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December's Book
Icy Sparks
by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Bill:
Thank you for coming in and spending just a few minutes with us. We really appreciate that. I want to ask you maybe one question about the novel. There is so much good information on our web site about the novel and about Icy, but when you first thought about writing this and looking into Tourette's syndrome and beginning to think about the characters where did you go for all of this? Is this something that had been stored in your mind long ago? Did it happen rather quickly in your adult life?

Gwyn:
For many years I knew I wanted to write about a little girl who had trouble fitting into community. I wanted to write about a little girl who was different. I also knew that I wanted to give my little girl a disorder that would make her stand out even more. You see, I had been thinking about this for many years. Prior to writing Icy Sparks I had another novel that came close to being published. The literary editor liked it, but the commercial editor didn't. So I went into a major depression and I thought, "Well you'll never write again."

I thought I would never write again and then suddenly I decided, "Well I am going to I am going to do this novel about this little girl" and I got energized. I myself have epilepsy--I don't any more--I have been seizure free for over a decade, but I grew up with epilepsy though no one knew exactly what was wrong with me. And I wanted to write about a little girl with a neurological disorder but I didn't want to write about a little girl with epilepsy. One day I was reading a collection of essays by Oliver Saks called The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

And there in one of the essays was about a gentlemen who has Tourette's syndrome which is a neurological disorder or movement disorder. The interesting thing about that essay was that the gentleman was a social worker during the week and on the weekends he was a jazz drummer in nightclubs in New York City. And he had the worst symptoms of Tourette's syndrome--he twitched, he jerked, and he cursed. But when he played the drums when he was engaged completely in the creative process all the symptoms of his Tourette's syndrome vanished or disappeared. And I thought that was interesting and then that got me to thinking about the healing power of art and that possibly it was through the creative process that we can heal ourselves. And that maybe the writer can heal herself through the creative process. That it is in the finished product that the writer is possibly able to give something back and perhaps heal others.

So I decided that okay I am going to give my little girl Tourette's syndrome and she will grow up in the 1950s in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Tourette's syndrome was diagnosed in the 1880s, but even in the 1950s it was not widely recognized, and certainly not in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. That's why I decided to give my little girl Tourette's syndrome and I also decided to give her a singing voice so that she could heal herself--if the novel decided to go in that direction. I wanted to set the novel in the mountains of eastern Kentucky because then I would be dealing with a double isolation. My strange little girl would have trouble fitting into her community because the townsfolk would see her as different in much as the same way that Appalachians are seen as different by outsiders. In other words, I would be dealing with a double isolation, and I thought that this would be interesting.

Bill:
That's fascinating.

Gwyn:
That's why I did this.

Bill:
I hesitate to ask this but I will. Was or is Icy a little bit of Gwyn Rubio when she was growing up?

Gwyn:
No not really. I think, of course, you know every character has some of the author in that character. I think some of the feelings that Icy goes through I certainly felt as a little girl growing up very differently. I am originally from Cordel, Georgia, which is Jimmy Carter country, right around Plains, Georgia. And I grew up with a writer for a father. In rural South Georgia growing up with a writer for a father is a very different way to grow up. So maybe a little bit of me is in Icy but actually when I wrote Icy I was mostly thinking about my precious cousin, Rachel, who died tragically at 20 in a diabetic coma. She was in the performing arts and she had blond golden hair. She was petite and filled with energy. When I created Icy, I picked up on Rachel's energy, so Icy hs more of Rachel in her than me.

Bill:
Let's jump ahead and talk about the process of writing this first novel. How one goes about it? How you went about it? Authors approach these projects in different ways. And all the way through the publication and the final printing, tell me a little bit about that.

Gwyn:
Let's see I thought about the novel before I ever put pen to paper. I'm thinking a lot about what I'm going to write.

Bill:
Now is this while you're in Berea; while you are teaching; while you went back to get a Masters? How?

Gwyn:
Well at the time I was living in Berea, and I was working at the Writing Center at Lexington Community College. I would think about the novel during my breaks at work, then I would go home and cook supper and think about it some more. I mean the novel was always with me. I would go to sleep and wake up and something about the novel would come to me. I don't outline and I don't do character sketches and I probably should. It is a good way to work but I don't work that way and even if I do an outline I don't follow it anyway. With me, the novel writes itself. It goes where it wants to go.

So I thought about the novel for a long time. When I finally decided to start writing after I attended a big conference of the National Tourette's Syndrome Association in Lexington, Kentucky. I met wonderful people there. Many of whom were parents with children with Tourette's syndrome. And they were informative and supportive and they were kind. The thing that struck me most about them was their ability to turn unpleasant episodes into comic ones. Everyone had a sense of humor. I guess one would have to with Tourette's syndrome. You would have to kind of laugh about things so I thought, "Hmmm, okay I'll add humor to my novel."

I did a lot of medical research, I read textbooks, I went to the conference, I spoke to parents who had children with Tourette's syndrome, I spoke to children who had Tourette's syndrome, I myself have a friend who has a little boy with Tourette's syndrome, and I said, "Well I will do this thing."

I knew everything about my little girl, I knew that she had blond hair the color of goldenrod, I knew that she had yellow ochre eyes. I knew she was an orphan. I knew her grandparents would be raising her. I knew a lot about her. But I didn't know her name. I knew her flaws, I knew her virtues but I couldn't begin the novel because I didn't have a name for her and I had already spent weeks trying to come up with just the right name. I was getting really flustered. Then one day my husband and I were walking in the Berea cemetery and I was complaining and whining about all of this when our eyes fell simultaneously upon a marker and the name on the marker was Icy and we both pointed to it and we said, "That's her name." Then a few markers down was Sparks. My little girl's name was Icy Sparks. The very next day I started on the novel, and it just flowed.

Bill:
That's a wonderful story.

Gwyn:
Well, that that's pretty much how it happened. But then all that time I'm thinking and thinking and thinking.

Bill:
So can you tell me from start to finish how long it took?

Gwyn:
It took two years.

Bill:
In the writing?

Gwyn:
In the writing. Now this is with working two part time jobs.

Bill:
You are not writing every day?

Gwyn:
I'm writing almost every day but I'm mostly writing on weekends when I have time off. I'm getting really tired but I'm writing.

Bill:
Are you writing in long hand or on a typewriter or computer?

Gwyn:
The first

Bill:
Word processor

Gwyn:
My first rush of inspiration--that's done on the computer. I'll write a chapter or two chapters before I go back and look at it because I don't like to wear two hats--the creative and th critical--at the same time. Because I don't want to start taking out the scalpel and cutting until I get through that first rush. Wearing two hats at once can bind you and tie you up into knots.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Gwyn:
After I finish one or two chapters, I go back and revise in long hand because I want to slow down. I want to read it out loud so tht I can hear where the music of the writing is off. And so the revision is done in long hand. Then I go back, enter the changes on the computer, and do this over and over and over again through countless revisions.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Gwyn:
Until I'm satisfied with it.

Bill:
So two years from sort of start to finish. Did you have to go out and look for an agent? And then the agent does what? Tell me about that part.

Gwyn:
Okay. I had an agent already. It's almost as hard to get an agent these days as it is to get published. You can't get an agent until you're published and you can't get published unless a manuscript is submitted through an agent so it's a Catch-22 situation. My agent read the novel and made a few suggestions. I made some revisions with her and then...

Bill:
Is that difficult? When the agent suggests things?

Gwyn:
Well all agents do. That's part of their job. Yes, it can be difficult because at the time you sent it to an agent you are sick of it and you just want them to go on and submit it to houses. And my agent is never ready at that time to submit. She has always got some suggestions, you know--because nothing is ever really perfect or really finished. I mean, you could work on something endlessly and forever and it would never be there.

Bill:
Hmmm

Gwyn:
So she always has suggestions. But yes I only will did one rewrite for her and then she submitted the manuscript to Viking. There is a lot of talent out there--a lot of people with lots of talent are writing and I think a writer needs just a little bit of luck. The positive thing for me at Viking is my manuscript went to the assistant editor first before it went to the editor and he was from Kentucky.

Bill:
Oh.

Gwyn:
And that was my little bit of luck.

Bill:
Hmmm

Gwyn:
He's no longer with Viking, I don't know where he is. In fact I know he left but I don't even know his name. But I feel so grateful to him because he read the manuscript and he told my editor, "You've got to read this. You have got to read it right away. This is where I grew up and this has really got a sense of place in it and I really want you to read this book." He was very positive so I'm...

Bill:
You were lucky in that way.

Gwyn:
I was lucky. Because had he not been from Kentucky I don't know. He might he might not have taken to it; somebody else might not have taken to it.

Bill:
What was it like to know that you were being reviewed in the New York Times.

Gwyn:
Oh actually I didn't even know that. That's another thing I found out that they don't really tell you much.

Bill:
Publishers?

Gwyn:
Yes. You suddenly get reviewed in the Times. I was hoping that I'd be reviewed in the Times, but didn't know how it worked. These days it's not whether you get a good review or a bad review. A writer just wants to be in the NY Times, and hopefully get more than a few sentences in "Books in Brief"--maybe a column or two. But I just thought, "It's a regional book. They probably won't even review it." I'm not the most optimistic person sometimes.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Gwyn:
So it just arrived...with a note.

Bill:
And?

Gwyn:
Well my editor did call me and say you've made the Times and it's worked out pretty good.

Bill:
You must have been floored.

Gwyn:
Yes I think I was, and nervous and...

Bill:
And what was the there is a little bullet beside it its a I don't know the correct books to look out for or...?

Gwyn:
It was a "Notable Book."

Bill:
"Notable Book."

Gwyn:
...of the year for 1998.

Bill:
Notable book, yeah.

Gwyn:
Among many. So but still that was very positive. It was also an editor's choice for a week.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Gwyn:
That appeared in the "Bear in Mind" section. So I was fairly floored because I didn't know how New York would take to a book about Kentucky.

Bill:
Sure.

Gwyn:
You know, it is a different, different world.

Bill:
Well tell me a little bit about what you are working on now and what the process was of going from completing this wonderful little girl that you knew so well to something else. And if you can, tell us what that something else is.

Gwyn:
Okay. Well, this new book is now sitting on my editor's desk. I'm waiting for her to read it and hear the verdict. It's about older people. The setting is central Kentucky. It deals with memory and those who are suffering from memory loss. It's about a young woman who works at a day center for people who are suffering from memory loss and she can't really enjoy her life because she has so many memories and so many worries that she can't live in the present. And she realizes from working with these older people at this day center that often they enjoy their lives--even with the memory loss--more than she can enjoy hers.

Bill:
Hmmm.

Gwyn:
So she starts to see there is an essence of perhaps we are more than the sum of memory and she starts to appreciate going in to the day center and being with and working with these people, so the novel is about memory.

Bill:
And this is something that you have done and are currently doing...

Gwyn:
Oh yeah

Bill:
with Helping Hands here in Lexington.

Gwyn:
I had a very positive experience working with the elderly in a local program that does a terrific job.

Bill:
And even though the novel is complete you are still involved in the program?

Gwyn:
Yes, volunteering. I like it so much there. It's an absolutely wonderful program. One grows a lot from working there. Of course, this novel is a work of fiction.

Bill:
Well thank you so much for talking to us on the bookclub@ket.

Gwyn:
Well thank you for having me. I've certainly felt honored being here and talking to you. Thank you very much.

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