May 15, 2011 § 3 Comments
Richard Gilbert reviewed Jim Minicks’s The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family in the new Brevity issue released last week, and this week Gilbert, on his Narrative blog, interviews Minick about the writing of the book.
Gilbert, a “fellow ex-farmer,” questions Minick about the difficulties of small scale farming and also about the task of writing a book, finding a narrative arc, characterizing one’s self and others, and “villians” as characters. Here’s an excerpt, followed by a link to the interview and to the Brevity review.
RG: The structure of the book is interesting. Your story opens with the arrival of your 1,000 potted blueberry bushes, then you go back to show the hard work that had to happen— of clearing an overgrown field—before the overwhelming job of planting them. In a note you also acknowledge that you compressed about a dozen years into a round decade for the purposes of storytelling. Could you discuss the reasons for such major structural decisions?
JM: It took me several years of trying to write The Blueberry Years before I found the “leading edge”…that place where I wanted the reader to experience the whole story with Sarah and me as we chased this blueberry dream. That edge, I finally realized, was when the blueberry bushes arrived on April 1, 1995—a fitting day. So, I started there, then had a whole big chunk of the story that happened before this moment still to tell. I kept that part in past tense, and the rest in present, but then I still had the problem of too much time. How do you make a story that covers over a dozen years readable? For me, it was to compress these years, combine them into just a few, but to also be honest with the reader about this compression up front.
RG: I was struck by how scenic your memoir is. You employ expository sidebars about blueberry history and culture, but the book’s heart is watching you and Sarah in action—clearing, planting, mulching, managing pickers. You’re a poet, and your love of language shows, as in your evocative prologue on the blueberry pickers. But was your dramatic, cinematic writing here natural, or a skill you had to learn or develop for this book?
JM: One of the hardest, most important skills I learned in writing The Blueberry Years was how to make the whole of it have a strong dramatic arc. I had written three other books, one a collection of essays, and two poetry, but none of these three required me to figure out how to tell a story over a 300-400 page span. All writers are gods playing with time on many levels. As a poet, I learned to play with time (and image/metaphor) on the micro-level—with each word and sentence. And now, with this memoir (and a novel I’m currently working on), I’ve learned (and am learning) how to play with time on the macro-level…how to weave all the many scenes into a coherent, richly layered, whole.