An interview with author Peter Ferry – CWA’s 2015 Book of the Year Award Winner for Fiction, Traditionally Published
By Christina Rodriguez
At some point of your life, after you have done all the right things (and plenty of wrong), you finally have the chance to right the things that haunt you and follow your true heart’s desire. Imagine wanting to or doing just that, but you now have everyone telling you that you are too old or are doing irrational things. Where your old age doesn’t give you the freedom that you thought it did.
If you ever felt this sentiment, picking up Peter Ferry’s Old Heart (Unbridled Books, 2015), is for you. Old Heart is filled with tales of lost love, family ties and responsibility, and the quest for freedom that continues even after you retire, have outlived some of your loved ones and are seemingly ready for something like assisted living.
The Chicago Writers Association’s 2015 winner for Book of the Year in fiction (traditionally published), Ferry will read from Old Heart as part of our awards ceremony this Saturday, Jan. 23, 7 pm, at the Book Cellar in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.
In our interview with the author of Old Heart, Ferry shares with us his thoughts on “the incredibly complicated business of human relationships.”
In one sentence, what is Old Heart about? Tell me what interests you most about this book—or tell me other things, besides books, that might constellate around it.
Old Heart is the story of Tom Johnson, an eighty-five-year old man who has outlived his wife, dog and one child, and whose other kids want him to go into a retirement home. Instead, he runs away to Holland to look for the only woman he really ever loved…sixty years earlier.
How does Chicago influence your writing or writing life?
Chicago is my found place (I grew up in West Virginia) and because I found it, it has special meaning to me. I possess it in a way I possess no other place. It is the place where my life has happened from triumphs to tragedies. All of it. I do not think of it as Sandburg’s or Bellows’s or Dybek’s. It’s mine. It conforms to the geography of my heart, soul and mind. It is where I belong even when and maybe especially when I feel a stranger there.
Give a general overview of your work. What are your main concerns, ideas?
When I was a kid, my best friend and I had a train set that filled a whole room. He was the train guy. He worked with the tracks and engines and switching yard. I was more interested in the town that the train ran through and around, the houses and stores and buildings and the people who went in and out of them. I liked to make up stories about them and that’s what I am still doing.
My main concerns are the lives of people, the incredibly complicated business of human relationships. Included are the truths we know somewhere inside us as well as the lies we often tell ourselves. And at the heart of it all is love: how much we need it, how hard it is to get, how easy it is to lose, how afraid we are that we’ll never find it or, if we do, that we’ll lose it, how essential it is to being human.
Tell us about the events that led to you writing Old Heart. What has been the most interesting?
My whole life led to it. All my relationships with women, with my children, with friends and foes and even pets, and especially with myself.
How does/do your identity/ies feed into your writing?
They are one in the same. I use writing to explore my identity and my identity in developing stories.
Tales from the pit: Do you have any lessons or anecdotes to share about the publishing process or industry that you learned while publishing Old Heart?
What I know is that everyone in the publishing business from writers to agents to editors to publishers are running scared. My observation is that they are no longer looking for reasons to publish a book; they are looking for reasons not to. Everyone is afraid of making a mistake.
How long was the writing process for Old Heart? What kind of research did you have to do? What was the most challenging part?
Seven years. I had lots of fun researching both World War II and Down’s syndrome, but the length of time is really the gestation period. That’s how long it seems to take for me to give birth to a book. The hardest part is the wait. That is to say, the evolution of the story, the drafts and redrafts and re-redrafts. It is also the most rewarding part in the end because through them you slowly begin to see the finished thing emerging like a form or figure from a block of granite.
Peter Ferry grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and Chicago. He edited and wrote textbooks for Rand McNally and Company in the 1970’s and taught English at Lake Forest High School for twenty-seven years.
His second novel Old Heart was published in June 2015 by Unbridled Books. His first novel was Travel Writing (Mariner Books 2009). Ferry is a frequent contributor to the travel pages of The Chicago Tribune and an occasional one to the travel blog World Hum and Peter Greenberg’s nationally syndicated radio travel show. His short fiction has appeared many places including Fiction, StoryQuarterly, McSweeneys, The New Review of Literature, OR and Chicago Quarterly Review. He has been awarded an Illinois Arts Council Award for short fiction.
To find out more about Old Heart and Peter Ferry’s travels, go visit his website here.