Virginia Arthur - Entertaining but Profound Tree Story
Virginia Arthur was born wild. She took to exploring the wilds of her new Ohio suburban jungle by the time she was ten, launching great birding expeditions in between backhoes and bulldozers. Her bird list grew shorter in direct correlation with the number of homes growing larger such that by the time she was 12, she was a raging environmentalist before the word even existed. This delighted her parents to no end. She continued on this profoundly pointless and frustrating path by earning a B.S. in Field Biology and an M.S. in Botany (Ecology) only to continue the exploring, observing of a country at war with its natural self. She weaves these experiences into her novels but it's not all downerville. She sprinkles some wacky on top. She has published three novels, all “comedic-drama”. Her first novel, Birdbrain, an eco-political fiction novel based on real-life experiences, was published in 2014. Phat('s) Chance for Buddha in Houston (Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation), men's coming-of-age short fiction, was published in 2015. In September 2018, she published her latest, Treed, also eco-political fiction. Fall 2020 gave fruit to a book of eco-fiction short stories (Stem and Leaf Plots. Ten Eco-fiction Short Stories). As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Treed.
Please give us a short introduction to what Treed is about
What isn't Treed about? Ha. A 72-year-old woman somehow, as far as she is concerned, finds herself adrift in her 'new' life. Everything she has ever known, loved, is gone. Her husband and the family dog have died. She sold off the business she and her husband ran, the home they lived in for decades. Most of her friends have moved away or died. She now lives in a townhouse. She's starting to spend her days in bed, watching t.v., reaching for the wine 'before 5'. She's lost her moorings. Aware that she needs to do something, she decides to take a 'sentimental journey' back to Santa Rosa where she and her husband lived in their younger days, marked by a place they would picnic-- under a grand old oak tree. The old friend she goes looking for is the tree. Then all hell breaks loose.
As the story unfolds, you see that an entire ecosystem, an entire world ENfolds around this tree that includes different cultures, clashing generations (Joni and Maybelline), harsh realities, and a dark time in America's history. All this from one tree--because every tree has a story, every tree is an ecosystem that our lives, whether we appreciate it or not, are entwined with. Every tree keeps us alive and asks nothing in return. It is all miraculous. It is all unappreciated, unacknowledged, to our peril.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
I am a professional ecologist/botanist, born as one, so see the world through these eyes. At this point, my intimate knowledge of the natural world feels more like a curse than a blessing. It's as if a person buys a piece of art and has no idea of its value. Let's say it's a Monet. Well, they don't know this and they really don't care. They decide to put another painting in the frame and end up throwing the Monet away. This is what it's like to be an ecologist right now. The planet's natural biodiversity is the Monet and it's being destroyed, the pain being born by those of us who know this. We are the biodiversity 'canaries in the coal mine'. Stop! We want to yell. Please! Stop! But the human primate is the human primate, trapped by its relatively short life span and knowledge of its own death, these hard truths make us as a species inherently and hopelessly selfish. I really don't think we are fully capable of planning for future generations and I wonder if it's in us to even care.
Where I live in California, believe it or not, the state is encouraging people to kill trees for "fire safety" even though our houses ARE trees so I have watched some beautiful old oaks come down. I find it almost incomprehensible that my state is promoting the logging of trees for 'fire safety' when the fires are being caused by climate change and what can save us from climate change is trees, all the while they are still building new and replacement homes--you guessed it--out of trees that will burn down, rinse and repeat...It's this endless loop of institutionalized insanity in large part to favor the timber industry. We need to pay the timber industry to grow and protect the trees (turn them into carbon farmers), stop building homes out of wood, and start focusing on saving lives and homes.
With all this going on, I wanted to raise awareness about how precious this nation's biodiversity is and how remarkable a single tree is. Tellingly, as I was writing Treed, I got tapped by a group of neighbors to help save a grove of old-growth trees from my own county (as I 'explain' at the end of the book). Some of them asked me if this wasn't kind of 'surreal' but no. It was just another day in California! Of course, while I am writing a story about saving a wondrous old tree from a development, I am actually trying to save a grove of wondrous old trees in California from a development! Of course.
Tell us more about Maybelline. What makes her tick?
In the beginning of the story, she's not ticking and she knows this and now she's starting to scare herself. She knows she has to start ticking again or she may spiral. She realizes the way to do this is to simply get up and get out, her motivation being revisiting a very special place with a very special old friend that just happens to be a tree. Little does she know just how much this will forever change her life.
How much of your own personality have you written into Maybelline?
I am nothing like Maybelline whose life has been focused on her husband, their business. She is the guardian of their contentment and they were content for all of their long marriage, in large part because of her. Maybelline has never really been aware of the wider world of politics, activism, which is why the antagonist to her, Joni, comes as such a shock. I am definitely more like Joni personality-wise and can only wish I was as attractive. Ha.
Where does your love of nature come from?
It started more as a demand for justice. We don't talk about the millions of kids that grew up watching the countryside getting destroyed, throughout their entire childhoods. This is why so many of us jammed on Chrissy Hynde's song when she was lead for the Pretenders, My City Was Gone, AND it's about my state, my experience growing up in Ohio. Chrissy grew up in Ohio too so this became our anthem, our comfort, screamed out in rage. "Hey Ho, Way to Go Ohio!". Ohio was a biodiversity paradise we roamed and explored, every footstep of ours over that wild land was a love letter to it and then one day, literally in one day, most of what we could see of it from our new suburban street was destroyed. We were kids. It made no sense to us how all these living things we loved had no rights. I became very angry and asked my parents how it was that all the other plants and animals had no right to live. As if to exemplify my point, lots of wildlife streamed into our street, into our garages, ours becoming a wildlife rehabilitation and rescue center. We had raccoons, foxes, tons of frogs and toads, squirrels, everything that was being killed on the now bulldozed hillsides. And we couldn't let them go there of course. My mom and I would load them up and drive around looking for somewhere wild to release them. This is how I grew up. This is my childhood story and it was traumatizing and it still is, every time I see another wild place die. Now this death is global. My entire life has been spent in one form or another, trying to "save the environment". Now I wonder if it's all been a waste.I have had a lot of major loss in my life but I could always seek refuge in nature and now even that is going. Of course, I struggle with depression. I find myself going back to the Four Fundamental Thoughts of Buddhism quite a bit. There was never any guarantee. Life isn't a contract. It's precious in the moment then it's gone. What is most painful for me is we could have prevented it all but again, I may be wishing for something from the human species it just doesn't have the capacity for. This was pointed out by Carl Sagan. Perhaps we are not evolved enough to even save ourselves.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
This is just the vision and talent of Book Baby, my book distributor service. They have a whole art department and the designer that did my cover is now in charge of it. I just told her the essence of the story and she captured it perfectly.
Why did you title this book "Treed"?
Because the whole book is about getting 'Treed' literally, politically, and spiritually.
What did you have the most fun with when writing Treed?
So obviously, a writer who writes Eco-fiction (includes my other novels and my book of short stories) could head for Downervillle Street pretty easily, make the whole thing the tragedy it is, the planet, what we are doing to it, but as a fiction writer, I do want to have a little fun. I have a blast with this honestly. All my novels get wacky, include some kind of wacky antics. I burst out laughing sometimes coming up with these. Of course, when Oak dons Maybelline's clothes and wig, decides to pose as her for the sake of the cause, we have now entered wacky land and the reader is going to have to try and hold on. I also loved the part where the reporter is 'barging up' the tree and Maybelline-Oak can't let him near (the reporter might see he is disguised as Maybelline) so Maybelline-Oak splashes a bucket of water onto the reporter and as Oak-Maybelline intended, the reporter thinks it's a bucket of pee. It works. The reporter gets grossed out and climbs back down. Oak-Maybelline then exclaims in an 'old lady' voice, supposedly Maybelline's (nothing like Maybelline's voice but the reporter wouldn't know the difference), "well, you can't just barge up here". I admit to cracking up every time I read this and yes, we're allowed to laugh at our own stuff.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Oh my God. I LOVE this question. YES. ALL of them (especially in Phat's Chance; that book wrote itself. I have NO idea where Galen and Uncle Phat came from. I just dictated furiously while they had their adventure). This is what is so damn fun about writing. I never story board to death my ideas because I want my characters to lead me where they want to go and it's fascinating as hell and very fun. In Treed, Joni decides to break it off with Oak. She feels he is patronizing her because she is a woman. I disagreed with her on this. I don't think Oak was doing this and if he was, it was not intended. But she decided it was an issue, a major one in their relationship, so despite how I felt, I let her go with 'her' feelings the result being it became a major point of conflict in the plot-- again, totally unplanned.
The story contains a lot of humor. Why did you take this approach?
I came from a family that cracked jokes, puns, laughed. Humor is in my genetics.
It's also my sanity. As far as writing, it offers the opportunity to take the plot off in any direction I want, the wild horse if you will, of the story. Get on and ride, the wackier the better, as long as it stays within the realm of possibility.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I write mostly in the middle of the night I think because this is only time my brain kind of clears out all the other stuff from the day. Problem is, I can't turn it off so I end up getting up, writing, and falling into bed around 4 a.m. or later. It's not convenient in the least. I want to find time during 'normal' hours to write so I am not so sleep-deprived.
What are you working on right now?
Another Eco-fiction story that grapples with major life loss, one of my main characters is disabled, love of land and landscape, cultural clashes, and of course, my signature wacky sprinkled on top.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I would love this! I love hearing from my readers. I love reviews.
All my books are for sale at 'major retailers', Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, and many more, internationally as well.
My website is https://www.virginiaarthurauthor.com
Thank you so much for this opportunity. My readers honor me by reading my work. Thank you Readers!