Four Questions on Farsickness is an interview series with creative writers for whom place is essential to their work. Each writer answers the same four questions—and featured this week is novelist and short story writer Renée Thompson.
1. Share a little about where you’re from. When you were growing up, what place—real or imagined—most fascinated you, and why?
I was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1953. My father was in the Army, and before I was ten I had lived in five states and one foreign country. When I was six, Dad was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, and I remember the two years we spent there as magical time, as our house abutted the forest. It seems impossible now, but back then even the smallest kid could disappear for hours before her parents called her in. I remember combing the woods during unencumbered afternoons, investigating leaf-littered paths and hollows in trees, hoping rather desperately to come upon a hidden troll cabin, or maybe the house of a fairy. My dad encouraged this fantasy, and on weekends helped me search the woods. “Look at this,” he’d say, pointing to a tangle of hardwood knots, “I’ll bet an elf lives here.” Or, “Let’s set a trap at the bottom of the hill, see what we catch tonight.” His enthusiasm fueled my imagination, and ultimately, my love of the natural world.
2. What travel has been a particular inspiration to your work?
Lamoille Canyon, near Elko, Nevada (serious cowboy country), inspired a story about a saddlemaker going through a divorce. A trip to McCall, Idaho (serious sheep country), provided the backdrop for much of my first novel, The Bridge at Valentine. The open spaces of Montana and Wyoming infused me with the desire to write a third novel, this time a contemporary story about a man’s determination to find the time to pursue his passion—flying falcons—while juggling the demands of work, family, and friends. I have an affinity for rural, rugged places, and have traveled often to southeastern Oregon, which continues to inspire.
3. Where do you “escape to” to recharge creativity?
Elk, California. The town is small—a couple of hundred year-round residents—and situated perhaps twenty miles south of Mendocino. There’s no cell phone service, no television, and much of the time restaurants aren’t open. Usually I grab a sandwich at the general store and hit the beach, where I write, walk, and take notes. I was there one January during a spectacular storm, and wrote a description of the ocean. That paragraph made its way into a story—”Twelve Pencils”—about a dejected writer in the 1800s, who finds inspiration in a sawmill worker. Also, my husband Steve and I love to camp. We spend at least a couple of days every summer at Grover Hot Springs State Park, near Markleeville, where we hike, watch birds, and soak in the hot springs. It’s the best recharger, ever.
4. Where would you most like to travel to next?
I’d love to see more of Europe. I attended the Sirenland workshop in Positano, Italy, a couple of years ago and loved it, but I yearn to travel to Austria—walk the countryside, eat Sachertorte, learn to make smoked cheese. (And sing in the Alps, of course.) I’d also like to visit The Hague, spend a few days touring the Mauritshuis, which houses Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Fabritius’s The Goldfinch. That would be something too.
Renée Thompson is the author of two novels, The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine, which received high praise from Larry McMurtry, and which was selected as the 2014 Community Book for Woodland Reads. Her short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Western Press Books, Cactus Heart, Crossborder, Narrative Magazine, Literal Latte, Arcadia, Chiron Review, and elsewhere. Her stories have been performed at Stories on Stage/Sacramento, as well as in Davis. She is at work on her third novel. Find her online at reneethompson.com.
[Photo credit for header image: Panorama of Lamoille Canyon from Verdi Peak by Famartin.]