Interview with C. D. Stowell

What motivated you to write NEW OLD WORLD?
I was intending to write a different book—a novel about the years I spent on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon. But after publishing FACES OF A RESERVATION, my non-fiction account, I took a celebratory trip to England and France and knew before I’d even arrived home that I needed to novelize that life-altering experience. I was mystified about how I could have left this country as such an independent woman committed to not having children only to come back a few months later very open to the idea of family. The novel was my way of exploring that metamorphosis.
So, is NEW OLD WORLD autobiographical?
It's semi-autobiographical. Ticonderoga Fox is a kind of alter-ego, but with a very different family constellation and a trajectory that veers away from my own. Novels need more peaks and valleys than my life has had, so I created some trials for Ti. For instance, central to her journey is her motherlessness, a tragedy I didn’t have to deal with; and the “reproductive crisis” and extended sojourn Ti has in France is completely fictional. I’ve often thought that while as a novelist I thoroughly answered the question of how and why Ticonderoga got from Point A to Point Z, I still don’t quite understand the transformation I underwent! I guess that proves that NEW OLD WORLD is Ti’s memoir, not mine.
Why did it take you 25 years to write this novel?
I wasn’t actively writing all that time! As with Ti, life took over and the project was sidelined numerous times in favor of family, work, and volunteerism. I started the novel shortly after returning from Europe in 1988 and picked it up again when my son went to kindergarten in 1995, producing a complete first draft in about five years. In the time since, I’ve gone through several major revisions, zeroing in on the right way to tell the story. At the same time, I was scoping out the world of publishers and agents, and it became increasingly clear that the whole industry was going through a sea change. Ultimately, as I moved into my sixties and felt ready to share my novel, I decided that traditional publishing would take too long and was geared to young people with whole careers ahead of them. Self-publishing seemed like the best bet for getting my novel out to readers “pre-posthumously”!
How did you choose Smashwords?
My first step in self-publishing was to design and produce a paperbound version of the manuscript to give me a feel for how it looked, felt, and read as a “real book.” I formatted my Word document using a template purchased online from Book Design Templates, and ran a few copies on the print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine at Powell’s bookstore. This process showed me that because of its length my novel would be prohibitively expensive to produce, so I committed myself to releasing it as an e-book. As I contemplated formatting the novel yet again for the digital market, our county library announced that they were soliciting manuscripts for their e-book collection and that they would only accept submissions that had been published through Smashwords. I began to familiarize myself with Smashwords and decided it was a great way to publish, since it was very user-friendly and my book would be distributed to a range of outlets including iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and library suppliers. The Smashwords “Meatgrinder” also produces versions readable on Kindle devices and apps. Through the formatting and publishing process, the Smashwords help desk was very helpful to a DIY author like myself. Authors who aren’t predisposed to dealing with technical and aesthetic minutiae might be better off hiring a professional book designer, who can do in an hour what it took me weeks to accomplish.
How did you decide on your cover?
That’s another aspect of self-publishing often best left to a professional designer, but I had a leg up when my son, then in graphic design school, conceived a book cover for me as a birthday present. He had chosen a photograph I might never have considered (one I took on a 2011 trip to France) and I could instantly see how it invited the reader into the book and created a bit of mystery. My job was to make sure the photo and type worked as an e-book cover, which is often seen in thumbnail size, and to produce a digital file that was the right size and dimensions.
Why do you have photographs in a novel?
Principal narrator Ticonderoga Fox is a photographer so it seemed only right for her to express herself visually as well as in words. Because NEW OLD WORLD blurs the boundaries between memoir and novel, I thought the inclusion of photos would reinforce the notion that Ti was telling her story in memoir style. I am very visual myself, and specifically love the look of black-and-white, so I feel the photographs are a handsome addition to the text. They are not literal representations of the story but evoke the settings and themes of the novel.
Who do you think will enjoy NEW OLD WORLD?
I didn’t write for any specific audience, though I did try to please myself! NEW OLD WORLD is a long, character-driven novel with lots of interiority, a good dose of humor, and enough action to keep the pages turning. Women may be able to relate to the challenges and choices that Ti faces as an independent woman in the late 20th century, in particular her resistance to using the words career, creativity, and family in the same sentence. Men may appreciate the deep dive into a woman’s mind. Anglophiles, Francophiles, or anyone who loves the details of traveling will enjoy the settings Ti finds herself in, as well as her sometimes circuitous ways of getting there. Finally, readers who don’t mind novelistic “rules” being stretched will be interested in my shifts in voice and time period, the ongoing ambiguity about genre, and the ways in which Ti injects herself into or pulls away from her story. Even so, NEW OLD WORLD is very accessible, and I’ve been told by a variety of readers that it drew them in and went on to entertain, illuminate, and conclude in a moving and satisfying way.
Why does Ti sometimes tell her story in first person, sometimes third person, and, at the beginning and end, give it over completely to other people?
The changes of voice in NEW OLD WORLD may seem like the mistake of a first-time novelist but they’re quite intentional, driven at first by instinct and later by careful crafting. Through the book we become very aware of the passage of time, the events in Ti’s current life that are keeping her from completing her story, and her idiosyncratic writing process. Her midstream switch from first to third person and her use of others' voices reflect these dynamics. For instance, she starts narrating in the first person, but when she puts down the manuscript for twelve years she gains some distance and perspective that make the third person a natural choice when she resumes. Plus, at the time she suspended her storytelling she was just beginning to reveal some cracks in her armor that might have made her feel uncomfortable about continuing in the first person. In both cases, she decides she can better and more honestly tell the story in a more novelistic way, and from this remove she can also get inside a couple of other heads besides her own. Further, Ti solicits the voices of her family and intimates at critical junctures in order to shed more and different light on her childhood and her life after Paris. As the actual author of Ti’s tale, I feel these departures from standard storytelling enrich the reader’s understanding of Ticonderoga Fox and her circumstances.
What are you working on now?
I started a prequel to NEW OLD WORLD several years ago—the novel I was contemplating writing when NEW OLD WORLD supplanted it back in 1988. It’s an episodic, short-story-like chronicle of Ti’s time on the fictional LePage reservation. As a nice change of pace from novels and book promotion, I’ve rekindled my decades-old dream of a stage play about Henry David Thoreau. I’ve also created a website to keep alive my out-of-print book FACES OF A RESERVATION, published by the Oregon Historical Society in 1987. The site is a gallery-style collection of the black-and-white photographs in the book, and you can find it at faces-of-a-reservation.com.
What are your favorite books and authors?
I’ve always been drawn to novels, and I believe one of the most perfect examples of the form is THE GREAT GATSBY, which I love for its poetry, its economy, and its critique of American culture. Early in my adult and reservation years I was inspired by both the style and substance of Louise Erdrich’s books, especially LOVE MEDICINE. More recently I’ve been intrigued by David Mitchell, who takes chances with structure, voice, and time, particularly in CLOUD ATLAS. A novel that spoke to me on many levels was THE HEARTSONG OF CHARGING ELK, by James Welch, who merged my two lifelong passions by stranding an Oglala Sioux man in Marseilles. A few recent novels that startled me with their freshness and originality are: THE SEXUAL LIFE OF AN ISLAMIST IN PARIS, Leïla Marouane; THE SNOW CHILD, Eowyn Ivey; SPILL SIMMER FALTER WITHER, Sara Baume; THE RISE AND FALL OF GREAT POWERS, Tom Rachman; and BURIAL RITES, Hannah Kent. In non-fiction I’m apt to read writers’ memoirs, and anything about the Beats, Paris, Iceland, travel, photography, or writing.
Published 2018-03-02.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

New Old World
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 215,080. Language: English. Published: December 5, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
What happens when a headstrong, almost-forty photojournalist pulls the plug on her comfortably creative life and buys a one-way ticket to the Old World? It’s not a pretty picture as Ticonderoga Fox grapples with professional doubt, a stormy love affair, a reproductive crisis, and other challenges to her long-cherished autonomy. When a late bloomer finally comes of age, things can get complicated.