Our interview today is with Billie Hinton the author of claire-obscure (4.3 stars, 27 reviews). Before the interview a brief book description: Lonely, unfulfilled, and envious of her best friend who has moved to Italy, Claire Caviness heads out to the same old club one night but takes a right turn out of her usual routine and meets Finn Weston, a mysterious and disturbed medical student who lures her into a folie a deux – a shared madness that forces Claire to look at the things she’s tried desperately to leave behind. When Claire’s friend Lucy is found dead and Finn is implicated in the murder, Raoul Duras, a Delta Force operator with a penchant for rescuing prostitutes, offers a way out of the madness. In a raw, edgy journey from trauma to restoration, Claire examines her deepest fears: grief for her distant mother and gay father, the awakening of her conflicted sexuality, and the darkness that pulls her to the intrigue and danger of two very different – and dangerous – men.
Interview with Billie Hinton
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
Years back in my first creative writing class with Lee Smith at NCSU I began to write about a character named Claire. I remember naming her Claire because the name means light, and I remember being fascinated with chiaroscuro around that time because of art history and film classes I was taking. Somehow all of that wound up in this character, whose name meant light, but who lived at the edge of darkness.
Every time I started a new short story Claire would take it over, and the feedback from teachers and classmates was always: this is not a short story. It’s a chapter from a novel. By the time I got around to actually writing the novel, years had passed, and Claire’s story had been simmering on the back burner all that time.
What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research that really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
Some pieces of the story came from my own experience. I worked in university libraries for years, had a part-time job in a bookstore, lived in a converted warehouse. So I placed Claire in similar settings and then waited to see what happened from those familiar places.
Other parts I had to research. I knew very little about Delta Force or special ops, for example. Once Raoul Duras came into the story, I knew without even thinking that he was in that unit, so I had to learn more before I wrote further. This was years before the TV shows The Unit and Army Wives hit the screen. I did a lot of interviewing of special forces soldiers and their wives and girlfriends. A private email listserv of special forces soldiers allowed me to lurk and ask questions.
I was fortunate to be able to spend time in a town near an army base where Delta Force was stationed, and for about a year, I drove down there every week and spent the better part of a day and evening writing and soaking in ambiance. After a few months of having to find places to write, I rented a tiny office so I could work there. But the first day I drove into the town to do the first bit of research, I lost my car and thought it had been stolen. As I was standing on the sidewalk, laptop bag in hand, looking totally discombobulated, a man dressed in black from head to toe pulled up on a motorcycle and asked if I needed help.
Raoul Duras, of course, has a motorcycle in the story, and I’d already written scenes where Claire rides with him and finds a sense of freedom and peace on the back of his bike. It was uncanny how many times things like that happened while I was researching the book. What I had already written would suddenly appear before me, almost like I’d written it into being.
As far as gaining respect for a profession, my only experience with soldiers was being the daughter of a man who was in the Army and fought in the Korean War before I was born. But I had always been fascinated by the warrior archetype and enjoyed exploring that in the book. All the men I interviewed were gracious and extremely intelligent, and I do have tremendous respect for all soldiers who give so much of their lives to the Army or any armed force. I have equal respect for the families who wait for them.
What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you a character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
I tend to write from an initial scene that comes to me and won’t leave me alone. Sometimes it’s what feels like the final scene of the book and I write toward it, other times it is where the book begins.
While I love the idea of writing a certain number of hours each day, it rarely works like that for me. I do make sure that my writing space is a good place to be, but over time I’ve learned that I can write anywhere, especially once I’m into the novel. Huge chunks of claire-obscure were written sitting in a pub in Southern Pines, NC, where it was loud and I was crammed on a bar stool typing as fast as I could type. Similarly, large parts of Signs That Might Be Omens were written in pull-offs in the NC mountains in a notebook. I drove the curving roads with the windows down and then pulled over to write a few pages.
I often write rough draft material when on these writing retreat adventures, and then do the editing back home at my desk. As much as is possible, I try to go to places where the characters’ stories can come into my head, and then my job is to take down what comes, and keep taking it down until it stops.
I’m definitely not an outliner. I just follow what comes and almost always find that when I go back to look at the first, rough, draft there are many threads that tie together that I didn’t realize as I was writing it. There is a certain alchemical quality to the process that feels like magic to me. I try very hard not to mess with that when I write, or later when I edit.
What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk?
Laughing – yes, I can see my desk!
Actually I can’t write if the desk is too messy. Right now on my desk from left to right:
Stack of file folders and a list of things to do, not writing stuff! Held down by a wonderful stone tool I found recently on our farm. I’m guessing it was used by a Native American tribe that lived here between the two rivers.
Two jars holding various pens, rulers, markers, business cards, etc.
An oversized post card of a Bunya pine done by an Aboriginal artist and a miniature of a rock wallaby with her baby in pouch. Both gifts from a sandplay therapy mentor and teacher who was here recently doing a workshop.
A bracelet I had made that has each of my horses and donkeys etched into copper panels.
A small tableau (I always have one of these on my writing desk, whether here or on retreat) that right now includes a horse figure; a small stack of rocks, including one I got on a trip to New Mexico, two were gifts from a friend visiting Shakespeare’s home in England, an arrowhead I found on our farm, and a crystal; a carved fluorite tower, a blue wooden hippo, a donkey figure gazing into a diamond-shaped double-sided piece of mirror I found in our front field; a tiny bottle of sand from a recent workshop, a postcard showing a vintage scene on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a small square magnet with a woman’s face and the words “she sensed a bestseller.”
A pad for making random notes, a pen, a small blank book that I use for lists or notes to myself.
And computer and lamp and external hard drive.
I have to note that my desk sits with one end at a window that looks into our front pasture and a paddock. And right now the painted pony who lives here is standing there telling me it’s time for breakfast tubs. So I must go!
Billie’s contact information:
Grab a copy of claire-obscure
And outdated author website that will soon be updated, I swear: http://billiehinton.com/