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ande
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Because a Fire Was in My Head: Creating an Anti-Heroine

Lynn: you have created a complex and difficult character in Kate Riley. Tell us about the process of making her who she is.
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lynnstegner
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Re: Because a Fire Was in My Head: Creating an Anti-Heroine

Yes, you're quite right, Ande; as heroines go, Kate Riley challenges our sensibilities, and eventually she violates our iconic images of mother/wife/woman. And yet I can't tell you how many readers have come up to me and said that they know someone "just like her." I suppose that was one of the compelling aspects of her as the protagonist: that she is someone we have all met at some point in our lives; someone whose conduct we could never understand, or who kept hurting people, seemingly without conscience. This sort of main character, by the way, is not so uncommon in European literature, as they tend to be more practical about human beings and human nature, and what we are capable of as a species. We Americans may have had our perspective distorted somewhat by the Hollywood ending -- the bad redeemed or duly punished, the good triumphant. In any case, when we first meet Kate Riley, she is at midlife and on the brink of understanding something about herself that even she finds abhorrent. At that point, searching for the reason why, the narrative returns to her childhood, to the loss from which she never recovers, and which contains her desperate narcissism, her infinite lack. So, she is allowed her reasons, her excuses that finally can never excuse or justify a lifetime of moral emptiness and recklessness. I suppose it ought to be said that it took me years to learn enough about myself, to know myself well enough that I could efface myself as the author, and so write a compassionate story about such a woman. I felt for her while I was writing her story; and given her essential weakness or flaw, I could understand why she did what she did, even while her actions could not be condoned. Like all characters, Kate Riley is a composite of the real, of the imagined, of a stolen bit of personality here, a borrowed scrap of character there. Such composites still have to make sense within the context of the imagined life. For instance, her hypochondriasis seemed a kind of perfect expression of both her physical narcissism and of her lifelong yearning for her mother's love, her mother having been a nurse. If her mother had been a secretary, it wouldn't have worked.


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IBIS
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Re: Because a Fire Was in My Head: Creating an Anti-Heroine

________________________________________________
Lynn Stegner wrote:
... I suppose it ought to be said that it took me years to learn enough about myself, to know myself well enough that I could efface myself as the author, and so write a compassionate story about such a woman. I felt for her while I was writing her story; and given her essential weakness or flaw, I could understand why she did what she did, even while her actions could not be condoned.
____________________________________________________

Your compassion for Kate was very evident in the book. I can understand why you needed many years to learn enough about yourself to create Kate. It requires great self-understanding and a very sharp, clear self-perception. You wrote of her self-destructive acts with kindness. Many readers confuse the moral quality (or lack thereof) of the characters with the quality of the writing.

This is a good instance where your the writing is very much an accomplishment. Despite the difficulties I had getting to know, and understand Kate, your writing has fully engaged me.
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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lynnstegner
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Re: Because a Fire Was in My Head: Creating an Anti-Heroine

Dear IBIS,

You can't imagine how gratifying it is to hear from a reader who "got" a character, and especially, felt the compassion I intended to bring to bear upon her life and choices. Kate Riley is finally a sad case, a woman with a major fault line running through her personality. Someone here mentioned Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and I have to agree that that diagnosis would not be far off. But every disorder needs a holding environment, a petri dish, as it were, and her childhood in Saskatchewan with its losses and hardships was the perfect incubating medium for the adult she would become.


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IBIS
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Re: Because a Fire Was in My Head: Creating an Anti-Heroine

Thank you very much, Lynn, for sharing your thoughts with us.

I had a final question for you.

Meeting Kate's children at the end was a complete surprise, especially her third boy, Eamon. It was revealing that three children fared much better emotionally than David. It seems that their environment (nurturing or not) shaped each child. As you said in your post earlier: "... every disorder needs a holding environment, a petri dish, as it were, and her childhood in Saskatchewan with its losses and hardships was the perfect incubating medium for the adult she would become."

That applies to David as well. The holding environment of his unloved childhood, tossed about in foster care and orphanages, understandably shaped the adult that David became.

Did you intend Kate's deliberate spare lifestyle to reflect a kind of retreat, similar to a religious one? I wouldn't have thought Kate capable of remorse or penance; but is that the purpose of her drastic lifestyle change?
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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lynnstegner
Posts: 19
Registered: ‎09-11-2007
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Re: Because a Fire Was in My Head: Creating an Anti-Heroine

Hello Ibis,

I have been necessarily away from my computer for over a week now, so have only just read your remarks about Kate's holding environment, and that of her children. David simply had less, and less at a younger age, than the other three, and he was particularly sensitive. I suppose I think that too much trauma in too short a period of time can often lead to unrecoverable damage. Two of the other three children were farmed out immediately, and the third, Brendan, always had a very loving father.

As for Kate's ascetic retreat, perhaps you recall that she was always trying to be better than her Prairie childhood predicted -- more sophisticated especially. Her impulse toward remorse and repair was finally incomplete. She put on the trappings of a spiritual turnabout, in part to persuade herself and in part because her beauty had passed and there were no more men to capture. It was just another thing she would eventually abandon. But at least she was prompted by some vestigial sense of Rightness, to make amends for a lifetime of bad conduct.


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