The Rathbones by Janice Clark

July 2014 — An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Janice Clark

By Columnist Doreen Akiyo Yomoah

The Rathbones
by Janice Clark

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AUTHORLINK: Growing up in Mystic, Connecticut, [a popular tourist destination for its whaling museum], were whales a huge part of your life?

CLARK: It’s funny, because in Mystic there is a tourist attraction called Mystic Seaport, and we tried to avoid it all costs. We all thought whaling was incredibly boring and wanted nothing to do with it.

“. . . writing The Rathbones was a way of staying in touch. . .”
As an adult I’ve always lived away from the sea, and writing The Rathbones was a way of staying in touch. When you live far away, you tend to romanticize the place where you grew up. That comes into play in the novel. The main character’s father has been missing for 20 years and longing is a central theme.

AUTHORLINK: How do you create your characters? Are some of them you or people you know?

CLARK: I love that question. I think that writers are probably lying if they say characters aren’t autobiographical. There are a few similarities between the main characters and my family. I grew up in a navy family, so my dad was always at sea. For a short time my older sister slept in a dresser drawer because our furniture hadn’t arrived, which I think inspired the small size of Mercy Rathbone. I think we tend to draw on our lives, and on our own emotions.

AUTHORLINK: Are you a writer by trade?

CLARK: My MFA was in creative writing. My first degree was in graphic design. There was something like 20 years in between. Writing was something I loved when I was much younger. I had to choose between an academic and an art path, and there’s dependability in doing graphic design. I continue to do graphic design half-time, and spend half my time writing. It’s an interesting mix.

My next project heavily involves illustration. I really enjoy cross fertilization of writing and design.

“I believe everyone’s got it, but a lot of people sort of get educated out of it .”

AUTHORLINK: I am really envious of anyone with artistic ability.

CLARK: I believe everyone’s got it, but a lot of people sort of get educated out of it at an early age. People don’t believe they can do it.

AUTHORLINK: You may change your mind if you see my drawings from when I was a kid.

CLARK: I guess what I’m trying to say is I guess people say “I can’t draw a straight line”, but that’s just part of an artistic sensibility. It’s a lot more than trying to capture something that’s very familiar, it’s more a sensitivity that expresses itself and everybody’s got that. Well, maybe not everybody.

AUTHORLINK: You mentioned that you loved writing when you were younger?

CLARK: My sister and I used to write a lot. Our stories would be in the school arts magazine. We recently looked back on them and laughed. Both of our stories were really morbid – one of mine was about a girl that drowns her brother.

The Rathbones is a mash-up of The Odyssey, Moby Dick, and The Addams Family, which has such a great parallel between gothic part and twisted humor. In novels, humor tends to get submerged under disturbing elements.

“When I’m writing, I try not to read fiction, because I start to mimic it by osmosis.”

AUTHORLINK: What kind of literature do you like to read yourself? Does it influence your writing?

CLARK: When I’m writing, I try not to read fiction, because I start to mimic it by osmosis. I really do love Moby Dick. Another influence of this book – and it’s going to sound crazy to someone who hasn’t read it – is the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, a 20-something book series about the 18th century British navy. Most people would recognize it from the movie Master and Commander. The series has these wonderful characters. It’s been compared to a male written Jane Austen. Sometimes, I get fed up with fiction. I’m reading some art history right now, and a couple of Thomas Jefferson biographies. I tend to read randomly.

AUTHORLINK: What do you have coming up?

CLARK: I’m working on a little book but I’m not sure it will be the next thing published. It’s a novella, based on two 17th century still life paintings. I’m also working on something more in the line of The Rathbones. It’s a book based loosely on my mother’s family. She was one of thirteen kids in depression-era Canada, and a couple of them were lumberjacks. The story has thirteen lumberjacks in trees who never come down. There are also time travels to two other time periods – the near future, where we meet the granddaughter botanist who lives in California, then it jumps into the future again and becomes a dystopian story involving her grandchildren, and has larger ecological themes. I have to remind myself that I’m still excited about it when I get bogged down in the notes. I tend to spend untold hours on laborious outlines. A lot of it is really hard, and not altogether pleasant, but for all those moments where things really snap and are a thrill it’s completely worth it.

About the Author:

Janice Clark is a writer and designer living in Chicago. She grew up in Mystic, Connecticut (land of whaling and pizza) and has lived in Montreal, Kansas City, San Francisco, and New York, where she earned an MFA in writing at NYU. Her short fiction has appeared in Pindeldyboz and The Nebraska Review, and her design work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art. The Rathbones, which she also illustrated, is her first novel.

About Doreen Akiyo Yomoah:

Doreen Akiyo Yomoah is a nomadic freelance writer, currently living in Dakar, Senegal.