Scott Driscoll is an instructor at the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education programs where he has taught creative writing for 20 years. He has also taught fiction and creative nonfiction in the Writers in the Schools and Path With Art programs and online through the Seattle-based Writer's Workshop, as well as at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House literary center. Scott was awarded the “UW Educational Outreach Excellence in Teaching Award” for 2006.
Driscoll has been awarded eight Society of Professional Journalists awards, most recently for social issues reporting. His narrative essay about his daughter's coming of age was cited in the Best American Essays, 1998. While enrolled in the UW MFA program, he won the Milliman Award for Fiction. “Writing for me is about applying form to the mysteries we suffer.”
Learn more at www.scott-driscoll.com
Title: Better You Go Home
Author: Scott Driscoll
Page count: 222
Genre: general fiction
Tell us about your book:
It’s based in part on family history, and in part on my curiosity about what life must have been like behind the Iron Curtain. The first time I traveled to Prague (as a young man in the 70s) it was very gray and brown but the pressure to avoid the secret police and stay out of harm’s way gave a vividness to life, a sense of urgency to everything that I had never experienced at home. When later digging into family stories, I discovered that I was more connected than I had known, I knew I had found my material.
How long did it take to write the book?
Not counting the time to travel to the Czech Republic, nor the time doing family research, about ten years. Of course, I was writing a lot of other things, too.
What inspired you to write the book?
A family funeral in Iowa. When my aunt died, a cousin said: too bad she’s gone. Now there is no one left who speaks enough Czech to translate the letters. What letters? Those letters, and the family they led me to, raised questions: why did this side of the family stop talking to the other side? Why would a father and son have nothing to do with each other? Why did part of the family leave Czechoslovakia suddenly while leaving part of the family behind? Once I found the village and then the farmhouse my relatives were from, then met a relative who had stories to tell, I was hooked.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
Research, yes. Much. I took copious notes in Steno pads while traveling in the Czech Republic. I read Czech novels, Czech history books, essays by Havel et al. I over did it. I wanted to be the expert. Eventually I had to give up on my research and just tell the story and let the characters come to life. As to process, first I sketched character profiles then came up with the rudiments of a story spine and then I began to write chapters. But the early material all was thrown away. I started over. New time-line. Different characters, different issues. Now I began in earnest to write chapters. But I stopped several times and re-thought the story line, that is, the quest my protagonist was on, and rewrote everything based on these new understandings. Finally I had to allow an editor friend to get involved and help out because I just couldn’t see the story anymore. Once I knew which chapters I was going to keep and use, then I wrote diligently, putting everything else aside (unless I had magazine deadlines or stacks of student stories, to which I devote lots of time), maybe four hours each day M-F if I could get away with it. I do my creative writing in the morning or maybe up to 1 PM. I do class prep, research, email maybe phone calls in the afternoon.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
I want them to enjoy it, first. Then I hope they will care about the characters and their outcomes. Then I hope the settings and atmospheres will seem like a real world they can move around in. Then I hope they will see questions being raised. What does it mean to be complicit? How is it possible that I/we could live in such comfortable ignorance when such terrible things were being done in these totalitarian states, maybe even to members of our own families? How could dignity be a burden, an impediment to freedom? Is it possible that liberation can be a double-edged sword? And so on.
Excerpt from book:
Milada’s flat is on the eighth floor of a twelve-story high rise in a gray sidlisté of concrete block buildings. The street curb is dammed by defunct Skodas, the no-frills tin-can cars manufactured locally. The security mesh screening the outer door is rusted and dented. This is the depressing Khrushchev-era flat Milada is forced to continue calling home so that her husband could afford that Russian mafia loan. Okay, it’s not lost on me that I’m taking risks, possibly for no better reason than to salvage my own father’s dignity. Or my own. Still, Jiři goes too far. How is his pride any different than that of his father’s?
She pushes the buzzer on the intercom panel to alert Jiři to our arrival. Jiři’s family name is listed on the panel. Her name is Kotyza. Her grandfather was related to my grandmother. Most lights behind the buttons on the panel are burnt out. I avoid looking at hers. I don’t want to see if they’ve troubled themselves to replace the bulb behind their buttons anymore than I want to think of Milada stuck here for the forseeable future.
We bounce in the elevator up to the eighth floor and walk down a corridor with cracked and missing tiles. A decorative strip of plaster above the tile, painted the color of mustard, has browned with grime. And the smells. Sour cabbage, urine, acrid tobacco. Nose wrinkling neglect has turned this passageway into a tableau of the torture I imagine it must have been to raise her family here. No wonder she obsessed over the Skagit, the baldies, the turbulent water. The stinking salmon carcasses on the flood banks must have been ambrosia to her eastern bloc nose.
Prague is earning a reputation as the world’s black market capital for illegal organs. I know this, but I did not anticipate Dr. Saudek’s insinuation—as he shoved me away from the shores of Prague this afternoon—that this was the reason I’ve come paddling into his little harbor.
Milada insisted that we phone Blue Cross tonight and request an extension. Jiři’s black-light troupe—he’s their business manager—is performing at a local theater after dinner. She wants us to attend his show. She admits she is proud of her husband’s participation in the revolution. She will always love him for this.
In the entryway to her flat we exchange shoes for slippers. Blinds cover the windows, an old precaution to prevent paranoid neighbors from spying, a habit she admits she finds hard to break. Curious—can’t help it—I lift a blind. In a littered lot between buildings is a rusty, partly collapsed play gym. All the reason I’d need to keep the blinds closed. Her dark furniture includes a massive armoire for coats and shoes and a credenza filled with the obligatory leaded crystal. Nothing in the details says Milada. Where does she keep her details? Following her to the kitchen, I ponder the degree to which the details we surround ourselves with ought to reflect our desires. To what extent does a paucity of details reflect self denial? My father kept his details in the basement. That amber bowl he flicked his cigar ashes into. The starched white undershirts, the ironed Union work pants. The bar of Ivory soap at the sink he brushed his teeth with, in the early days, when he still thought and acted like an emigrant. That stack of quarters, weekly replenished, that I was forbidden to touch. I liked to think they were savings kept from Mom in order to send money overseas to Anezka. What do those details say about him? That he was caught between worlds, a man whose heart desired a world that was in his past, that he longed for pointlessly? But he was kind. Those quarters, I’m convinced, were more than just beer and cigar money.
In the kitchen, her husband winces at my broad-voweled American accent when I politely return his “dobrý den.” Jiři is a short man with an athletic build through the chest and thighs. With his pale eyes, sandy brows, sandy hair cropped conservatively short, he looks more handsomely like the Olympic skater he once was than a revolutionary. You’d expect to see his face on a Wheaties box, not on a prison mugshot. Their fifteen year old son, Martin, takes my jacket. His hair is jelled into neon pink and green Mohawk spikes. Milada tells me he is crazy about Seattle grunge. I gave him a Nirvana disc and a Walkman to play it in—he’s on his own for the batteries. Do I want coffee? he asks. I explain that I’d love it but it’s a problem of fluid retention; I have to measure intake. Then I decide why not, I’m going right back home anyway. Why not enjoy the little time I do have here?
Where can we go to buy your book?
Bookstores/Libraries: Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Partners West, Midwest Library Service, Follett Library Resources; eBooks: Overdrive, Kobo and other major retailers; for more information or to order direct, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For review copies or to schedule an interview with the author, contact: Catherine Treadgold, email@example.com, 206-414-7673.
Any other links or info you'd like to share?
You can find out more about Scott Driscoll, his books and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/kpdm5fk