IAN. Hi Eileen. Please tell us about your latest book.
EG. Stairs of Sand is a novel about a strict mother, Jolene, and her free-spirited daughter. Suzanne, who now calls herself Zoozle. The daughter is a dancer, and she has gained success as a university professor of dance. But she feels empty inside. She undergoes a late stage of rebelliousness, getting involved with drugs and a friend who is willing to try anything, especially if it’s illegal. Zoozle tries to find her way back to a self that is truly her, not an imitation of her mother or this drugged-out zombie she has become. She is helped by a therapy dog and his owner, Phllip McKillop, her good Grandpa Joe, and a whole team of new friends from Grandpa’s hospice. This is a work of hope and strength and the emotional ties that bind us to family.
IAN. How long did it take to write Stairs of Sand?
EG. This was the first book I tried to write in 2006. I found it difficult to tell the story through a single point of view and put it away while I wrote other things, including a first novel, Some Rivers End on the Day of the Dead, a YA. Once I decided on using two narrators in Stairs, it took another two years to finalize the book.
IAN. What inspired you to write Stairs of Sand?
EG. The struggles of parents around me as well as my own struggles to be a better parent to a new generation of kids who don’t buy “be seen and not heard” influenced me to try to tell Zoozle and Jolene’s story.
IAN. Talk about the writing process.
EG. I write every morning from 8:30 to noon. I walk my dogs first, thinking about what I am going to write.
IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
EG. I have learned to have an idea of where the book is going but to write in a free-flowing manner. If I don’t like something later, I cut it and put it into a file for another use.
IAN. How is your book different from others in your genre?
EG. Unlike a lot of women’s fiction, this book does not center on shopping, baking, or homemaking. It focuses on the careers these women have chosen and the anguish that secrets between them cause. Most families don’t have the communication skills they need in house. They may have them at work or school, but not in their most beloved relationships.
IAN. Is your book published in print, e-book or both?
IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
EG. As my reviews show, most readers come away with the certainty that honesty in family is important and that kids are not a reflection of their parents’ deepest wishes. That child is going to grow up to become somebody the parent may never have expected to meet. Freedom to be yourself and be loved unconditionally for yourself is a huge theme in the book.
IAN. Where can we go to buy Stairs of Sand?
EG. My book is available on Amazon. I also have my own web site, http://www.authoreileengranfors.blogspot.com.
The Independent Authors Network and the World Lit Café are also helping to get the word out on Stairs of Sand.
IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
EG. Stairs of Sand is a stand alone title. I have just completed Sydney’s Story, a prequel to A Tale of Two Cities. I am very excited to have finished this book, which has been a niggling idea for thirty years!
IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?
EG. I have had a lot of fun making trailers for my books. Here is the link for the trailer to Stairs of Sand.
I have a review web site for other authors’ books. I call it Word Joy.
http://www.eileengranfors.blogspot.com Even though I am a writer, I read like a fiend too.
IAN. When did you decide to write?
EG. I found that writing helped me through the grief of my mother’s death. After the summer of 2001, I decided I would write novels once I retired from teaching.
IAN. Who is your favorite character in Stairs of Sand?
EG. This is a really difficult question because I love so many of the characters. Zoozle’s strength astounds me, her friend Chloris gives such loving advice and is a good role model, and Grandpa Joe supports his granddaughter with unconditional love. Grandpa is pretty funny, so my final vote goes to Grandpa Joe.
IAN. This book is about family. Is it a true story?
EG. All stories are based in the author’s perception of truth. But the adventures of Zoozle and her mother are based only on my imagination.
Stairs of Sand by Eileen Granfors
Chapter 1: Zoozle
The Whidbey-Port Townsend ferry carries few passengers this late on a July night. The nearly empty ferry mimics my completely empty me. I lost my job last week, and everything else before that.
I’d meditate, but Mel is singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” trying too hard to make me laugh. She’s serious about us making some Internet porn for cash, pronounced with a long a. I’ve told her no way a million times, that I’d rather be homeless and starving or dead.
A crewman walks by, giving us a lecherous leer, calling out, “Hey, you girls. Haven’t you heard of curfew?” We’re both in our late twenties, and we both look twelve. Mel flips him off and slides closer to me. I push her away.
“Zooz, girl, I’m freezing,” she says. As one, we look at her feet in terry-cloth flip flops. She moves over and touches the hollow in my throat, right where a lump of misery is clogged. She tries to zip my windbreaker across my tank top. “You feel like ice. Let’s sit in the car. Quit trying to be Wonder Woman.” That’s how I mock my mom’s self-perception of perfection. I shake my head.
“Take the keys. Get warm. I need the air.”
Mel wanders back and huddles in the car. I pass by her as I walk to the ferry boat’s stern, riding low to the water. Mel has wrapped a blanket across her bony shoulders, head tucked into her chest and the blanket is up like a hoodie. She often looks vulnerable, like someone I should protect. It took me a while to learn that was her act. Everybody acts a role. I’m totally tired of mine, and it’s only been 168 hours since I was atop a shining star, dance teacher at Port Townsend University, now placed on leave, basically code for fired.
I study the waves, watching the ferry’s wake in the darkness. That’s like me, one bubble among millions. My heart aches more because it’s a foggy night, and I can’t see that far ahead. I love our rare sunny days in Washington. If I close my eyes on a sunny day, I can make myself believe I’m still a little kid, surfing in California with my Grandpa Joe.
As the ferry chugs into the channel, a tall, skinny, old man in a tweed sports coat comes to stand near me. His Newfoundland retriever, huge, black and white and unbelievably furry, sits between us, wearing a pink halter. “Guardian Angels” is scripted across the back.
Lately, I don’t much talk except to Mel. I make an exception since he has a dog. “May I pet your dog?” I ask him.
“We’d love that, wouldn’t we, Jacques?” He rubs his dog behind the ears.
I sink to my knees to pet the dog, who is tall enough to look me in the eyes when I do. His gaze is direct and soft with affection. Though he’s wet in the misty air, it feels wonderful to put my head on his. My heart uncurls one nanometer.
“Hi Jacques,” I say. Jacques smiles. He licks my face, my new short hair, spiky with hair gel. I push my hair with my fingers, then rub the dog’s slobber and my hair gel on my jeans, and I smile back.
“His full name is Frère Jacques. But we cut it short.” The old man grins with the pride of a father. “I’m Phillip McKillop.” He takes off his hat and sweeps it across his heart.
I scratch the dog some more. “Hello, Phillip. I’m Suzann, Suzann Zimmerman.” I don’t know why I don’t tell him Zoozle. “I used to have a dog, a little guy, part spaniel, part Pomeranian. My ex has him now.” Javier has Boo, Javier has a house, Javier has a new life. Me, I’ve got Mel. I’ve got a roof over my head with Big Daddy, Mel’s meth-making friend, which was cool until I stopped doing meth. Now, I wouldn’t want a dog around Big Daddy. I don’t want me around Big Daddy.
“Bye Phillip. Bye, Jacques.” Holding the dog has tightened the knot in my throat. I can’t swallow it down. Despair claws with more powerful digs into my stomach. I look off into the dark night, back towards the car where Mel is tracing patterns on the fogged windows. What escape route should I take from this huge mess I’ve made? I can’t run home again. My mom wouldn’t want me there and she won’t come here, she’s made that clear enough. Life with Mel is all I’ve got, and now I am certain I don’t want that either.
I am through with do over’s.
I walk to the other side of the boat, away from the crewman and Mr. McKillop. I unzip my boots, aligning them underneath the life preserver ring. The boots are the right size for Mel.
I clamber over the chain guard and dive away from the ferry into the sea.
The cold water burns my skin, and numbness makes my body feel as heavy as my wet clothes. The current is strong, pulling me south. My ribs hurt from where I hit the water so flat, and it’s hard to lift my arms. It’s even harder to keep my head up with the chop of the waves. I sink and swallow water. Floundering, I pop back up again. In the distance, there’s the ferry.
Then, I see Jacques. He has followed my leap and is paddling towards me, maybe ten yards away.
I sink again, the waves and tide working together to push me under. Something in me tries to begin swimming towards him, as if I am suddenly awake. I remember it’s better to lean back to float and conserve my strength against the cold. I’m grabbed by the neck of my windbreaker. It’s Jacques! I reach for his vest straps, and he pulls me with sure, steady strength against the current.