Everything Novel: Author of Red Clocks Leni Zumas Talks Craft
This month of DeadDarlings, Novel Incubator alum and author Rachel Barenbaum interviewed Leni Zumas about her new novel, Red Clocks (Little, Brown, 2018). Leni Zumas is also the author of Farewell Navigator: Stories (Open City, 2008) and the novel The Listeners (Tin House, 2012), which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Leni lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is an associate professor in the MFA and BFA programs at Portland State University.
Leni's new novel, Red Clocks renders a near future that isn’t hard to imagine evolving out of today’s political climate, landing us in an America in which federal decree has made abortion illegal. In-vitro fertilization is banned. Every Child Needs Two is a law that prevents single women from adopting and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty and property to every embryo. And it doesn’t stop there. Desperate to maintain trading ties, Canada becomes an accomplice by erecting a ‘Pink Wall’ along its southern border, arresting and extraditing women trying to enter the country to have an abortion. Zumas expertly breathes life into her vision by submerging us into the lives of five seemingly disparate women.
Most of our readers are writers—and we want to know: Leni, are you an outliner or a
What was the biggest editorial change you made while editing Red Clocks?
A crucial piece of advice I got from my editor, Lee Boudreaux, was to put more pressure on the characters. In an early draft, the Daughter manages to cross the Canadian border
You’ve brought five women to life in Red Clocks. Gin, the Mender, is my favorite. Who inspired the Mender? What do you hope she gives to the book and/or makes the reader consider?
Very cool that she’s your favorite! I love the Mender too. In some ways she was the most challenging character to write, as she’s an expert on things I don’t know much
Red Clocks envisions intense situations in which characters are desperate and thwarted by the law, their conscience and even their own bodies. And yet, there was no push for revolution, no overwhelming violence. Instead, you chose a quieter, sharp discontent. Why?
While writing this book I was thinking about how distant the average person is, or senses themselves to be, from political decisions made in Washington, DC. A lot happens when we’re not paying
Finally, let’s get personal. What are you reading now? What books do you recommend?
I’ve been on a kick of reading memoirs, and I highly recommend the following: Genevieve Hudson’s A Little in Love with Everyone, Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, and Erin O. White’s Given Up For You (all published in 2018); and Sophia Shalmiyev’s Mother Winter (forthcoming in early 2019).
The Editors at Dead Darlings
Dead Darlings is devoted to celebrating the novel, from the process of creation through revision, promotion and publication. The authors, alumni from GrubStreet Boston’s Novel Incubator, have gathered to provide support for all novelists: aspiring, developing or successful. Writing is best when it has the support of a community, when novelists share their experiences.See other articles by The Editors at Dead Darlings