Lisa Moore’s latest novel, Caught is set in 1978 in Newfoundland and tells the story of a determined, flawed, smart, tough-as-nails guy named Slaney who upon release from jail devises a huge pot-smuggling plan that will set him up for life. The subject matter is nothing like we’ve seen before from Moore, but the writing holds fast to her past work. It’s cinematic, striking, and sinewy at the same time narrowing to the finest most delicate detail putting the readers right there in that moment, moving with the characters through the action as only Moore can do.
Why an adventure crime novel this time?
This novel grew out of a lore about seventies drug culture in Newfoundland that I’ve heard all my life, stories about pot smuggling that were tinged with a kind of awe at the sheer audacity and drive of the young men involved. Half-gossip, half-fact, half-folklore, these stories were full of mythic quest, innocence and innocence lost. Bravado. The older I get the more conservative this country seems to become. The seventies –in retrospect – seem like much wilder, unfettered times. I was coming-of-age (to use a worn phrase that still sort of works) in the seventies, and so it will probably always seem like a moment of transformation to me. And now, in the era of children’s play dates, and surveillance cameras in every corner and crevice, from high school hallways to Google Earth, the growth of the prison industry, the economic collapse, down south and in Europe, and the call for austerity measures, a.k.a. job losses and the cutting to tatters of the social safety net, considering all of that, it seems that wildness has be draining out of the world as if somebody pulled a plug.
It seemed to me like the right time to celebrate youthful bravado and at the effort to escape all fetters. The boys in my novel are driven by a radical impulse to just plain go for it.
You have a unique and flawless way of putting the reader right in the moment with the protagonist. One way you do this is through the cinematic description of action. Is this a natural part of your writing or is it something you cultivate in the editing process?
Both. When writing is going well I can see a scene unfold and it is all I can do to catch up with it. The characters are there in front of me, or around me, I can see them, hear them, every gesture is absolutely there. And it’s just a matter of writing it down before they move on to do something else. But keeping the story moving is another matter; that happens in the editing. Knowing where to place a particular scene is key – this story seemed to beg for a mostly chronological order, the characters seems to come into being with the action, at the same time, in fact, action and character were hard to see as separate things. For me the suspense is driven by character. The unveiling of character was what excited me.
Everyone knows someone like Slaney whether he’s from their past, an old boyfriend, a cousin, or someone they’d rather forget. Did Slaney create the story or did the story create Slaney?
Well, this is what I am trying to say when I talk about character and action forming each other. Slaney is after freedom and adventure, he is raw will looking for a way to be true to whatever freedom is. Perhaps freedom is the real quest here. And it makes him.
I think we all have something of Slaney in us, his flaws, the desire to run from something or someone, the need for adventure or risk? Why do you think that exists?
I think we all want to know what it means to be as alive as we can possibly be. How to go about it? What does it mean? How to feel as much as humanly possible? How to have it all? Bjork has a line that sustains me in her song ‘Big Time Sensuality’: It takes courage to enjoy it, the hardcore and the gentle big time sensuality.
Sometimes we feel like we know the people around us just as much as we know ourselves. With Slaney and Hearn in mind, do you think that’s possible?
I feel that Slaney and Hearn always knew each other, inside out. What they had to do was trust. Trusting is such a vulnerable-making and strengthening endeavor. It’s transformative. It calls on us to give up our shields and clothes and fig leaves and every scrap of armor and self-ardor and pride, and to just believe the other person is not going to judge too harshly. This is a novel about freedom and trust, but it’s also about judgment, and lack of good judgment. It’s about toughening up, but also about being so young that there’s no tough skin yet. And how beautiful that is.
As someone who is successful at writing both short fiction and novels, what are some of the major differences in the way you approach these two genres?
Novels have more beams and girders showing, six inch nails, sledge hammers instead of ballpeen hammers. Short stories are origami, or card houses, they come apart and fly back together with a puff of breath. They’re both the same thing, only the story is delicate and airy, the novel is Stonehenge.
You started with short fiction and moved to the novel form with your latest publications. Can we expect any short story collections from you in the future?
I hope so. But they’re so hard to do!
Give the title of one book you’re looking forward to reading this summer.
Maxine by Claire Wilkshire. I will be re-reading. And re-reading it. I love it.