The Unusual Writer
Mark W. Sasse has lived in Asia for most of the past twenty years giving his writing a definite cross-cultural Asian flare.
His first novel, Beauty Rising, was released in December 2012, followed up by The Recluse Storyteller ten months later. His third novel, a labor of love about Vietnam entitled The Reach of the Banyan Tree, is scheduled to be released in July 2014.
SD: The Recluse Storyteller is a very deep-rooted story which makes readers dig deep into the mind of the main character, Margaret, in order to try and understand her world. What brought Margaret to life for the birth of The Recluse Storyteller?
MS: I had this image of a middle-aged woman looking out her second-story window and seeing a man exit her building wearing a red hat. I asked myself what could make her so interested in watching this man. Then I thought that perhaps she is a recluse who just watches her neighbours and tells stories about them. That’s how it all started.
SD: Could the tragic death of Margaret’s mother have had an effect on her unconventional behaviour leading her to not face the reality of her mother’s death and to fight her inner demons by using storytelling as an escape?
MS: That’s a good question. Certainly Margaret’s mother’s death had a profound impact upon her. What it seems to have done is to sharpen her senses, making her especially vulnerable to the stories and actions (whether hidden or not) of her neighbours, whom we can assume used to have contact with Margaret’s mother. This makes the storytelling not an escape. In fact, she can’t escape from the stories and the truth in front of her eyes.
SD: When people think of the word ‘recluse’ and the character Margaret, they will automatically think of someone who is a loner and they would say that Margaret is a hermit who has a vivid imagination rather than someone with discernment or psychic abilities. Would this be a fair assessment of Margaret?
MS: Not at all. Margaret’s neighbours, perhaps, have that perception about Margaret at the beginning of the novel. They all think she is at least a little weird and most probably a little crazy. But there is always more to Margaret than meets the eye and everyone who encounters her certainly finds that out.
SD: Apart from being a recluse, Margaret displays some behaviours that some may say are similar to that of a person with serious mental health concerns. For example, she talks to absolutely no one with the exception of a few people (neighbours), she talks out loud to herself, seen as eccentric and nutty, she leaves her house at the same time every Tuesday night to buy groceries to avoid being seen by anyone she might know, and she has an extremely over-active imagination, and is often in a trance-like state. As the writer, how would you explain these behaviours to someone who argues that Margaret may be mentally ill (schizophrenic) and not a psychic or a “storyteller” who may know a few details about her neighbours?
MS: Granted, Margaret may be a little of all of those descriptions. It’s never exactly clear why she acts this way and what exactly has driven her to these behaviours. But, like with most things, there is no one cause but a series of happenings, scars, events and emotions which have been built on each other which make her who she is. I, personally, think she is more burdened than mentally ill. But, of course, all of this is debatable.
SD: I read that “Margaret gives meaning in the most unexpected ways” with the story she tells her Aunt Janice; her neighbours, the twin girls Sam and Pam Johnson; the Reverend and Michael Cheevers, the man with the red hat. How does one understand this statement?
MS: Just when her neighbours think they have Margaret pegged and are ready to do something drastic when they are afraid Margaret might hurt someone, the unexpected happens. Words from Margaret send Red Hat into a drunken stupor only to be joined by the Reverend. Words from Margaret reach deep into the Johnson’s family and give hope where there was none. One by one Margaret reveals her stories which entrance her neighbours. After that, nothing will ever be the same again.
SD: Is it safe to say that Margaret tries to find meaning in her own reclusive life, thus the reason why she is such a good storyteller?
MS: Yes, I agree with that assessment. The stories become her purpose in life, and like it or not, set her on a collision course with everyone around her.
SD: What were your intentions when you created Margaret? Is there a message you are trying to get across through her character?
MS: I think ultimately that I really enjoyed creating Margaret’s character in order to give a glimpse into the relationships we all have in our crazy modern world. We all have secrets. We all have pasts and issues that we worry about, but we tend to be so disjointed that we tend to bear them alone. Margaret is that person who connects everyone together and reveals the truth of who we really are.
SD: The Recluse Storyteller is said to bring redemption to the broken relationships of modern society. Can you explain this?
MS: Well, without giving any spoilers, Margaret’s stories lead people into making decisions that enable them to reconcile the issues that they have had with the past. Relationships are healed and mended at the feet of the storyteller.
SD: After reading about Margaret and getting a better insight as to who she is. Readers may find that she is not that much different from her neighbours or from most people in the world. Is there a lesson to be taught here?
MS: You are right, Margaret is not a magic oracle who only tells others about how to heal their own lives. She is very much a victim herself. She can see ways to help others, but she sees no way to change her own life. Eventually, even Margaret is at the mercy of others; she needs them to make a difference in her life, too. So I think the lesson would be, we all need each other. We can’t do this thing called life alone.
SD: Many say your writing style is rather unusual. What do you say about that? Describe your writing style.
MS: Haha. Writing style? I feel that I have very little perception about my own writing style. I’m not really analytical about it. Honestly, I just write what comes out of my heart. Perhaps it is unusual. I can’t really say. Thanks so much for the great interview!