Lisa Steinke: What three words would you use to describe your book?
Dawn Tripp: Gritty, lyrical, evocative
LS: What is your favorite thing about your book?
DT: Place in literature has always fascinated me—not just as a backdrop for a story, but how in certain stories, place impacts the unfolding fates of the characters. Game of Secrets is set in the town where I live, a town I love beyond reason. It is and has always been the most beautiful point of earth to me, and like any small unique town, it is marked by its stories. There is a certain consequent luminous force that infuses a place as a result of the lives that have played out there. The heart of Game of Secrets, like the heart of the town, revolves around stories—those that are told and retold, and those other darker stories that are not told. Every small town has them: stories that are known but only spoken of behind closed doors, if at all; often stories that cannot be told, because they are too tangled, too tragic and raw, at times so wild and unlikely they could never be cast into fiction because no one would believe they were true.
LS: What was your high point while writing your book? Low point?
DT: I don’t write my books in order—I start where I feel led to start—I often draft 100 handwritten pages of fragments, notes, half-scenes before I begin to map the structure of a story. In the early stages of a novel, I am living in that ‘rush-of-liquid-silver-in-the-veins’ state, that ‘story-snapping-me-awake-at-3 a.m’ state. And I have to be honest: I live for that state. My high and low points writing this novel concerned the same character. One of the first scene fragments I wrote was the scene of a fourteen year old boy driving fast down a highway in a stolen car, heat in his hands on the wheel thinking about a girl. I loved free-falling through that scene—I loved writing into that boy who was like fire underground. What I did not expect and could not have foreseen, was how he would grow up to be a man whose brutal past and insular views stand for things that are easy to dislike or disdain. And it broke my heart a bit to realize this might be the dead-end place where he’d wind up. I wanted more for him. And all through the novel as I wrote, that hope drove me, that possibility that there might be something more. Even as I began to learn things about him I wished I didn’t have to know, I couldn’t quite outrun that raw uncomplicated desire he felt once, not just for a girl he once loved, but for the freedom of a dream she stood for.
LS: How did you come up with the title of your book?
DT: The novel was originally called The Bridge. Then it was called Parables of Sunlight after a line in a Dylan Thomas poem that figures in the story. Then it was called scrabble—not simply for the game—but because the word scrabble as a verb and noun speaks to the life of the story. Scrabble as a verb means to ‘scrawl,’ ‘to scramble, to scratch, claw, as if at the earth.’’ It also means ‘to scribble.’ As a noun, it means a ‘battle, a fight, a struggle.’ The word has been in use since 1794—the word ‘hardscrabble’ derives from it. In the end, though, we decided that the secrets the characters keep—what they tell and what they hide—were more integral to the drive of the story. So Game of Secrets it became.
LS: What are you reading now? What's up next?
DT: Right now I am focused on finishing my next novel, and I have been reading poetry: American Primitive by Mary Oliver and Migration by W.S. Merwin. I find that when I am deep in my own fiction, poetry feeds me, it kicks open windows in my brain.
LS: If you could see one person, alive or dead, reading your book, who would it be?
DT: Virginia Woolf.
LS: What's the best compliment you've received about your book?
DT: Praise is always great to hear—but what strikes more deeply is when a reviewer sees the spirit and intent that drives my work, and can somehow render in a paragraph my vision as a writer. Bethanne Patrick at Book Riot nailed the soul of the book for me when she wrote: “Game of Secrets has characters that crackle with life, so much that I could feel their chilled fingers on metal storm doors. Tripp portrays class differences with true grace, showing the humanity within people of the sort many literati might pass by without a second glance. In this novel, Tripp shows that their grief is not lesser grief, their lust no second-class storm. In mining the depth of characters who populate supermarkets and sidewalks, Dawn Tripp is in the rare company of novelists Joyce Carol Oates and Richard Russo who understand that while money and opportunity may affect destiny, so too do emotions.”
LS: What's the #1 thing you want people to feel after reading your book?
DT: Moved. When a reader tells me: “your book changed me, it changed how I look at my own life, how I look at the world,” that matters. As writers, we work in solitude, sometimes for years, and when a book hits the world, it flies out to many readers at once, but at the end of the day, it is at one-to-one intimacy between a writer and one reader—that’s what I write for.
LS: Favorite line or passage from your book?
DT: There are two lines.
At one point toward the end of the novel, Jane talks about what cannot say to her estranged daughter, Marne:
“I wanted to tell her that love is only this: a tiny nothing, a slip of a tongue, a glance. A world can be built on a glance.”
The second passage is from the scene of the fourteen-year-old boy driving fast down an unfinished highway, thinking about a girl. Curiously enough, it is the only passage in the novel written in second person, and it is more stream-of-consciousness than the rest of the book, but I love it because it has life:
And the night is water leaking in around you, and you can feel her in the speed, streaming from your skull out through your hair. You pour yourself into that road and drive, faster, like you could drive into her, the forever that is her, and go on driving.
LS: Are you working on your next book? If so, any hints?
DT: A biographical novel about a famous woman. I don’t talk much about work-in-progress. I am superstitious!
To find out more about Dawn Tripp, visit her website.
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