Today Phyllis M. Newman author of Clearing in the Woods is joining us at Ascroft, eh? to tell us a little about her new novel.
Welcome Phyllis. I’ll turn the floor over to you:
Thank you for the opportunity to introduce Clearing in the Woods. My story presents Roberta Blankenship as an unhappy wife and mother who has lived a life of sacrifice, one that denies herself for the sake of her entitled adult children and her ungrateful husband. After years of pushing aside her own hopes and dreams to promote those of her family, Roberta rebels. We’ve all been there, right? But Roberta takes it to the next level and flees to Alaska, the farthest point she can get from the Midwest without a passport, to start a new life on her own terms.
Roberta is a flawed yet sympathetic character. She is both cynic and romantic, jaded and enthusiastic, willfully ignorant and prescient. My goal was to create an unlikeable character, one who is self-absorbed and angry, and then transform her into someone we can all identify with. To accomplish this, I employed classic fairy tales, which are rich in symbols and archetypes. Insight into the meanings of these tropes and classic roles allows the reader to understand the tales, and therefore life, on a deeper level.
In her quest for self-fulfillment, Roberta repeatedly defies the rules that fairytales endeavor to teach us:
Don’t go into the woods alone.
You must not stray from the path.
Don’t question authority.
Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
You must be home by midnight.
Don’t talk to strangers.
Only innocence and goodness are rewarded with undying love.
Roberta refuses to play by the rules and embraces the world on her own terms. This leads to harrowing experiences including kidnapping, deceit, and murder. As a result, Roberta must face her dark side (the archetypal witch in classic tales) and reach some profound understanding, making connections that tap into deeper levels of consciousness to bridge a universal truth. Roberta rejects what she knows and what is expected of her to thrive and survive. She eventually is forced to become the classic heroine who takes the initiative, who grows in strength and understanding beyond her wildest dreams. After all, fairy tales are essentially about a kind of death and rebirth, leading to powerful transformations.
At the beginning of Roberta’s travails, she is a dreamy, cerebral character haunted by missed opportunities, beset by anger and resentment weighted by the isolation and alienation experienced by the career homemaker. By the end of Roberta’s story, she has not only saved her own life, she has also discovered the truth about her current circumstances and about her life in general. In other words, she has prevailed in the most meaningful and effective way possible. She has solved the mystery of the crimes surrounding her and comes to understand the story behind her mother’s unhappiness, something that heretofore has blighted Roberta’s existence.
Roberta’s story is one of discovery and transformation, just like in the fairy tales we all grew up with. I have established character and foreshadowed events by referencing not only fairy tales, but also pop-culture, classic literature, and mythology. This helps the story resonate with charm and humor, making Roberta’s world profoundly real.
Thanks for introducing the novel to us, Phyllis. Readers can learn more about Phyllis and her writing by visiting the author’s website and her Facebook page. You can also follow her on Twitter (@phyllismnewman2).
The novel is available online at Amazon
About Phyllis M. Newman: Phyllis is a native southerner. Born in New Orleans, she spent formative years in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, and on a dairy farm in Ross County, Ohio. After a long career in finance and human resources at The Ohio State University, she turned her attention to writing fiction. She published a noir mystery, “Kat’s Eye” in 2015, a Gothic mystery, “The Vanished Bride of Northfield House” in 2018, and the suspense thriller “Clearing in the Woods” in 2019. Today she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three perpetually unimpressed cats, none of whom venture far from home.