Wednesday, April 10, 2019

#31 Inside the Emotion of Fiction's THE EXILE by Gregory Erich Phillips

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****Gregory Phillip’s The Exile is the thirty-first in a never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece.  

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? My novel The Exile came out on April 6. Other than slight variations (we considered “Exiled”) the name really stuck and I think it fits the work. The title can imply people who are on exile in a foreign land, or a person who has herself become an exile. That double meaning is apt for the novel.

Fiction genre?  Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella,  romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, movie script, screenplay, etc.  And how many pages long? The Exile is upmarket, mainstream fiction, with a great love story that will appeal to romance readers. It is also a suspenseful, fast-paced novel that is a real page-turner. It is 309 pages long.
Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? It is published by Koehler Books, April 6. The pre-publication period was very exciting for me, as the early reviews coming in have been very positive.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I amazed myself with how fast I wrote this novel. I remember starting it the weekend after Easter, 2016, and now it has been  just before Easter, 2019! I wrote the first draft in 9 months, while working full time and not taking any significant time off, while also having a lot of things in my personal life that demanded my attention. Once the story of The Exile, and even more so, the character of Leila were in my head, the words simply flowed onto the page.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? I have a committed routine of writing for an hour or two in the mornings before going to work. My mind is clear in the early mornings. That’s when I do my best writing, in my home study. I also look for long weekend getaways where I can be closer to nature and write for longer periods at a time. This picture (Left) is from a place I like to go on Whidbey Island, a short ferry trip from my home in Seattle, WA (Below Right). I actually started The Exile and also finished the first draft on Whidbey Island, WA.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I like a good cup of tea while I write: strong, loose-leaf black tea. I sometimes listen to classical music while I write, but often prefer silence in my early morning writing time. The romantic in me wishes I could write effectively with pen and paper, but I go with the efficiency of the laptop.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? The Exile is the story of Leila, a young Colombian American woman who with her father escaped a violent past in Latin America, but face the threat of deportation from the U.S. The story of The Exile has many fascinating angles which all came together for me that weekend about three years ago—cross-cultural love, the housing crisis of 2008, Colombian militants in the 80s, the Latin American immigrant experience, the effects of racism. It is a suspenseful story that moves between Phoenix, Arizona and Cartagena, Colombia (Above Left). It is a heart-warming love story.  At its core, The Exile is a story about love, family, home, and the courage it takes to protect those things.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? In this excerpt, Leila and her father, Manny, have just finished playing their guitars together on a warm evening in the patio of Manny’s home in Phoenix. Leila has been focused on career success and Manny is encouraging her to remember what’s important in life. (Above Right:  Cartagena, Columbia street art) 

Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. The Exile, Chapter 2, page 8-11
It was late. The moon shone down onto the patio through long palm fronds. A breeze blew in off the desert, cooling the March evening. The sound of two guitars and two voices serenaded the neighborhood to sleep.
Leila smiled at her dad as they finished the song “La Cartera.” It was a popular Colombian song about the gifts of love. They set down their guitars in unison.  It was a good one to end on; she would let the song ring in her mind for the night.
“That’s still my favorite song. You gave me all those things, Papá.”
She breathed in the dry Arizona air, scented by spring flowers and mesquite. This was such a nice evening. She had let it go too long since the last time they played together.
Leila looked over at her dad.
“Why did you take the chance on me, after everything you went through? Why take the risk?”
“Love is always worth the risk.”
Leila wasn’t sure she agreed.
“After my first wife was killed, I didn’t expect to love again,” Manny said. “I didn’t want to. Losing my family hurt too much. It would have been easy to destroy myself in the revolution. Instead, I set my life on a whole new course, and now here I am. For me, life was the risk and death would have been easy. Life has always meant love to me, and so to live, I had to be willing to take a risk on love again.”
He made it sound so noble, but she knew it hadn’t been any easier for him than it would be for her if she faced the same choices.
“I’ve made my life be about so many other things,” she said. “It’s because I don’t want to take the risk. I’m afraid of getting hurt the way you did.”
They had lowered their voices. The palms brushed rhythmically against the roofs of the single-story houses.
“You have become such an American, my dear,” he said. “All work.”
The remark took her by surprise.
“I learned the value of work from you.”
“Yes, I understand. You had much to work for. So have I. A second chance is strong motivation. But work isn’t life. I have worked for you, for Carmen, for a night like this playing music under the stars. But many Americans work for its own sake. Remember the Latin way: work is so you can enjoy your family and friends with more security and to create the little moments that make life beautiful.”
Leila wanted to believe that.
Going it alone wasn’t always so bad though. She had everything she needed and nothing she didn’t want. Her life was ordered just so, and she liked it that way. She didn’t want to think that something was missing.
She looked up through the branches at the stars, abundant above the Valley of the Sun. The moon had passed behind the house but still glowed in the sky.
She turned and looked at her dad in the darkness. “Was love worth the risk for you?”
“Absolutely. My heart still hurts, even after all these years. I won’t pretend that you and Carmen have made up for it. I know you understand, but I can’t talk to Carmen about it. She’s jealous of my old love. But you know.”
Leila nodded.
“I hope you learn sooner than I did,” said Manny. “Too many years of fighting. Too long running away from myself and arguing with God. Too many years talking about love without living it.”
Leila picked her guitar up from where she had set it down against her chair. She hugged it to her chest and closed her eyes. She could still feel the faintest vibration in the wood of the instrument, so recently touched by music. The resonance passed into her. It comforted her but also unsettled her. Music always reminded her that life wasn’t as simple as she tried to make it. She was never in control. The lessons of her life should have taught her that by now, even though it seemed like a lesson she had to learn over and over. She was never in control of music either, even if she knew all the words of a song and where to find every note on the strings. Music had a life all its own. It would be frightening to let life itself take on the unpredictable magic of a song.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? This scene in the novel shows Leila’s unwillingness to risk the safety and security for which she has worked so hard, but also her awareness of the emptiness of her success. It shows Manny’s wisdom after years fraught with mistakes and loss. This early scene drives the emotional foundation for both characters, as from it are revealed Manny’s story leading to this point, and Leila’s story leading on from there.

Other works you have published? Love of Finished Years published last year. This novel won the grand prize in the prestigious Chanticleer Reviews international writing competition.

Anything you would like to add? I hope The Exile is a meaningful story to readers, who I think will really come to love the character of Leila and identify with her journey, as I did in writing her story.

With my novels, I aim to tell aspirational stories through strong, relatable characters that transcend time and place. I have been writing novels since I was 14 and am so happy to have finally turned the corner last year with my first published novel. I work by day as a mortgage consultant. I am also a tango dancer and musician. I have performed tango on stages in Seattle, San Francisco, New York City and elsewhere. I live in Seattle, WA with Rachel, my wife, tango dancer and muse.


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