Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dinner with Lisa and a Taste of History - Interview with Rod L. Prendergast

Welcome to BK Walker Books… I’m so happy you could join me today. I hope everyone can hear me above the sound of chuffing engine and the clacking wheels as the train powers its way through forests of dark green pine and budding oak trees toward the plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, where years of unrelenting sun and suffocating dust had baked the once fertile earth dry and hard.

1) Please tell us about yourself…

I’m a happy husband, proud father and the victim of my own sarcastic humor. It still amazes me that someone hasn’t chased after me with a baseball bat because of some smart aleck remark I’ve made. I guess that’s why I write. At least I have someone to edit my obnoxious thoughts.

2) Please tell us a little about your book…

The story is set in Canada during the Great Depression. Joseph Gaston, a widower with four young children, uproots his family and moves west in search of work. He arrives in the small town of Philibuster where he is reunited with his prankster brother, known throughout town as The Great Henri. Thanks to The Great Henri, Joseph has some minor scrapes with the law. So not only must Joseph find work and keep his family from starving but he’s got to avoid the chief of police who is after him as well.

3) What inspired you to pen this particular novel?

Have you ever wished you’d written down the stories told you by your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles? I know I do. For years I listened to my relatives recounting their childhoods, and talk of the unusual characters they’d known; people who did crazy things, and had nicknames like Hateful Dan, The Black Prince and Dumb Dora.

One day I finally began to write down the recollections of my parents and their older siblings, all now in their seventies and eighties. As the cache of tales grew – a great uncle’s experience in WW1, my mother’s memories of the neighborhood corner store, my father’s memories of life on a dairy farm – I saw a connecting thread. Before long, I was researching the time periods in which the stories took place – and was inspired to write Dinner with Lisa.

4) When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I never have considered myself a writer. Not that I haven’t sold a lot of books, but I don’t think I’ll ever define myself as a writer because, and this is getting a little philosophical, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. Yes, I am someone who writes novels, but I want to give myself the freedom to do anything and not be something specific.

5) How do you keep your story flowing?

Once the story is on paper I usually ball it up in my hands and toss it into the river. I let the current do the rest.

6) Do you ever run into writer’s block, and if so, what do you do to get past it?

I’ve never run into writer’s block, but I don’t give myself a chance to either. If I find a certain section of the story is proving troublesome then I know the scene isn’t fully developed in my mind and I simply move on to another part of the story until the necessary idea or sentence or image comes to me and then I’ll return to the part of the story I had difficulty with.

7) What is your writing process like? Do you have any quirks, or must-haves to write?

I must have electricity otherwise my computer doesn’t work. Heat is important too, especially in the winter. Food and water are right up there as well. Oh, yes, and oxygen. Can’t forget oxygen. Other than that, nothing special.

8) Where do you hope your books/writing will be in the future?

On every library shelf and in every home in the world. Is that too much to ask? I guess I better get cracking on the marketing plan!

9) What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

It depends on the book. With my first novel, The Impact of a Single Event, I wanted to inspire people to live the life they think they need to. With Dinner with Lisa, primarily I wanted to entertain and perhaps fill them with hope.

10) What is one piece of advice you received that you carry with you in your writing?

Don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve written if it doesn’t fit the character or help move the story along. Sometimes you can spend an inordinate amount of time on a piece and fall in love with it because it’s evocative or poetic, but doesn’t help tell the story. You’ve got to have the courage to throw it out regardless of the effort you’ve put into it.

11) What is the one piece of advice you would give to new and inspiring writers?

Try to become independently wealthy before you begin to write. It really takes the pressure off. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken my own advice and continue to be a poor starving artist. Good thing I don’t mind eating out of dumpsters.

12) Are you currently working on any new projects? What can we expect from you in the future?

I’ve got two projects on the burner. The first is a children’s bedtime story inspired by my son, who doesn’t sleep (there’s a picture of him on my website at The other is a fictionalized account of one of the most famous people who ever lived. I’d like to tell you more, but I need you to be intrigued. The job of a storyteller, after all, is to keep the reader interested!

13) Where can readers find you?

Usually in my office. Sometimes in the kitchen… making lunch. Other than that try my website at where you can find my twitter and facebook connects as well as my email.

In the disastrous economic times of the 1930s, Joseph Gaston, a young widower with four children, arrives in the small town of Philibuster seeking security for his family. Instead, he faces barriers everywhere. He does his best despite great adversity, but the strain of feeding and protecting his family whittles away his strength. Finally, destitution forces him to consider giving up his children in order to save them. Enraged by his situation, he attempts one last desperate act—on the night he learns about the mysterious Lisa.
Heart wrenching, humorous and historically authentic, Dinner with Lisa incorporates the crucial issues of the depression: poverty, unemployment, drought and racism. In the midst of love and loyalty, trickery and despair, the ultimate message of the novel is one of hope and the courage to survive even the worst odds.

Excerpt # 1

He looked up when Nolan suddenly exclaimed, “Dad!”
“What?” Joseph felt drained as he pulled the overalls from the suitcase.
“The baby isn’t moving!” Nolan sounded alarmed.
Clare had been crying all day; for the first time she was silent. “She’s sleeping,” Joseph said, his attention still on Sarah.
Nolan’s brown eyes were wide with panic. “But, Dad, she’s not breathing!”
The words brought Joseph instantly back to his feet. Bending over the baby, he studied her closely. Nolan was right. Clare showed no sign of life. Quickly Joseph put his face to Clare’s nose and mouth, and waited—prayed—for her to exhale. Nothing. Were her lips blue or was he imagining it? He wasn’t sure. “Christ!” he muttered, as he grabbed the limp infant from Nolan’s arms and shook her gently.
“Did she swallow something?” he barked at his son, startling nearby passengers.
“No,” Nolan said tensely, as he watched his father part the baby’s lips and investigate her mouth with his fingers.
Joseph balled up Cole’s overalls and placed them under Clare’s shoulders, arching her head back and opening her windpipe. In an effort to force air into her lungs, he drew her arms up and over her head. When that didn’t work he flipped her onto her belly, turned her head to the side, placed her hands beneath her chin, and lifted her elbows to expand her lungs. All this took less than a minute.
Joseph had never been so frightened. He had done everything he’d been taught in the army, but Clare still didn’t respond. Oblivious to the silence in the car and the distress of those around him, he began to strike Clare’s back. Again and again he struck, each time a little harder. By now the baby’s small hands and feet were grey.
“Help! Someone please help!” he screamed, looking around pleadingly. “My baby’s not breathing!”
The other passengers were frozen with shock. No one moved.

R. L. (Rod) Prendergast was the entrepreneurial kid you saw on your neighbourhood street selling lemonade on a hot summer's day. Recognizing young Rod's preoccupation with money, his mother bribed him to read with an offer of 25 cents per book—and instilled in him a lifelong love of reading. Although he continued down the path of industry—he started and sold his first business before completing his Bachelor of Commerce—he continued to read voraciously. After a number of years working in sales, marketing and management for several companies he spent a year's sabbatical surfing and reading in New Zealand and, free of business pressures, he began to write. Those first words became the backbone of The Impact of a Single Eventwhich was long listed for the Independent Publishers Book Award for literary fiction, and which became a national bestseller in Canada. Spurred on by the success of his first novel, he took another sabbatical and wrote Dinner with Lisa. He is currently working on his next book.

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