Words on Words: An interview with Bill Roorbach for The Remedy For Love.

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FARMINGTON – On Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.,  local author Bill Roorbach will be launching his new novel, The Remedy For Love, at the Emery Community Arts Center.

Love being such a widespread affliction, and Bill being such a celebrated and prominent author, this clearly called for a bit more information. Fortunately Bill has agreed to supply some. The backdrop of the novel’s story involves an act of kindness by a Maine gentleman. The  result of this spontaneous act leaves two people stormbound in the northeaster of the century, with a hefty amount of personal chemistry and baggage trapped inside with them.

Kenny: The title is sure to raise questions in the minds of prospective readers. Here are two. Does it infer a remedy for what ails love or a remedy from love itself? Also, the title is most authoritatively in the singular. One guesses that. strictly speaking, there may be more than one remedy, however perhaps this one is so sovereign an agent that it is THE remedy?

Bill: The working title was Storm of the Century, but Kathy Pories, my editor at Algonquin, reported that people there thought it sounded too non-fiction-y. Plus, I’d given it a Google and someone named Stephen King (one of the more obscure Maine authors), had already used it. Kathy and I kept thinking and trying titles and falling half in love with one or another idea before rejecting it, even as time was running short. Then, middle of the last possible night, I remembered that my friend Liesel Litzenburger, who is a novelist herself (Now You Love Me, The Widower) and an all-around genius, is also a kind of title savant. You can tell her a few words about your characters and story, and without skipping a beat or taking a breath she’ll calmly tell you your title. So, even though we hadn’t been in touch for a few years, I sent her a very brief description of the book via email, plus a title idea we’d gotten from Thoreau. Not four minutes later she shot back a reply, mostly tongue in cheek, but not entirely: “Well… yes to Thoreau, but you have to get the word “love” in there to double your sales as you are male, so the HDT quote from his journals, after being shot down in a marriage proposal: ‘The only remedy for love is to love more.’ So then you have A Remedy for Love…” I knew that was it, and tried it on Kathy, and with a quick adjustment to the article, we were done. Thanks, Liesel! And yes, if Henry says so, that is the singular remedy for love: to love more. Ovid, whom Henry was consciously riffing on, lists many more remedies in his long poem Remedia Amoris, (often translated as The Cure for Love), among them farming and heavy drinking. Also concupiscence. But Henry was more romantic than that: Love is all you need.

Kenny: The enclosure of the plot, two people trapped in each other’s company by a storm, makes for a great deal of intensity and focus. Did you find that you burnt more calories than usual in writing it?

Bill: If only I’d burned more! I remember one very hot summer’s day working several focused hours and looking up surprised to find it wasn’t blizzarding outside, and that I was warm. Something like waking from a dream and realizing with relief that you haven’t fallen off a cliff.

Kenny: Did the story stick to your preliminary vision of it or was it shaped during the making?

Bill: I started with a fairly thin premise—a guy seeing an apparently homeless woman in Hannaford’s—and then I had to get the people moving and talking, see who they were and what they wanted. And then it’s kind of magic—you put them in action, and pretty soon they begin having deep reality, real presence, whole complex lives, nothing to do with me. Making a character is like meeting someone new and gradually getting to know him or her. By the end of a rough first draft, I know enough about whoever it turns out to be to go back and get all the early stuff right, consistent with the character who later emerged. I do my research, too, to be sure I know enough to really understand my people and the disaster they’re living through.

Kenny: Is this strictly a novel or should be people afflicted by love see this as a hopeless parable as well?

Bill: It’s definitely not Dear Abby, but certainly there’s some solace to be found here for those willing to read deeply. Done right, a novel is a capacious thing, a portrait of our souls alive in the universes we inhabit.

Kenny: Thanks so much, Bill!

Bill: Thanks, Kenny. I’ll see you at the Emery.

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