An indepth discussion about the author's passion about the development of her story, in her own words. An inside look at the characters of the Communing Tree and the plot.
INTERVIEWER: Is this the first book you've written? AUTHOR: Yes—first book I've written. First book I've published, and the first book I've received an award with.
INTERVIEWER: I noticed that. That was pretty impressive. When did the award take place, and what does it represent?
THERESA: It was from the Women Writing the West organization, and I went down to San Antonio last fall. The award was called the WILLA Literary Award—2019 Best Young Adult Fiction. I was very happy. INTERVIEWER: Pretty impressive. Have you always had a passion for writing? What's the background into this book being written? THERESA: I was born and raised here in Oregon, on the southwest coast. And I've always been a book-a-phobe. I love books, and I love reading, and I love stories. And I've always wanted to write stories. And when I was raising our kids (we have six) I'd tell 'em stories, make up stories and for my grandkids. One day, my husband and I were driving north on I5 from Ashland, Oregon and I saw a sign that said Kalmiopsis Wilderness and an arrow pointing to the west and I thought, I've never heard of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and I've lived here my entire life. So, I got very interested in it, and I started looking it up, and this story started forming in my brain. And, before I knew it, I was writing it down.
INTERVIEWER: The book, does it stake place in 1979 or is that just the beginnings of the background of the book? THERESA: It starts in 1967 is the beginning when the heroin, Judith—her father comes home from the Vietnam War when she's four years old and he's been wounded, seriously, and he has PTSD. So he and his wife get involved with this cult leader, and before they know it, they have moved out into the wilderness to hide away from civilization and wait for what they think is the coming armageddon. They think they'll keep their family safe out in the wilderness. So that's how it comes about.
INTERVIEWER: The Communing Tree — that is a fascinating title as well. Did that title come to you first, or after the storyline created itself.
THERESA: After the story. [The Communing Tree] became a focal point later in the book and I thought it was an intriguing title...the secret of The Communing Tree is that this is the place where Judith goes when she's lonely or afraid or has a problem. She and her little sister sit under the tree and kind of meditate. Their grandmother is buried under that tree, and so they commune with their grandmother beneath the tree. It's not a sentient thing itself, but Judith's grandmother is a Modoc Indian and she has taught Judith many of the ways of the wilderness and how to live with nature. Judith believes that the tree is taking nourishment from her grandmother's body. So, it becomes some part of her.
INTERVIEWER: Did you sit down and begin with a storyline? Many authors just get so inspired, they sit down and the story bubbles up to the surface. How did it happen with this particular novel?'
THERESA: Well, I just started imagining what it would be like to live in the wilderness. The story evolved of a young girl being isolated in the wilderness and how she would survive and how she got there in the first place, and how she gets out of there, in the end. Once I started writing, the characters took over and kind of wrote it by themselves. It was a fascinating process.
INTERVIEWER: Is it story itself, is it character developed? Does it have action? Romance? How would you describe the contents of this story?
THERESA: It has everything (laughs)—it has action, there's a little romance in there too, it talks about survivalism, and it also brings out the effects of PTSD on servicemen and their families. Two of the main characters in the book are Vietnam vets. I've always felt that the Vietnam vets got a really bad deal when they came back, so I have a soft spot in my heart for them. That was my generation.
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