Cuttle follows Nora, who struggles with her own overwhelming thoughts day in and day out while navigating romantic relationships. What was the inspiration for the setup to this heartfelt novel?
With a few amazing exceptions, I think people like Nora on the autism spectrum are a little underrepresented, and sometimes misrepresented, in novels that focus on relationships. Even many well-meaning writers present non-neurotypical traits as something to be overcome, and it’s difficult to read these as fully realized characters. At best, they’re tolerated, and at worst, they’re confused with narcissists or people who are incapable of empathy.
So I’ve never really felt like these stories were for me, and this seems wrong, because people on the spectrum certainly have all these experiences—our lives are full, too, of decisions about things like work and friendships and romantic relationships. My intention with Cuttle was to offer at least one slightly different perspective. Nora’s not a traditional romantic or “chick lit” heroine, but I hope some people can relate to her experience and see this demographic as capable of engaging in happy, fulfilling relationships.
Nora is a unique character that posses INTJ personality traits. Why did you want to explore these personality traits in your story?
I think INTJ’s are actually a little overrepresented right now in pop culture. So many of the amazing psychological thrillers published in the last handful of years really lean into their INTJ villains, and the most recent article I read about INTJ relationships focused on how to identify if you’ve inadvertently found one of us and safely get out of the relationship. INTJ’s make the best Hannibal Lecters, Professor Moriarties, and Emperor Palpatines.
…But most of us aren’t really take-over-the-galaxy kinds of people. I wanted to bring up Nora’s “type” because it’s mentioned so much less often to describe scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and any number of other not-eating-people paths like Nora’s. Nora talks a lot about her “choosing” times, and most INTJ’s choose not to become sociopaths; Sherlock Holmes is an INTJ, too, and we also claim people like Nicola Tesla, Steven Hawking, and Jane Austen.
I enjoyed the supporting characters in this novel, and Nora’s relationships were always interesting. What were some themes you wanted to capture in their interactions?
I think one of the biggest challenges for all of us is finding our “tribe”–people who simultaneously accept us as we are and support our (healthy) growth. I used to think tribe-finding was a life stage, but now I think we’re always finding and updating our tribes as they grow with us.
Nora has a diverse tribe that’s really important to her but, like everyone, she spends a lot of time trying to distinguish between even well-meaning influences that hold her back and those which challenge her in positive ways. Characters like Heather and Lillie are able to expand their conception of Nora’s capacities with Nora, for instance, but the Milners of her life obviously need to go.
When and where will Cuttle be available?
Cuttle will be available September 1, 2020 through Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and other ebook retailers. Paperback, hardback, and large print copies will be distributed by Ingram.
18 Cranes follows a young boy as he prepares for an important civil servant exam while being tormented by nightmares. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing story?
The story was inspired by my own journey of learning about China, first through teaching Chinese students in Canada, and then through my eye-opening experience teaching and traveling in China.
Bing is an interesting character that continued to gain depth as the story progressed. What were some driving ideals behind his character?
Bing is a composite character, reflecting some the attitudes and behaviors I’ve observed in my Chinese students, but also embodying elements of historical and fictional persons I’ve read about.
This story takes place during the summer of 1630 in China. Why did you choose this time and place for your story?
The story takes place in the final years of the Ming dynasty, culminating in a monumental and highly consequential event that takes place in the city of Kaifeng in 1642. By starting in 1630, I’m building the necessary background for readers to understand the significance of the event when it takes place.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
18 Cranes is the first in a series of nine novellas, collectively known as, Kaifeng Chronicles. The second book, Mandarin Ducks, has been available for the past few months. The third book, Grand Canal, is scheduled for release in late January 2019.
In the late summer of 1630, 23-year old Li Bing writes the provincial level imperial examinations, the first step towards entering the Chinese civil service. He is tormented by a dream of 18 cranes, and as he awaits his exam results he seeks out insights from those around him to help him understand his dream. In the end, he learns more than he imagined.
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For most of his life, Bing has prepared ceaselessly to take the civil servant examinations, with little time for anything beyond the collections of texts that dictate political matters. Passing the exams would be the first step in following his father’s path, and also determine nearly everything else about his future. Finally, the day to begin them has arrived, and Bing faces the grueling challenges before him with understandable anxiety, but also a necessary determination. Outside of the exam compound, however, his focus is frequently drawn to a mysterious dream that recurs almost nightly, as well as a glimpse into history from his beloved grandfather.
In 18 Cranes by Robert Campbell, we’re introduced to Bing, his loved ones, and some of the traditions of village life in 17th century China. With an engaging narrative and colorful descriptions of Bing’s world, 18 Cranes does an excellent job of holding the reader’s attention, even while discussing a subject as mundane as civil servant exams. Despite a lack of any real action, the story never seems stagnant. Of course, there’s more going on than just rigorous testing. Bing is also suddenly plagued by a recurring dream, the meaning of which eludes him. The reader learns a lot about Bing and his relationships with his loved ones over the course of several expertly crafted conversations that examine each part of the dream, which always ends with 18 red-crested cranes ascending into the sky. The number 18 in particular holds special intrigue and multiple explanations are suggested for its meaning. To further the feeling of mystery, toward the end of the story, Grandfather Ai begins to tell Bing about the origins of their family. The short oral history is enough to stoke Bing’s stifled imagination. Restricted by his strict studies, Bing has never had the opportunity to read many legends or works of fiction and his curiosity, although kept under control, nonetheless exists. Grandfather Ai’s revelations also provide an interesting twist for the reader.
The uncertainty of the future is an overarching theme throughout the book and is explored through both tangible avenues, like Bing’s performance in the exams, as well as in deciphering the symbolism of his dream. There is also a considerable emphasis placed on Bing’s age, with repeated mentions that he could be one of the youngest people to ever pass the exams on the first try. Because of this, it reads a good bit like a coming of age story.
18 Cranes is subtitled “Kaifeng Chronicles Book One”, in reference to the village that Bing’s maternal ancestors came from. I’d be excited to read the rest of the series and follow Bing further through the avenues of his life. The abundance of detailed descriptions make it easy to picture the aspects of Bing’s village life, from the shores of West Lake to the flowers in the gardens. This book is an interesting and well written story that moves at a good pace.
Pages: 123 | ASIN: B07C8LC32H
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