August 27, 2012

Author Interview with James Tenedero

Hi James, first of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself.
Thanks, Patrick; I’d be happy to. I’m currently a PhD student at McGill University in Montreal, where I’m studying processes of organizational learning and innovation in the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries. I’m in the final stages of the doctoral program, so my research generally keeps me fairly busy these days, but I still devote a substantial amount of time to my fiction writing and to promoting my most recently completed novel.
Like most of your readers, I’ve been a writer of some kind for as long as I can remember – my creative writing assignments in grade school would inevitably end up in long stories with fairly detailed character development and (what I think were) pretty sophisticated plot lines. I’ve tried to maintain that rigour as I’ve matured in my writing, but there’s always more to learn about the craft.
As far as my professional life goes, I’ve worked in corporate finance, strategic planning and analysis, and management consulting roles in the past. My aspiration after the PhD has been completed is to find an academic position that will allow me to continue to teach and research in the field of management.

Why do you write historical fiction books and what do you think makes them special?
I’ve always enjoyed books that take as their starting point a rich description of a particular historical era, and then weave the narrative through this structure. Reading an author like Tolstoy, you feel yourself a part of the Russia that he writes about; there’s a tangible sense of place in his novels. I think this ability to straddle the line between imagination and realism is one that all the best authors possess, and historical fiction is one genre that provides a writer with the opportunity to develop this skill.
As well, being a PhD student and aspiring researcher, the idea of doing in-depth study on a certain era, its social conventions and its political institutions, really appeals to me. If this kind of research helps to craft a more engaging book, so much the better!

What do you think makes a great story?
I think that a great story is driven equally by the strength of character and setting. Some authors focus more on the development of their protagonists, their backstory and their evolution; others take pains to evoke a detailed physical or social world within which their story unfolds. Ultimately, both of these elements are crucial to a well-executed book. Character development to the exclusion of context results in a flat, overly-scripted narrative. Fully rendered setting devoid of interesting characters reads like an academic (in the pejorative sense of the word) paper. But multi-dimensional characters in a richly described environment? That, to me, makes for an excellent story.

What is your latest book called and could you explain to us in 20 words what it is about?
My latest book is The Consistency of Parchment. It’s a story about Cal and Kendra, whose fates intertwine as they seek out a deposit box and its contents.

Which kind of reader do you think will enjoy your book?
I think that people who are partial to good historical and literary fiction, but who also look for a well-paced plot, will enjoy this book. While The Consistency of Parchment deals with aspects of recent European history – specifically, the nature of Communist rule in Eastern European countries and its continuing effects – there are moments of humour and adventure designed to leaven the narrative at several points. It’s my hope that the book has something to offer to a wide variety of readers.

Is it a Standalone, or part of the series? If it the latter, how long do you think will it go on?
I had always conceived The Consistency of Parchment to be a standalone book. I don’t currently have any plans to develop additional work in the same vein, but I may revisit this decision in the future. I do have a few ideas about how the storyline could be extended in interesting ways. Ultimately I’ll leave it to my readers to decide whether they would like to see more stories anchored around the same characters and circumstances explored in this book.

What influenced or inspired you writing it?
I spent some time in Budapest, Hungary during my graduate studies in 2003. While there, I was surprised to see that most of the physical artifacts associated with Communist rule – the street names and the monuments, for example – had been long since removed from public display. Given the circumstances by which this political system came to the fore in Hungary, this isn’t necessarily surprising, but I found it fascinating nonetheless: the idea that the relics of previous eras can be so fully excised from the landscape. The longer I spent there, though, the more I began to wonder what impact this kind of collective cleansing has on a society and on the individuals who had lived through that past era.
From there I developed a rough outline of the book. After I returned to Canada I began writing, using the research that I had undertaken during my time in Europe as background and context for the evolving story.

Why did you choose especially this title? Was it your first choice?
The title can be read in two ways. First, it’s meant to convey the permanence, or at least persistence, of the physical traces of history. The records that document our social, political, and cultural life never fully disappear, and even the smallest discoveries in this respect can yield new insights into the way that life used to be. Think of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters produced during World War II, for example; the rediscovery of these artifacts has helped to bring aspects of wartime life back into public consciousness – though with an ironic twist characteristic of our own times.
Second, the title speaks to the sense of place that we experience by having tangible pieces of the past at our disposal. We live in a world where accessibility to all manner of information is arguably much more widespread than it’s been at any prior point in human history, thanks mainly to advances in digital media and communication technologies. Still, there’s nothing like the touch, the heft, the texture – the consistency – of a paper document to connect us with the lived experience of our ancestors.
The title was definitely my first choice, but I didn’t settle on it until I was sufficiently far along in my writing to have a good sense for the overarching themes of the book. Once I settled on ‘The Consistency of Parchment’, though, I never considered an alternate title.

What was the hardest part for you working on your book?
Writing is tough work. There are some days (few and far between) when the words flow effortlessly onto the page and you have a clear vision of exactly where the particular paragraph, chapter, and book as a whole are going. More often, it’s a struggle to write authentic-sounding dialogue and plausible circumstances for your characters. The hardest part for me in writing this particular book was in pulling all the storylines together in a convincing fashion.
Early on I resolved to introduce several minor protagonists whose experiences would be key to advancing the narrative, but who would serve mainly as foils for the main characters. Although I would have liked to have developed their backstories in much greater detail, doing so just wasn’t possible without sacrificing the coherence of the book. It was difficult for me to pull back, since my natural inclination was to fully flesh out the details for every new individual that I brought into the mix. Ultimately, though, I think that this restraint resulted in a tighter, more economical, and (hopefully) more readable final product.

Was there a scene that you didn’t add or remove in your finished work?
There weren’t any particular scenes that I wrote out in full and then removed from the final draft. However, as I mentioned above, my initial plan was to develop many of the different narrative strands in significantly more detail. In that sense, there are several flashback scenes that I had contemplated adding but that I finally decided against.

Do you already know what to do next?
Yes, a few ideas are percolating right now! I’ve finished a short story and have plans to write more such works on the same theme. Basically, the idea I’m exploring is that of personal loss and the role of routine in our understanding of it. The first short story examines the relationship between a husband and wife whose only child has been missing for several years. How do they rebuild a life in the context of this devastating event? When hope itself can’t sustain the relationship, is there a place for other, more pedestrian interactions as a route to happiness?

Where can we find more about you and your books?
My Author Page. I’m always happy to hear from readers who would like to contact me. You can also follow me on Twitter (@jamestenedero) and via my Blog.

Any last words?
Writing is of necessity often a solitary activity, but the feedback, comments, and other interactions with our readers are what help us to continue to develop as authors. I would enthusiastically invite your readers to get in touch with me, to review my book on Amazon, and to otherwise reach out through social media.

Thanks James for taking your time.
Thanks very much for the opportunity to talk about my work!

The Consistency of Parchment

Cal Wendell, a sensitive young management consultant with an overly anxious disposition, is returning to London after his latest client project. On the train he meets Kendra Velasquez, a small-time American thief who, at the behest of a mysterious benefactor, has purloined a small key from the safe deposit box at a Frankfurt bank. An innocuous misunderstanding brings the two travelers together, setting off a chain of events that will lead them across Europe and inadvertently into the midst of a decades-long feud. At the center of the struggle is the key possessed by Kendra - and the secrets that it promises to unlock. 

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