Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Ned Hayes
By OFW Editor: Michael Keyton
Published: July 06, 2013

Accomplishment: Ned Hayes is the author of the forthcoming SINFUL FOLK, a novel set in the 14th century. He is also the author of Coeur d'Alene Waters, a historical mystery novel set in the Pacific Northwest. He is now at work on two more historical novels, Garden of Earthly Delight, also set in the Middle Ages, and A Mercy Upon Us.

Which fictional character would you like to have a close relationship with?

Reading for me is a fantastic escape. And although I do read a lot of novels that are set in "real life" or as close to real life as THE HOURS, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and BREATHING LESSONS, if I had to choose a fictional character -- any fictional character -- of course I would go like a shot to Albus Dumbledore (from HARRY POTTER), or Lirael (from Garth Nix's ABHORSEN), or even that classic fallback Frodo Baggins (from THE LORD OF THE RINGS). I mean, I think if any writer is honest, the characters who stay under our skin are the ones whose experience is different than ours, more magical, more otherwordly, and more adventurous. We all want to be more than we are, and reading provides us with that possibility.

Which four literary characters would you like to invite to dinner, and why?

I think it would be pretty interesting to have the following characters to dinner... Chava the Golem from Helene Wecker's wonderful new novel "The Golem & the Jinni," along with Sirius Black, from the Harry Potter books -- my favorite Rowling character -- along with Neil Gaiman's young female "Death" from the "Sandman" graphic novels (the sister of "Dream," who shepherds us all out of this life), and finally I'm cheating a little bit by inviting Jane Austen herself... but she is a character in various contemporary stories (like "Becoming Jane") as well as a writer herself. (with this assortment of characters, I'm not sure that any of us would survive the evening though!)

Elmore Leonard listed ten rules, one of which is: 'Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel.' What rule or piece of advice would you add to the list, and if you know his ten rules, which one would you break?

I try never to forget that I have to "show" not "tell" -- whenever possible, I try to cut my own subjective evaluation of my character's feelings, lives and experiences, and simply show what they are going through. This is classic advice, but it is surprisingly hard to do. In my most recent novel, SINFUL FOLK, it's taken a lot of research in order to know enough to be able to show an authentic medieval experience and describe how she feels. Of course, I've also had to discuss her experience a lot with smart people I know -- like my wife. One case in point is the birth scene in my novel. Fortunately, my wife is a trained childbirth educator and doula, so she was enormously helpful in getting this scene right in the novel.

What trap do writers of historical fiction often fall into?

One trap that is easy to fall into when you write historical fiction is to romanticize life "back then." Writers often portray ancient or medieval periods and the people as having extra wisdom that we don't have today, or having a charmed kind of life that is fantasy. In point of fact, life is -- and always has been -- "nasty, brutish and short" (in Thomas Hobbes' classic phrase). And this has always been very true for the underclass and for those without means. It is important not to romanticize any particular era, and try to show the people as fully fleshed and just as flawed as we are today.

Which four books do you wish you had written?

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker (a marvelous new writer, and a fantastic new idea. She carries it off with insight, aplomb, and a lot of verve)

Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow (his first novel, and still his best one! I love how he takes a courtroom thriller deep into the heart of his main character's marriage, and turns a legal drama into a deeper story about human ambition)

DECLARE, by Tim Powers (This is a book that bravely combines ideas from different genres -- weird fantasy + espionage In the hands of most writers, this would fail. But Powers is adept enough to carry off this marriage, and he makes you believe in a subtext under the Cold War. Powerful, fantastic, and riveting.)

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks (I write historical fiction, and I was inspired to see how carefully Brooks wrote about the early modern period, and how she illuminates the perspective and life of her main character in such a different era. She is a master of the genre, and her writing is marvelous)

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant (Taking a classic text -- like the Bible -- and re-imagining the story, is a bold move. I love fiction that shows the female side of the story, which is all too often overlooked in ancient and medieval writing, and Diamant shows Sara and Rebecca's sides of the story here with beautiful insight.)

Every writer has a weakness, what is yours?

I am a terrible procrastinator. For example, right now, I am wasting my one Saturday morning hour this week that is dedicated to writing fiction by writing random fun little responses to an interview with OnFictionWriting, instead of crafting classic beautiful writing. Time and again, I find myself distracted by the online world... and it's hard to find the focus to write in our contemporary world.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would love to be remembered as a storyteller. I strive for the kind of connection with their readers that storytellers like James Herriott and Richard Adams have -- they tell wonderful stories about the human spirit and the connection between people. And neither of them write what might be considered "deathless prose" or "stylistic magic," but by God, they can both tell a story, and move you in the telling of it.

Sheri was looking thoughtful, her hand turning the Rack without thinking. A series of gasps pulled her up short and she apologised with a smile that hinted she could do more if she wanted. Ned didn't complain. He was a gentleman which is almost as good as a saint.

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