I received an email from Lance Umenhofer requesting I take a look at his novella, And The Soft Wind Blows. Initially, I put it aside as I already had a towering stack of books to get through. However, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that had been telling me to read Lance’s book as soon as I could. I’m glad I listened to it. When I finished that last page, I had a few questions for the author. Luckily, Lance had some free time to field a few of those questions.
If you could, give us a little about background and how you came to pursue writing.
Well, I started writing song lyrics before I ever moved to poetry, let alone fiction. I, like many young teenagers of this generation, dreamed of being a rockstar most of the way through high school, but something happened along the way. I found that I started to enjoy writing the lyrics to songs much more than writing the music to them, and then one day I had the epiphany that I could just write poetry instead, since song lyrics were poetry already anyway. I was just a measly poet for quite some time, until college, when I decided to write a series of interconnected short stories that soon turned into a full-length novel. And now, I consider myself mostly a fiction writer that still dabbles in poetry every chance he gets.
Tell us about And The Soft Wind Blows.
This is a story about a man whose main conflict is with his reality. What makes up his daily life are things which he only wants to change. Nothing is as he wants it to be, nothing fulfills him, nothing is right. And, through the story, we see him through his downfall and get to experience his strong urge and action to change his reality into something he can live with. But of course, Timmy always doesn’t see the full picture of what’s actually going on around him, so the reality that he wishes to so dearly change is not the complete picture.
You have noted that And The Soft Wind Blows is written in a style dubbed, “poetic fiction”. Do you approach a story differently in this style? What is your writing process?
It’s funny because I didn’t plan on writing in the style of poetic fiction when I started to write And the Soft Wind Blows. It was somewhere mid-first draft, when I was reading it aloud, that I noticed I had been subconsciously using all of these poetic elements in my prose. It’s almost as if it’s a natural process for me, and I think it’s because, as I said before, I was a poet long before a fiction writer. It’s as if I don’t know how to write without including poetic elements. There’s something about it that I cannot let go of, the beauty in it maybe.
As far as my writing process with poetic fiction, it’s nothing too tedious. I don’t spend thousands of hours trying to find the right words in order to create this style; it’s just what comes out. Natural. As if the poetic side of me will not go away, even in fiction writing.
A few years back I watched the film Blue Valentine. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about an emotionally damaged married couple who lost what originally worked in their relationship. The movie itself hit me hard and your novel struck in a similar way. Why do you think people stay together even if they’re no longer compatible?
I think people find a state of comfort, regularity, with the people whom they choose to spend their lives with. It’s almost as if they’re afraid to move on and start something new because it’s so much easier to stay together and live with their damaged relationships. For Timmy, it’s as if he still holds on dearly to the idea that he and Mandy are still in love, that things will work out in the end, and is blinded by all the signs that it will not. Love is a strong emotion that can cause someone to live in a reality that is not true, no matter how much he or she wishes it to be so.
Tim is surrounded by people who not only irritate him but force him to suppress his true personality. The only exception at times seemed to be Alex. Do you think it’s important to let people, if only a few, see us for who we really are?
I’m glad you brought that up. To answer your question, yes; the best relationships and friendships I’ve had came about because I was honest about myself and did not put on a façade in order to be liked. For Timmy, to be liked and accepted is his top priority. He changes the way he talks and acts around different people, all for even just the smallest amount of positive acknowledgment, though he is never truly himself. And I don’t think Timmy truly knows himself, and the parts that he understands, he wants to change. So, as you say “true personality,” for Timmy, there isn’t one, he has not defined himself yet, and in order for people to truly like him, they need to know him, yet he does not know himself.
What do you think it is that attracts authors to writing about such damaged characters?
I think the purpose of literature is to be an honest representation of our human condition. At some level, we are all damaged. If people were writing about Disney princesses all the time, there would be no truth to it; it would not be human.
In my opinion, writing about such damaged characters, characters with flaws, whom you’re not sure if you like or dislike, feel sorry or happy for, want to cheer or jeer for, is what makes for better writing. It’s easy to root for Superman to save the day, but when a character shows his true colors, and when you get to experience the worst of his worst, then you, as the reader, must make a decision: to like or dislike him, and to me, it ends up being more compelling and involving the reader much more into the story.
And The Soft Wind Blows is truly a heartbreaking story. Did you dwell on any past experiences while writing the novella?
Yes, the past is a constant influence on my writing. I’ve had experience with the darker sides of relationships before, depression, mania, and the incumbent disasters that occur with all three. Writing Timmy through this story was a lot of reliving for me, though fictionalized, of course.
I couldn’t really think of an author in which to associate with your style. Who are some of your influences?
Well, that’s a compliment. I’ve been told I write like Barry Hannah, and I would be lying if I said he wasn’t a major influence. Along with him, there is Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Carson McCullers, to name only a few.
There’s a small part in the book involving a gentleman that Tim is assisting in which the customer broadcasts his displeasure with President Obama as well as Canadians. Being a Canuck myself, have you encountered anyone voicing a less than positive opinion on my fellow countrymen?
Ha! Yes, sadly, I have. It comes with living in the South and encountering people with an overt sense of nationality. It’s not very common, of course, but the point of that dialogue is to show how ignorant Mr. Jenners (the customer) is, and to show how even still Timmy wishes for acceptance from that kind of person. Also, it is for humor.
What have you been reading lately?
Well, I’ve been slowly trolling through a book of Carl Sandburg poems and rereading the classic, The Great Gatsby, which, incidentally, was one of the three books that incited my love for literature, the other two being The Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22.
What’s next for Lance Umenhofer?
I have already completed another manuscript entitled Party, which is a creative nonfiction piece chronicling the lives of my friends and I in one night and the following day here in Nashville. Of course, we attend a large house party, and after an interesting eve with all the colorful characters of the Nashville young adult scene, a round of bad drugs enters the party, and through bits and snippets of the narrator’s memory, he must recollect what happened in order to find out if his
good friends and new love made it out O.K.
I’m not sure when it will be released, probably some time in the next year. But, if you really like my writing, you can always check out my creative writing blog at: thehorrornamedgruffalo.blogspot.com