Please welcome Rene Denfeld to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Enchanted was published on March 4, 2014 by Harper.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Rene: Thank you! I began writing professionally in my early 20s, writing for small newspapers. I had always dreamed of being a writer, but didn't think it was feasible for someone from my background—I grew up quite poor. I was lucky to meet a group of friendly, supportive writers here in Portland, Oregon, who encouraged me.
I have a day job as well. Since 2008 I have been a death penalty investigator. For someone who loves hearing stories, my job is wonderful.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Rene: The Enchanted started with a single line. I was leaving the death row prison where I was visiting a client, and I heard a very quiet, distinctive voice. It told me, "This is an enchanted place." I spent months listening very closely to that voice, following it into the novel. For me, writing fiction is a process of discovery. I wanted to see what the characters would do, free from my biases or opinions.
I do think having a plot is very important. I was lucky writing this novel that the plot grew easily out of the story, and needed only minimal direction from me.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Rene: For me, it is finding the time. In addition to my day job, I am raising three kids, and I do foster care as well. My schedule is a little busy!
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Rene: I am a HUGE reader. When I was a child, my sanctuary was the local library. I'm the kind of person who will read the back of the cereal box if nothing else is handy. I love everything printed, from the classics to literary novels to children's books. Living in Portland, I've been lucky to have met so many fantastic writers over the years: Robert Sheckley, Cheryl Strayed, Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Dunn, and Todd Grimson, among many others.
TQ: Describe The Enchanted in 140 characters or less.
Rene: The Enchanted is the story of a death row inmate who believes he lives in a magical, enchanted place.
TQ: Tell us something about The Enchanted that is not in the book description.
Rene: A lot of the descriptions of prison life are things I've seen in my work.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Enchanted? How have your non-fiction books influenced the writing of your first fiction novel?
Rene: I wanted to write a novel that illustrated our ability to find beauty in even the most terrible circumstances. I am glad to have written non-fiction, as I felt I learned a lot of craft through the work.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Enchanted?
Rene: Not much! The primary setting is a prison, and I've seen plenty of that in my day job. The work of the character of the lady is very much what I do all the time. We both find witnesses, help them share their stories, locate records, and investigate the lives of our clients. I did some research into the character of the fallen priest.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?
Rene: The easiest character to write was the narrator. I felt his voice from the beginning, and I knew he would tell me his truth. The hardest character was the fallen priest. His background is so different than mine. I really enjoyed the warden. Most of the time, wardens are bad guys in novels. I enjoyed writing about a warden who is a good guy at heart. There are good people who work in prisons—just like any other place.
TQ: Give us one of your favorite lines from The Enchanted.
Rene: "I think about each clod of mud and how it contains the history of the world: shards of mica and stone, glossy ribbons of clay too faint to see, the arm and leg of Eve, the pulsating pull of Adam."
TQ: What's next?
Rene: I hope to continue writing fiction. And raising my lovely kids!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Rene: The pleasure was all mine. I hope you enjoy The Enchanted!
Harper, March 4, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 256 pages
A wondrous and redemptive debut novel, set in a stark world where evil and magic coincide, The Enchanted combines the empathy and lyricism of Alice Sebold with the dark, imaginative power of Stephen King.
"This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do." The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.
Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.
Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.
RENE DENFELD is a respected journalist who has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Oregonian, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the internationally bestselling author of three nonfiction books: The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order; Kill the Body, the Head Will Fall; and All God's Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families. In addition to her writing career, she is a licensed investigator specializing in death penalty cases. Rene balances her work with parenting her three children, all adopted from state foster care. She lives in Portland, Oregon.