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Interview with David Seaburn, author of 'Chimney Bluffs'

By T Gleichner
Posted Apr 16, 2013 in Entertainment
David B. Seaburn is the author of three previous novels, including Charlie No Face, which was a Finalist for the INDIE Excellence in Books Award in 2011. Seaburn is a retired family psychologist and Presbyterian minister. Seaburn lives in Spencerport, NY; he is married and has two adult daughters and two wonderful granddaughters.
1. Why was writing Chimney Bluffs so important to you?
I had read an online news article about a couple in England who had committed suicide by jumping from a cliff after the death of their young son. What caught my attention most and made me curious about their decision was that they carried two sacks with them; one had their son; the other had his toys. I couldn’t shake the story from my mind. I wondered for weeks about how the couple had come to their decision. I also wondered what would have happened if one of the parents had survived the jump. I decided to write Chimney Bluffs to wrestle with those two questions. As a retired psychotherapist and ordained minister I have worked with loss and grief for the last thirty five years. I think it is a defining experience in anyone’s life, made more so when it is tragic in nature. I have also been interested in the reasons why people make the decisions they make. In the case of Kate and Mitch Duncan, the protagonist couple in my novel, each has a reason for agreeing to suicide and the reasons differ entirely. In the story, Kate is the survivor. She eventually makes friends with the men who found her at the bottom of Chimney Bluffs (Clancy Brisco and his assistant, Bobby), and it is that friendship that enables each of them to deal with different loss issues and find enough hope to go on with their lives. The story focuses on the critical role that relationships play in how we navigate the dark journey through loss and find enough light to go on.
2. What was the writing/creative process like?
What is exciting to me when I start a new novel is the realization that for the next 14-18 months I will be able to sit alone and wrestle with issues that are of importance to me. I never know how a story will end. I begin with characters that are compelling to me. I then create situations in which they must engage with each other around important matters (such as loss); then I see what comes of the process. Often I get my first glimpse of the ending within the last fifty pages of a story. I enjoy creating characters and seeing how they exert themselves on my creative process. I often feel I am changed as much as they are.
I do not write every day, which is to say, I don’t sit at the computer every day. But I always have the story in mind and feel that my time away from the computer is just as important as my time at the keyboard. In that sense I am writing even when I’m not writing.
3. How did you come up with the title?
There is a wonderful park near where I live, Chimney Bluffs State Park, which is noted for the Ice Age glacial spires that dot the shoreline of Lake Ontario, some of which rise 300 feet about the lake. I have been their many times and when I thought of a location for my novel, it seemed like a natural.
4. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
This is an important question, because writing has been a part of my professional life since the early 1970s, first as a minister and then as a family psychologist working in an academic setting. I always thought of myself as “someone who writes” as opposed to being a “writer.” The distinction for me was whether writing was an essential part of my identity or just something important that I did. I published my first novel in 2005. But it wasn’t until I was writing my second novel that I admitted to myself that I was a writer, that writing was essential to my being. I think I knew this for many years, but it took me a long time to grow comfortable with the notion.
5. What books do you believe influenced you in your life?
There are many. In no particular order. The novels of Elie Wiesel, John Gardner, Nikos Kazantzakis, John Irving and Albert Camus; To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee; the journals of May Sarton; Courage to Be by the theologian Paul Tillich; Letter to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke; the nonfiction works of Annie Dillard; The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann; The Diary of Country Priest by Georges Bernanos; I and Thou by Martin Buber; The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker; One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey; journals of Thomas Merton; Life Against Death by Norman O. Brown; Letters and Papers From Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; the works of Thich Nhat Hanh; Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown; The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell; The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence; The Cloud of Unknowing; the works of Sam Keen; Walden by Henry David Thoreau; The Saturated Self by Kenneth Gergen; Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson; Uncommon Therapy by Jay Haley; The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra; Power/Knowledge by Michel Foucault; The Tree of Knowledge by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varella; Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa.
6. How much influence did you have in the cover of your book? Did you initially have a different idea of how it would look?
The front and back cover photographs of Chimney Bluffs were taken by me.
7. Can you describe a typical day for you?
I don’t have typical days. Two days a week my wife and I watch our two darling granddaughters. Some days each month I work at a university medical center helping doctors improve their doctor-patient skills. Some weeks I have a sermon to prepare if I have been invited to preach somewhere. I am almost always preparing for book readings or book groups. A good day of writing is 2-3 hours, sometimes 4, and will produce about 1,000 words. I often have less time but make the most of it, writing for an hour or less. I am lucky because when I sit down, I can start right in. The story is never far from my mind.
8. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Spend time with my daughters, son-in-law and granddaughters; read; go to movies; when possible, travel. My wife and I had a marvelous trip to Italy last year for our fortieth anniversary. New York is also a favorite.
9. What do your family and friends think of your writing?
My family is very supportive of my writing. I have many friends who are, as well. (Of course, to know what they really think, you would have to ask them.)
10. What do you think is more important – a good plot, or good characters? Why did you choose the one you did?
Obviously, both are important, but I favor characters, since that is what I work on first. I have a notion about a story and characters come to mind. I develop the characters for some time before I start writing the book. The plot outline which I carry in my mind shapes my thinking about the characters, but I feel that my characters carry my plot.

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