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Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, Pank, and Gargoyle #57, among others. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. Currently, I'm an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. I'm also working on two novels and a short story collection. In 2011, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Conversation with Robert Vivian

Robert Vivian, author of "The Mover of Bones," the haunting and lyrical novel about a man carrying a dead girl across America has graciously agreed to answer a few questions:


Your book deals with complex themes: sin, horror, grace, redemption. What
name would you give to the most prominent theme?


I didn't start out with a particular theme in mind, though I did know Jesse and the girl were on a head-long journey across America. That stark but simple quest gave me permission in a sense for various stops and encounters along the way: this richness of encounter--or multiple encounters--created the patchwork of the book; that, and listening obsessively to Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der erde (Songs of the Earth). Hopefully, readers will infer their own sense of theme. What I was really after was a kind of tone, a kind of urgency, as vague as that must sound.


Jesse Breedlove is a fascinating character—at times he's utterly gruesome
and yet at other moments he's beautiful—I’m thinking specifically of his
love for the dead birds and how at times he was the one to offer grace to
lost people. Who is Jesse Breedlove and where did the inspiration for such a
character come from?



I see Jesse all the time in the small town I live in--in men driving pickup trucks, coming back from work, from farms, idling at red lights. They're usually wearing flannel shirts with feedcaps, with cigarettes aglow. And some seem to embody a kind of intensity, restlessness. I used to live next to a scrapyard--and I'd just notice some of the workers getting off from their shifts, completely covered in rust and dirt, piling into their trucks. That was me up until a few years ago, when I went back to school and so forth.





Your prose is stunning. "The Mover of Bones" is filled with surprising,
lovely imagery. How long have you been writing? Do you also write poetry?
And how long did you work on this novel to get it to its lyrical and
thematic richness?



I've been writing seriously for about 17 yrs. now. I do write poetry, but I'm finding that the possibilities of the novel can incorporate all the genres--and then some. I worked on Mover for about three years--and it truly was one of the great love affairs of my life, even though it deals with strange, some might even say macabre material. I was in transition myself at that time in my life, driving a lot, and these same peregrinations helped me to understand where the novel was going.



The abandoned father and daughter really captured my heart, and this
line, which sums up their relationship, is about the best line I've read in
fiction all year: "We communicate through touches, like two balloons bumping
into each other in a quiet room where nobody goes." What words of comfort
would you offer that father?



Alas, I don't think I could offer any words of consolation to the father. But these brief, incandescent encounters with other people are part of what makes life not only bearable but worth living. But one can't predict these things--they come as gifts, and vanish almost as quickly. But sometimes that's enough--more than enough.



Crows show up in several of the chapters. I'm curious about their
significance?



I've been interested in crows for a long time now: I wrote an essay about them in my first book called "The Dark Hangnails Of God." To me they're beautiful birds, if a bit foreboding. Perhaps they're even my spirit bird, I don't know. I seem to notice them everywhere. And oddly enough, they confer peace as often as unrest.


What's next for you?


Mover is the first part of a trilogy, all of which I'm relieved to say will be published by the Univ. of Nebraska Press. And here I have to mention my editor Ladette Randolph, whose guidance and friendship I'll never be able to repay. She has impacted my life as much as anyone. If I go on, I'm afraid I'll gush and embarrass myself. But she's really the one who believed in Mover--and believes in Bomb-Maker's Son, Part II of the trilogy (which I have finished but am in the process of revising), and Part III, which is entitled Lamb-Bright Saviors. I'm currently working on Lambs right now. So I feel very fortunate and blessed to have such a wonderful editor--and a publisher that makes such beautiful books.

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