|Too Beautiful To Die|
|Myth and Memory|
A Conversation with Glenville Lovell
Q: Too Beautiful To Die is your third novel. Describe this book.
A: It is a very sexy noir about love and family and the determination of one man to provide justice for the weak.
Q: Tell us a little about the story.
A: In a nutshell Too Beautiful To Die introduces a new hero to the mystery noir genre in Blades Overstreet. He’s a biracial ex-cop, though he doesn’t like to be called that, who wants nothing more than to reunite with his estranged wife who has moved to LA to become an actress. Blades is at odds with the NYPD over the incident that prompted his resignation: during a buy-and-bust operation a white undercover fellow officer "accidentally" shot him. Three years later the man who saved Blades' life prevails on him to help a beautiful soap opera star named Precious find her father. Blades reluctantly agrees, but what he finds is the murdered body of an FBI agent, lies, secrets, in the process stirring up the animosity of New York’s mayor. Pursued by cops and feds alike, and with time running out his chance to win his wife back, Blades must find the killer, and unravel the mystery of Precious’ relationship to a powerful politician before he himself takes the rap.
Q: Tell us a little more about Blades Overstreet.
A: Blades is very interesting character. A very intense man. A man in deep conflict and trying hard to maneuver the minefields of a dysfunctional family. His father is an ex-Black Panther who has been on the run from some enemies from his Black Panther days
and Blades is angry with his father for what he thinks is his desertion of the family. Blades has two older siblings, both white; his brother is a drug addict and his relationship with his sister could only be described as barely functional. She blames Blades’ father for the break up of her mother’s first marriage and this hatred of Blades’ father has carried over to her relationship with Blades.
Q: This novel is a departure from your first two literary novels. What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
A: Writing this book was really a lot of fun. And I think it’s a fun and entertaining book to read. But it’s really not that much of a departure. My characters are often troubled people with deep flaws, staged on the periphery of society. They are always questioning themselves, questioning the morality of hate, of excess, of hopelessness in the world. Creating real and believable characters is still the focus of my work and I approached this book like every other book I’ve written, and that is with the vision that somehow these characters will reveal themselves to me, thereby allowing me to share their story with readers. I look at my work, or my vocation, because writing to me is so much fun it’s hard to think of it as work, as stemming more from a will to discover than a desire to create.
Q: The Washington Post reviewer of your second book, Song of Night, said, “Song of Night is similar in its sophisticated execution to works by Morrison and Nabakov.” How do you respond to that?
A: I don’t know if I should I respond to that. It is what is it: part of a review.
Q: Well, that reviewer was a woman and she also said that it’s rare that a male author can write a female character well enough to convince female readers, and you managed to convince her. The women in Too Beautiful To Die are all very strong, beautiful, determined women. Why do you think you write women characters so well?
A: I don’t treat female characters any differently to any of my other characters. As I said before I believe writing is an act of discovery. I set out on a journey or a quest, which will end in a novel that tells a convincing story about people and their experiences. I don’t know these people when I begin the book, and I can’t tell you that I know them fully at the end of the book, but I can tell you that I’ve discovered something about them along the way. And if I’m lucky, about myself too. I feel that I am guided along this journey by an unseen hand. I feel blessed to be chosen to take this journey, which requires a lot of concentration, much discipline, and a great amount of curiosity because you never know where the journey is going to lead and you must be prepared to treat everything you see as an important event. Someone asked Duke Ellington, where he got the inspiration for his songs and he said that the dream is the truth. That’s how I feel. For me a lot of scenes unfold as dream sequences which I just record for the reader and for myself as well. And in the end we all share in the experience.
Q: Let’s get back to Blades Overstreet a bit. His mother is white and his father is black. And he’s got two white siblings. His relationship with his sister is tortured at best. She seems to hate him, and Blades seems to be in denial about this. Is this family a mythical representation of race in America?
A: I’m trying to write about family and the difficult, complex and sometimes traumatic relationships that develop between people who don’t understand each other. Though his sister feels differently, Blades’ brother loves him, dotes on him actually. The dynamic in Blades’ family might seem to mirror the relational dynamic is American society between white and black people. Blades and his sister are locked together by blood, a situation they can’t escape. Just as American can’t escape the historic reality of slavery and its effects. Blades can’t change that his sister is white. She can’t change that he is black. They must work through their mistrust and find a way to understand and ultimately love each other.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: Not really. I do believe that everything I’ve done in my life has been a preparation for what I’m doing now, however. From the intense interest in the storytelling of my mother and grandmother to the many hours I would spend in the woods just sitting and listening to the birds or watching animals go about their business. From my days daydreaming while I was in my teens to the years I spent traveling as a dancer.
Q: How did dancing prepare you for writing?
A: Confidence. It bestowed confidence in me. Once I realized that I could move in ways that other people found stimulating I developed a self-confidence that allowed me to believe I could do anything. But most of all I developed discipline. If he or she is born with the gift of dreams, discipline is the greatest skill a writer can cultivate. If desire and talent are the fuel, then discipline is the engine of success as a writer, I believe. I also think the years of training as a dancer also opened me up emotionally. For instance, sometimes I might have a problem grasping the intentions of character I’m working. To try to get a sense of that character’s physicality I would get up from my desk and put the appropriate music on and just dance. Then I would sit down again and things would be so clear for that character.
Myth and Memory—Searching for my Voice
I grew up in a tiny village on the island of Barbados surrounded by sugar cane, shadows and word-magicians. It was a village where the music of beating fireflies’ wings mingled with the voices of storytellers under the flamboyant tree at night. These stories, told by men, to a gathering of mostly males, young and old, were used to entertain, and to teach us how to be better men.
But women told stories too. In my house, as in many other houses in the village after the men had left, women gathered in semi-darkened kitchens illuminated by a slow-burning kerosene lamp, with geckos warming themselves on the wall. I would huddle in the corner, away from their gaze. There I would listen to these women reshape their lives, bond with each other and with the storyteller of their childhood—the grand- mother or aunt who gave them their first story. The stories told by these women were of their daily struggle to survive; of working in the fields; of the many ways they confuted, deconstructed and turned back attempts by the plantation to belittle and dehumanize them. From these women I learned about survival, about the strength of the human spirit. And I learned to laugh.
The stories I heard were often magical, full of mystery; stories of the supernatural, sightings of spirits (duppies), dreams told and interpreted; stories of being inducted into secret societies; stories of sexual initiation and forbidden love. These women educated each other and me to the complex nature of the physical world and the world beyond, but they did so with a humor that was compelling. The telling was just as important as the tale itself.
By the time I started high school I had also come to love the taste of words on the page. But the stories (books) I read bore little resemblance, on the surface, to the stories I purloined from the shadows of my mother’s kitchen. I became painfully aware of the duality of my world. There were questions that begged to be answered: The stories by Dickens and Austen and Scott were being fed to me as part of my heritage in this tropical version of a British education, but when did these two worlds—the world of my mother’s spirits and the world of Dickens’ ghost—collide? And where was the debris from that collision?
These questions gave rise to more questions: Were there stories being hidden from me, and my generation? What was whispered in the kitchen when I was ordered to go bed and stop “pickin words from big people mouth”?
I took what stories I could, stored them in my soul, determined one day to search for those stories left behind by storytellers of my youth. Looking back, I realize their stories were primarily for the purpose of healing. The process of healing continues as I seek to make sense of the yearning of my youth, a yearning picked up in my mother’s kitchen, a yearning to blend the taste of words with texture and context, a yearning to bridge the two worlds of my heritage. Stay tuned.