Welcome to my very first author interview! I’m so excited to have Tim Westover, author of Auraria, visiting today. I loved Auraria (you can read my review here) and I want to spread the word about this quirky and magical novel. Let’s get to know more about the book and the author:
Books, Bones & Buffy: Your novel Auraria is filled with folklore, and almost every character Holtzclaw comes into contact with has a story to tell him. What made you decide to incorporate folk tales into the story?
Tim Westover: Folk tales are origin stories — for the name of a town, the turn of a street, a way of thinking, a local word. They are pure, essential local history in a world that has lost a lot of its sense of location and place. Once, someone could listen to your fiddle playing and tell what county in Georgia you came from. Now, if you’re in a Starbucks or Burger King, it’s hard to know even what state you’re in. Folk tales capture and preserve what once made every hill and river (and person) unique.
Now, that’s the high-brow, idealist answer. The actual answer is that folk tales are awesome. They are applied fantasy — not an imagined elf on an imagined world, but a giant turtle that used to live under that mountain, right there. A bubbling lake of mud that exploded out of the field next door to your dentist. A woman who brought lighting bolts down from her cane and destroyed every bottle in the local saloon — and that saloon is now a falafel place, and when you’re eating your falafel, you can wonder if those scorched bricks in the wall were a part of her righteous fury.
BB&B: The characters are quite quirky. Did you draw inspiration from any real life acquaintances?
TW: Several characters do have real-life models, although I probably shouldn’t get too detailed, for fear of libel and lawsuits! The names are all drawn from historical sources — either landowners who sold their property to dam companies, or members of local historical societies, or lore and legends of the actual town of Auraria and its cousins. The most criticized name, “Dickran Fabricatorian,” was borrowed from a business associate. He’s a real person — I didn’t make it up!
BB&B: Much of the story seems like it’s based on real places and events. What kind of research went into the final draft of Auraria?
TW: I live about two hours from the site of the real Auraria, so I made many trips up there. I toured associated museums, stocked up in the bookstore, ordered old, old books from the University of Georgia library system. I read over two hundred books, from oral histories to 19th advertising brochures for resorts to quack science on the healthful effects of spring water. And as much as I could, I went to see the real places and phenomena that these books cover. Sadly, in most cases, those places are now strip malls or empty fields. Folk songs transmit a lot of folk tales and knowledge — I learned to play clawhammer banjo so I could appreciate the folk songs as a player, not just a listener.
BB&B: The town of Auraria is filled with ghosts. Have you ever seen a ghost?
TW: No, and I don’t believe in them. However, they still terrify me. I refuse to go on ghost tours unless it’s broad daylight. That’s logical, right?
BB&B: I love that you are terrified of something that you don’t believe in! I guess that’s human nature. What are your favorite books and/or authors, and do you see influences of them in Auraria?
TW: My favorite authors, at least for this book, are Nikolai Gogol, Jorge Luis Borges, and Herodotus. Gogol’s “Dead Souls” is about a petty aristocrat visiting quirky landowners and buying their deceased peasants for unclear purposes. From Borges, I wanted to take a mixture of erudition and fantasy. And from Herodotus’ “Histories,” I learned that the history doesn’t have to be factual to be true.
BB&B: How long did it take you to write the book?
TW: Auraria took about two years of research and planning, a year of concentrated writing, and then a year of editing / revising / rewriting. The first draft was almost twice as long as the final one, longer than Moby Dick!
BB&B: I’m very curious about the “invented” language of Esperanto that your book Marvirinstrato is written in. Why did you decide to write a book in this language?
TW: I had stories that could only be written in Esperanto, stories that were dependent on puns, on Esperanto culture, on Esperanto history. One story is based on an odd moment in Esperanto’s creation — the language’s author, Dr. Zamenhof, tormented by difficult grammatical decisions, had a dream about the arrival of three mysterious, foreboding “red girls.” As they emerge from the dark forest in his mind’s night eye, he has a sudden revelation — he’s awaiting “the” three red girls, and the definite article (“the”) must be part of the language! It’s a very enigmatic moment in Esperanto lore, and I wrote a long story to explore it.
Some parts of Auraria got their start in my Esperanto stories — Pharaoh’s Flour, the singing tree, the moon maidens, and the bleating sheepfruit all appeared first in Marvirinstrato.
Writing in another language was an essential part of my development as a writer. I learned about the essence of a story — what is at the core, no matter what language it’s written in — and I learned about the unique flavor of English, its strengths and its weaknesses, by working in Esperanto, which has its own strengths and weaknesses. English has a stronger dictionary than Esperanto. While Esperanto has enough words to say anything that you want to, English has a dozen near-synonyms for every word, each with their own connotations and histories. It’s like a painter choosing from twelve shades of green. Writing in English, one can be more sure of a shared historical background — an allusion to the Civil War doesn’t need to be explained, but in Esperanto, it does, because the majority of readers are from outside the US and only know as much about the US Civil War as we know about the Spanish or the English or the Chinese civil wars.
I love the Esperanto language, and I love the English language. I’m happy that I’ve written books in each — it makes me love the languages even more.
Here’s a photo of Tim and his daughter. Isn’t she adorable??
Thank you so much, Tim, for an excellent interview. I love getting the scoop behind the novel!