South of Bixby Bridge by Ryan WinfieldI have to say that I became a bit addicted to this roller-coaster ride of addiction and temptation because it's not the predictable narrative of an addict who hits rock bottom. Five Stars ★★★★★ --Tari Gaffney for Ask Miss A
From the Author
A Q&A with Ryan Winfield, Author of South of Bixby Bridge Q: South of Bixby Bridge is your first novel. Have you always wanted to be a writer, and how did you get your start?
A: I always dreamed of being a writer, yes. As far back as I can remember I have been interested in people--more precisely, interested in what it would be like to be other people. To see what they see, feel what they feel. Writing allows me to explore that.
Q: You explore some interesting characters in the book, but it's hard not to see similarities between you and your protagonist, Trevor. I'm sure you've heard the saying "Write what you know." Is Trevor like you in any way?
A: There's a Hemingway quote that I love and it goes something like: "All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had actually happened." I believe that for fiction to be compelling, the characters must have flaws. They must have wounds that need healing, lessons that need learning. I certainly have many flaws and I put some of them into Trevor. In that way, the writing was very cathartic, but also very scary.
Q: That leads me to my next question. At the heart of the book is a story about getting sober. How much of that struggle does Trevor share with you?
A: And here I thought I was going to wiggle off the hook by quoting Papa. I guess I did do a lot of research without knowing I was doing research. My background and family of origin are very different from Trevor's, but we do share common struggles. I got sober when I was 29, just like Trevor. When I sat down to write about it, one of the things gnawing at me was this idea of hitting bottom. What if you discover this disease working in you, this thing that wants to destroy you, and what if that discovery is just the beginning? What if you think you've hit rock bottom but then a trap door opens and you plunge into even lower levels of living hell? What if treatment isn't the magic elixir but merely a warning sign you pass on your way down? And so it was for me, and so it is for Trevor.
Q: People have mentioned that you're really telling two stories here. The linier story as Trevor moves through time struggling with two antagonists, his sadistic new mentor Paul and the booze, but also the story of Trevor's childhood as he uncovers secrets too painful to admit. Is that what you intended?
A: Yes. But not by design. The linier story you mention evolved first, but as I wrote deeper, I hit resistance in me, an unwillingness to dig up some long buried bones. I knew then that I needed to go there, that I needed to find some courage, tear open old tombs, and let the light in. I discovered that early wounds, some as early as birth in the case of neglected babies, can scar over without completely healing. And so Trevor had similar wounds festering in him. The idea that these wounds could continue to work in us for a lifetime, motivating our behavior, fascinated me.
Q: Trevor has helpers in this book, including one who helps him afford treatment. Are any of those based on real people in your life?
A: Of course. There have always been helpers in my life. Usually women because they have a patience that goes beyond the masculine. Something from somewhere older. Writing Barbara, the girlfriend's mother, was very emotional for me. I think her character gave Trevor the courage he needed to finally mourn the loss of his mom.
Q: Let's lighten things up a bit and talk about your writing style.
A: Sure. I knew early on that I would write this novel from Trevor's perspective. There really was no other way to tell the story. To understand an addict, you have to be in his or her mind. As I found Trevor's voice, it became clear that he would not always be a reliable narrator--that his denial would work its way into his narration. As he moves through the stages of new sobriety, relapse, denial, self destruction, and ultimately surrender, the style and rhythm of the prose became an instrument to convey his state of mind.
Q: Why break the story into two parts?
A: Because there are two Trevor's--the sober Trevor and the using Trevor. This story is definitely not for the faint of heart. I mean, our protagonist makes some terrible decisions, as addicts do, and he makes them without excuse because of his denial. That can make the reading tough for people unfamiliar with addiction. But it can also help them understand addiction if they're able to suspend judgment and let the characters be human.
Q: You do deal with some rough content but it certainly pays off in the end as Trevor figures out what's really driving him. Switching gears now, I have to ask why you don't use quotation marks?
I do use them, if I'm quoting something, like Hemingway above. I just don't use them for dialogue, at least not in this novel. Fiction writing is storytelling, and, for me, punctuation has no value outside of helping tell the story. A comma means pause, a period means stop. An em dash means take a breath but keep going--this train jumped the tracks but it's still moving. A colon connects things or sets off a list. I'll admit I have no idea what semicolons do. When I first read Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy, my mind opened up. I heard everything every character said and my eyes weren't aching from chasing quote marks all over the pages. When I wrote SoBB, the narrative was coming straight from Trevor's mind to the page and it looked silly to have quotation marks there. I also think my screenwriting background prepared me for faster dialogue where it's clear who is saying what. But in the end, it's art. Writers write what works for them, readers read what works for them.
Q: Well, it's clear what you write works for many readers because South of Bixby Bridge has already had great success. Why do you think your first novel has been received so well?
A: I think when a story is specific enough to the writer, when there is heart and soul in its characters, readers will respond emotionally as many have to SoBB. Almost every day I get messages from readers who are touched by Trevor's story, and I take time to respond to every one. Reading those messages, along with positive reviews, make every minute writing worthwhile.
Q: One last question then. What's next?
A: Lots of people ask for a sequel to South of Bixby Bridge, but I know I'd have to drag Trevor through the mud again and I'm not sure I can do it. Of course, there's always the chance that he turns up on my doorstep some stormy night with a new story to tell. Right now, I'm working on a new novel and outlining a third. I'd like to tell you more, but I'll just say that they're both very different from SoBB, and I think my readers will be pleasantly surprised.