Interview w/Donna D. Vitucci: author of the novel ALL SOULS

TQR: I began my review with the criticism that ALL SOULS was too broad a title, but once I got near the end of the review I’d sort of changed my mind. Something about archetypes and the universal nature of the conflicts the characters are going through. Can you help me sum it up better? 

DDV: On the most literal of levels I meant for the title ALL SOULS to reflect back to Lindy’s birthday, Nov. 1, All Saints Day. 

For the Catholics among us, we celebrate & honor ALL the saints on Nov. 1, and then the next day, Nov. 2, is known as All Souls Day–all souls would be, presumably, the “rest of us.” 

As Halloween sets into motion the unraveling of the characters in this book, I felt that little set of dates/days: Oct. 31, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 formed a kind of crucible of roiling secrets that had been kept by Lindy, Vivian and Father Benedict. But yes, in the wider world view, the archetypes (the novice, the fallen woman and the masquerader) present the reader an unwinding/wounding of, in a way, all souls.

I usually avoid trying to articulate this kind of thing because really it’s the essence of the novel–what the reader, hopefully, feels without knowing or explaining, but rather simply through inhabiting, and being taken over by, the world of the novel.

TQR: Indeed it is difficult often awkward and somewhat misguided to attempt to reach into the chest cavity of a novel and pull its heart out, but your answer gave me more insight into ALL SOULS that I’d not seen before about the dates and their significance to Catholicism. So… a novel is a multi-faceted thing that rolls over different people in different ways. What, in your opinion, should be the novelist’s number one aim for creating a novel and casting it out into the world?

DDV: Pretended number one aim for writing a novel: create a character that a reader will care about. Otherwise why will he/she turn the page and read further?

I don’t know about aims for other writers regarding “novel-ing,” but for me there is a character with an urge or an itch in a setting/environment. This is how it all begins for me–and of course that character’s voice. Something that needs to be said, or at least shook out of my head. 

ALL SOULS began with Vivian lamenting behind the glass storm door while the inept priest broke the news of her husband Harmon being rolled under his tractor. Everything else spun from that piece of gold. 

Writing a novel is a long and arduous-wonderful enterprise for me. It takes years. I’m a slow writer. I need to inhabit the world, and first I hafta build that world. It accrues in my psyche. I’m not sure I’d suggest others use this method. It’s the only one I know, the only one that works for me, so I’m kinda resigned to it. 

Casting the finished thing into the world is a whole ‘nother ballgame. And I’m not sure I’ve found the key to doing that as successfully as others have. 

I finish the work, and I’m sad and maudlin about leaving those characters and their world behind. Every ending surprises me. Every ending delights me. I’m like: wow, I wrote that?!

TQR: That sounds about right. We want a character we can relate to to take us along with them through the wild ride. How often do you reach that flow state where one or the other of the characters you’ve created hijack your intention and effectively take over? As in, take the narrative in a direction that you had not originally planned?

DDV: The flow state happens about 99% of the time. That’s when the magic happens, that’s the allure, for me, in writing fiction. The high, the ultimate, the reason why. Happy happy state of affairs.

TQR: Most writers would kill for that percentage! What’s your secret?

DDV: I honestly can’t identify a “secret” other than immersing myself in the character and her/his world. I am constantly asking myself in each scene, plus within the overall scheme of the book: what does the character want? I never ever outline. I never ever know what a story’s ending– or sometimes even the path of events– will be. Plot arises from the character’s pursuit of her desires. So I let my character pursue what she “wants,” and fail or achieve and then consequences. And so on and so on. Not sure that’s a secret. But that is how the character “speaks to me.” Therein the 99% flow state.

TQR: Donna, please indulge me on this, you used to volunteer at TQR and I recall a beautiful narrative duet you had in the Terminal with Hal3000 by way of Lalo Telling (by way of who knows?) on the concept of love between Maggie and an embodied AI machine (Hal3000). Alas, with the last crash of the site that beautiful performance was lost. As I remember it, it was inspiring to see each of you building upon the other’s performance to , ahem, whuthering heights! Do you have any recollection of that wonderful time with your Terminal partner in crime?

DDV: Ah, I remember that TQR time, and Hal, quite fondly. Those were exciting times for me, as those were my initial leaps into the stratosphere of writers connecting across the internet, and I can recall logging into TQR rather breathlessly to peek in and see if Hal had responded to my overtures. which were, as you have observed as  “wuthering.” Might you have intimated “within?” 😉

 I ever felt a bit stymied because after all it was an attempt by a warm blooded woman trying to budge an AI “being” into addressing emotions, amore, flirting, the ol’ game of cat and mouse. What I admired most in Hal was that he never strayed off his AI script. He was ever gentlemanly and he was never ensnared by Maggie’s womanly wiles. Much to my chagrin.

TQR: You two had fantastic chemistry and it’s truly one of the highlights of this frazzled old capital manager’s career that I look back on with fondness and admiration. I do miss you both terribly, so it’s quite thrilling to reconnect on this other plane. So, back to business…ALL SOULS is your 4th or 5th novel now. Does the writing of books get easier as you go?     

DDV: In a word, no. Each novel, in fact each story, is a long painful journey towards its revelation/birth. I fear and relish the process.

TQR: Has your process stayed the same since novel #1? No innovations struck upon through trial and error?

DDV: Not much, other than I’ve learned (accepted) that I must be patient and let the story unfurl. That doesn’t mean I only write when the “muse” speaks. I write every day. Just not always on a novel, or a story, but journal entries, and especially during this Covid thing, just an out loud wondering why we’re here and why humans must be so cantankerous. Peace and love, man. I’m sorry I don’t have advice to give other writers/novelists. Everyone needs to find their own method of moving forward: word by word, sentence by sentence, scene by scene. As Ann Lamott said, “bird by bird.” I usually am unaware if something I begin writing will be a story or novel. A character kind of takes over, has more to say, and when a story amasses more than 25 pages, it might be on its way to novella form or full-fledged novel. I never know. I’m the last to know!

TQR:  How, in your best of all possibles scenario, can the novel as an art form survive in the current over-stimulated soundbyte-driven world?  

DDV: I hear ya, and the dwindling attention span of all, but especially younger people, the desire to listen more than read, lessening for themselves opportunity to imagine and that pure joy I took refuge in as a child.  Audio books help, I guess. But the most avant garde, cutting edge, underground stuff rarely makes it your local library or bookstore in any form. Maybe the plugged-in-ness will help those who will still read online, albeit that being shorter stuff. The novel’s death? It’s been predicted sine the 1920’s and it still ain’t happened yet. I have faith. You have faith. Teach our children and all children to read. Support the libraries. There’s no greater gift than a book. Buy one, give one, lend one. But yeah, I see electronic media and technology like a Game of Thrones dragon versus the Beatles’ Paperback Writer. And the clash ain’t pretty.

TQR: The genesis of ALL SOULS came to you in the form of a scene involving 

Vivian. Did she continue to be, as far as you are concerned, the central character throughout the writing of the book?

DDV: This book arose, yes, from Vivian behind her glass door, but also emerged as short stories from diff POV’s of the 3 in the triangle, as it were. I didn’t really know I had a novel until the stories/episodes grew to be many, and I had published quite a few of them as stand alone stories. So each story’s main char/POV was my prime interest (and love?) at that particular time. My novel SALT OF PATRIOTS also arose this way. As far as the main char of ALL SOULS, in my head I think it’s Lindy because she is the most naive and it’s her “education” that is the result of the novel: her past, present and future. Vivian and Father B are also changed, of course, but they are adults and have a less jarring reckoning, in my opinion, than Lindy.