Author Interview with Elana Dykewomon.

11 01 2013

Hello, Readers!

This week we have interviewed Elana Dykewomon about her book, Risk. I found her book to be beautifully written with rich powerful prose. It is a heart wrenching novel that I highly recommend.

1. What makes a good story?

A good story to write is one in which the characters appear, at least in the first moments, unbidden, whispering in your ear, and you are compelled to follow their trajectory. That can take years, but while you’re writing it, you experience the characters as part of your life, and those presences keep you from ever being lonely.

A good story to read reveals the world you thought you knew with new dimensions or with language/imagery that gets you staring into space for half an hour in the middle of the page. And for me, a good story reveals the heroic in women’s and lesbians’ lives with nuance and depth.

2. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Swim, drive on cliff roads or among the redwoods with the top down, organize/participate in social justice work, play video solitaire, make dinner with my beloved, Susan.

3. What was the biggest risk you have taken? Did it pay off?

Trying to kill myself when I was twelve, in the early 1960s, because I couldn’t figure out how to live my life as a lesbian and a writer. Since I survived that, everything else has been a “pay off,” lagniappe.

The second biggest risk I’ve taken is changing my writing name to Dykewomon in 1975. While I am, most of the time, glad I did it, the jury’s still out on whether or not it “paid off,” and if I would recognize pay off for that if it (has) happened.

4. Why did you begin Risk with the death of Carol’s father in Vietnam?

One of the first things I knew about Risk was that it would be about a single mother and her daughter. So, I asked myself, why is the mother single? Oh, I thought, because her husband was killed in Viet Nam. Later, as I was developing Carol’s character, I went to a friend of mine who’s an astrologer and had her work up a chart for this fictional character (an idea I adapted from Deena Metzger). I knew where she was born, how old she was, and that she would be a Leo, so I picked a day. The astrologer said my character had a childhood trauma that affected her relationships as an adult, that she was still working through. Huh, I thought, what kind of childhood trauma should I give her? And then I slapped my forehead: you’ve already given her one. Her father was killed in the war.

From that moment, I realized one of the underlying themes of Risk would be how war affects/infects all of us for generations. Starting with the father’s death was crucial to showing Carol’s full emotional life.

5. What are your feelings about assisted suicide? Does Carol go too far in helping her mother?

Assisted suicide should be legal for anyone with a terminal disease. I have had to “put down” several dogs and been with friends who also had to go through that. Usually, we waited several months too long because we were unwilling to part with our animal companions, even though they were clearly in pain and dying. I have never understood why we don’t have the same compassionate response for people. (I do understand that this right can be abused, but safeguards can be provided.) Whether Carol goes too far helping her mother die is for the reader to decide.

6. What sort of research did you have to do about gambling?

My mother taught me to play blackjack, and I learned how to shoot craps in Reno. I’ve always enjoyed gambling, although after I wrote Risk, I experienced a steep drop-off in my desire to make special trips to a casino. But I knew nothing about sports gambling or basketball, and I had to do a lot of research about both. Fortunately, my many friends who are women’s basketball fans and the internet helped.

7. Which character was the most fun to write?

I don’t experience one character as more “fun” than others, but I do find some scenes are more pleasurable to write. The opening scene and the scene late in the book, when Carol is an altered state of awareness, were so engaging that writing them was instant gratification.

8. Is there a message in Risk that you want readers to grasp?

Readers find what they need in a text. I hope this one gives them themes, ideas and images that touch their lives. While I see the over-arching theme of my writing being about lesbian/women’s community – how engaging in community is crucial to living a satisfying life – plenty else is going on. Readers create their own versions of any story and writers have to live with that.

9. Tell us about any upcoming projects.

I’m working on a memoir; I hope to put together another book of poems; I have plans for an experimental novel that I’m just beginning to sketch out. And I’ve just gotten the rights back to Beyond the Pale, my award-winning historical novel, so e-book, print-on-demand and Audible editions of that are in the works – I hope they’ll start appearing in the spring.

10. Where can my readers buy your books?

Risk is available from bookstores (you may have to ask them to order it – please support independent bookstores!), or on Bywater Press’s website:

My last book of poetry, Nothing Will Be As Sweet as the Taste, is available through the Onlywomen Press website:  – or you can ask your independent bookstore to order it.

My book of short stories, Moon Creek Road, is only available through me (my publisher at Spinsters Ink died…) – e-mail me at

And Beyond the Pale, the historical novel I mentioned above, will be out as an e-book soon!




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