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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Sunday, 02 March 2008 19:00|
Ottawa based writer, D.W. Richard’s first novel, The Fifth Pillar, was published last December. The book is an ambitious first work, a family melodrama that expands beyond the boarders of family to address the larger mysteries of relationships and life itself. Amongst sharp dialogue and humorous sequences (some comparable to last summer’s comedy hit, Superbad), Richards forces the reader to ponder a series of challenging questions. Is it possible to truly know oneself? What does it mean to be a brother, uncle, father, mother or husband? What does it take to be a man? And how does something like homosexuality throw all of these definitions into question? Twin brothers, Dillon and Ryan discover over the course of the narrative that uncovering the secrets to questions of gender relations, sexuality and family is never easy, and can take a lifetime.
(Cult)ure magazine contributing editor Kevin Johns sat down with Richards to discuss The Fifth Pillar.
(Cult)ure: Early sequences from The Fifth Pillar take place in Toronto, and the later portion of the book seems to be set in and around the Ottawa area. Do you feel like this is a distinctly Canadian narrative?
These settings were actually more a matter of practical convenience, than intent. I pilfered shamelessly from places and locations in my life, which freed me from having to invent them. This helped to anchor the story in my mind, and allowed me to focus on plot and character development with greater clarity.
When I think of “distinctly Canadian narrative”, novels like A Gradual Ruin by Robert Hills come to mind, where the story is tied to the landscape and a Canadian perspective is an integral part of how the story is told. This was not really a consideration when I set out to write The Fifth Pillar.
As a writer I, of course, cannot completely divest myself from the influences of the country and region where I grew up, but any distinctly Canadian resonance is unintended and incidental to the telling of The Fifth Pillar. Excluding the final chapter, I tried to avoid in-depth regionalism and thereby grant a broader universality. In hindsight, I am not sure that was necessary.
(Cult)ure: Comic book and television writer Brian K. Vaughn recently suggested that, “specificity is the key to universality”. I think The Fifth Pillar achieves this edict nicely. The book’s protagonists, twins Dillon and Ryan, are distinct individuals, and yet the experiences that they go through over the course of the novel (including family conflicts, sexual discoveries, and all the challenges of growing up and becoming adults) will be easy for most readers to identify with.
Richards: To that I would add, as hokey as it sounds, that universality is achieved through honesty, which may seem like an odd comment from someone who wrote a work of fiction. In fiction, although none of the events put forth actually occurred, it is important that a character’s actions and reactions ring true. Even if the reader has not experienced what the character is going through, they should be able to identify with the emotional consequences. How would anyone feel if they found out their arch nemesis, Darth Vadar, was their father?
(Cult)ure: Would you agree that the book is essentially a coming of age tale?
(Cult)ure: In addition to its title, The Fifth Pillar includes several other philosophic allusions and epigraphs. Was it important for you to produce a work that was a sort of intellectual pilgrimage, along with being funny and engaging drama?
Richards: The use of humour was important to me, as for the rest, I wouldn’t use the label “important”. It is more a case of it being impossible for me not too include. I wrote what I know, family dysfunction (note humour), and I tapped into my personal resources to do so. While I would agree that the story is peppered with religion, philosophy and mythology, I don’t see them developing in any significant way. These light smatterings merely served as tools.
(Cult)ure: The book is told using dual voices, alternating between the two protagonists perspectives. What advantages or disadvantages did this approach afford you as a story teller?
(Cult)ure: The Fifth Pillar is filled with memorable supporting characters. Uncle Brian and Ian, in particular, will likely linger in the minds of readers. How did you go about creating these characters and what role do you see them playing in the text?
(Cult)ure: Part I of the novel ends during a high school party. As part II begins, we find that the characters have aged several years and are now at a college party. Did you feel that party life was an important element of bridging these two sections of the book?
Richards: In many ways, the story restarts in the second half. The party does provide some continuity. I also revisit the taunting that took place at beginning of the novel. It is the same situation, but ten years later. What has changed? I leave that to the reader to unravel.
(Cult)ure: Who are some of your favorite writers?
Richards: I can’t say that I have a favorite writer, but I do have books that I enjoy. Books, as opposed to authors, tend to inspire me. While working on The Fifth Pillar, I read A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby and completed it in two sittings. This is rare for me, as I have a tendency to focus on technique and adept phrasing rather than the story. Basically, I reverse engineer a novel into its constituent parts. His novel had a flavour similar to what I was hoping to achieve.
(Cult)ure: I think there are absolutely similarities between the two texts, particularly in terms of tone. A Long Way Down and The Fifth Pillar are both addressing heavy complex issues, such as suicide and marital infidelity, and yet it in both texts these issues are handled in a deceptively funny and seemingly “light” way. Do you think of your book as being subversive in that sense?
Richards: I would love to say that my work was subversive, as I would seem far more intelligent and intriguing than I actually am, but, it is not. My objective with The Fifth Pillar was to deliver a story, as opposed to a message. Certainly, opinions are expressed and comments made, but they are ultimately tied to character development. If I was successful, the reader shouldn’t know what my personal opinion is on any given topic. If I was very successful, they may believe they might.
(Cult)ure: This story is a very personal, realist narrative. Do you see yourself producing similar books in this vein in the future, or are you interested in branching out into other genres?
Richards: When I began writing The Fifth Pillar, I wanted to create a story that I would like to read. That is still my goal as I continue to write. There are themes and elements in The Fifth Pillar that I was not done with by the end of story - gender relations and human sexuality being two. I’ve recently completed the first draft of another manuscript and both are explored in much greater detail. Although the structure of the new story is quite different, it is very much in the same genre.
I’m not sure what I will do once I am done with this current manuscript. Perhaps a play, I have been told that dialogue is my forte. I suppose that is a corollary benefit of incessantly talking to myself.
(Cult)ure: Amazon has The Fifth Pillar listed here: http://www.amazon.ca/Fifth-Pillar-D-W-Richards/dp/1604412895/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203706352&sr=8-1
Where else can readers get a hold of a copy?
Richards: Other online bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, Blackwell, and Booksamillion carry it. And, depending on how the reviews go, (hint, hint) I am hoping to personally approach local independents to see if they would grant me some shelf space. Before The Fifth Pillar was released I talked to the owner of After Stonewall, David Rimmer, to get some guidance. At that time, he seemed very positive.
Wish me luck. And, thank you.