bonaparte in Paris, and its edict regarding the evaluation of natural medications. In developing that same story line I also read about ancient Greek practitioners of natural medicine such as Pliny the Elder and Dioscurides.
New Orleans is fiercely and justifiably proud of its uniqueness. I was fortunate enough to meet some of the extraordinary people who take pains to preserve its history; they offered me not only Southern hospitality but incredible expertise. An extensive visit to the Williams Research Center on Chartres Street led me to archivists who provided access to The Historic New Orleans Collection, which yielded artifacts from the 1920s to the 1950s—train schedules, Mardi Gras tickets, menus, and hotel bills—all things my characters would have seen or even touched.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Rita: Bonaventure was definitely the easiest. My own children are boys and, though they aren’t mute, I based his personality and characteristics on them. The hardest to write was Eugenia Babbitt, most likely because she doesn’t appear that often, yet she’s very complex. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to convey her demeanor and mindset.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow?
Rita: Without a doubt, it’s William in the epilogue.
TQ: What's next?
Rita: I’ve written three beginnings for three different stories. I’m hoping one of them will overpower the other two.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Rita: My pleasure!
About The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
Harper Paperbacks, February 26, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn't make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows that Bonaventure's silence is filled with resonance—a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer.
Bonaventure's remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mère Letice, plagued by grief and a long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.