A Conversation with Trebor Healey

Award-winning author Trebor Healey’s two latest novels, Faun
and A Horse Named Sorrow are distinctly different but still bear
Healey’s individualistic, hearty prose—part philosophy, part plot but all good.
He took some time away from his busy writing schedule to answer some questions
for us. Thanks, Trebor!

 

Out in Print: First,
there’s Sweet Son of Pan, and then there’s Faun. What attracts
you to mythical creatures? Has this been a lifelong obsession? 

Trebor Healey:
Well I love fauns and Pan because we live in a culture that is trying to sort
out sexuality, and Pan, satyrs and fauns strike me as a very earthy male kind
of sexuality that is natural and creative. As for mythic creatures, I really
only got interested in them when I began to study the fairy tradition in
Ireland (Evans-Wentz’s book blew my mind: The
Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
) which followed my connection to the
Radical Faeries in San Francisco. Myths expand the world—I think they make more
stories possible.

(Photo credit Martin Cox)

OiP: The road trip
that is A Horse Named Sorrow is so lovingly detailed, you’ve got to be a
road aficionado. What’s your favorite road trip and why?

TH: Well I
followed the same route by bicycle that is chronicled in the book. I also drove
back and forth across the country in a big circular route when I did my first
book tour. I ’m happiest when I’m on the road. I had a great trip through Chile
and Argentina most recently, but I think the bicycle trip was the most
memorable which is why I treasure it and made use of it in my fiction.

OiP:
A deep strain of mysticism runs through all your work. Would you consider
yourself a mystic? Why or why not?

TH: I think I
used to consider myself a mystic. I feel there is a sort of secret world that I
connect to now again…Seamus connects to it in A Horse Named Sorrow as does Gilberto in Faun…but I think one generally glimpses it for brief moments. To
be a mystic all the time feels to me
now like checking out. I’ve gotten involved in economic justice work in the past
decade and that has caused me to become more grounded in the everyday world,
which is important. There is a lot of suffering in the world, and I think we
all need to address it and work to relieve it. Mysticism has its place, but
much of our work in this world is more in the material realm, I think, whether
we want it to be or not. But a sense of wonder is essential, and wonder is the
gateway to a larger world—you’ve always got to have it there in your back
pocket as you go about your quotidian existence. It makes the everyday world
sacred in a way it can’t be without a sense of something larger.

OiP: What’s your
creative process like? 

TH: All over
the place. I’m one of those people who searches for inspiration, and I don’t
write much without it. I like to go places I’ve never been. That opens me. It’s
not terribly practical, and it’s fallen out of favor it seems, but it’s the key
for me, and I’ve built my life in such a way that I can wander a fair amount.
Like I say, I’m happiest on the road, and that’s where I find inspiration. I
also find it through physical activity…swimming, hiking. Saunas work. There’s
something about pushing your body past its limits that breaks through to your
creative side. My process is about throwing myself into the unknown whenever I
can.

OiP: You’ve spoken
of being blocked for a few years before releasing both Faun and A
Horse Named Sorrow
—where do you think the block came from, and how did you
break through it?

TH: I just
get stuck in ruts. I’m very good at creating stability. But it kills me
creatively, even as it makes me feel somewhat secure and grounded. Going to
Argentina and Chile was how I broke through the block this time around. Not
right away. I was there 3 months before I started writing again. But once I was
set loose, it just flowed. Something has to die for something to be born, that
kind of thing. 

OiP:
Your prose is poetic and your poetry sometimes prose-like—do you enjoy blurring
those lines? Is it something you do intentionally, or is the emotion more important
than the form?

TH: I love
poetry and a poetic approach. I think all good fiction is poetic. I like
straddling the line between the two, bringing narrative to poetry and poetry to
prose. I don’t do it intentionally. I think we all find our natural voice and
mine has always been one of poetic prose. I feel like I’m a poet first and a
novelist second, but I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. Without poetry,
I wouldn’t bother writing prose. All art is poetry.

OiP: The bike in A
Horse Named Sorrow
is decorated with bits of string and twine from places
Jimmy has been. Are you bound to memorabilia like that?

TH: I have a
lot of little things that feel like good luck charms, or sacred amulets. They
can be little toys, or a pine cone, or a feather, or a peso coin from
Argentina. I’m not into big things, but I like little things that are
considered more or less valueless. I’m also picking up little things on the
street. You can sanctify them, imbue them with your energy in a way you can’t
with large bulky profane things. I like the image of it for the story. Jimmy is
losing everything and it gives him a sense of connection to where he’s been and
what he’s felt and experienced. Every thread has a long, long story behind it.

OiP:
The characters of both Seamus and Jimmy are unique yet very “everyman” in some
ways. Are they based on individuals or are they composites of people you’ve
known?

TH: They are
very much composites. The book is in many ways a sort of memorial to the
dozens—or hundreds really—of wonderful people and eccentric characters who
inhabited and made up the San Francisco I knew and loved.

OiP:
Your work seems to be all about the search and the journey rather than the
destination—does that mirror through to your life?

TH: Yes, of
course. I mean the destination is death. For all of us. Interesting, but we’re
not here for that—it’s just where we end up. And then, who knows, maybe we go
elsewhere or come back here. Even death is a journey. I think when your goal is
to become or accept yourself, or find a way to express yourself, it just
becomes obvious that it’s a process that never ends. The idea of destination
falls away. The minute you achieve something or get somewhere, it sort of goes
up in smoke and on you go to the next thing.

OiP: What do you
want readers to take away from your two most recent books?

TH: Oh, I
don’t know. I put it out there, I try to touch a chord. I’m just telling my
story, so I’m not really thinking about what people will take away from it.
Some will relate and some won’t I suppose. But I guess every story is about
love and wisdom. The truth. I would hope people feel those things. And I want
to make them a laugh a little along the way. A book is a flower really that you
hold out to someone.

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