An Interview with Diane Byington, author of WHO SHE IS

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After school the next afternoon, I sat on the bleachers and watched as six boys in maroon-and-orange T-shirts ran around the track. A slim man in shorts stood on the infield grass, a whistle around his neck, tapping his foot. The coach, I presumed. He glanced at his watch and frowned. Eventually, a boy came out from the school and wandered over. After a short conversation, he joined the others on the track.

 I waited, but nobody else showed. Finally, leaving my books on the bench, I made my way over to the coach. He was writing something on a clipboard but looked up when I stopped a few feet away. The eagerness in his eyes turned to disappointment when he saw me. He asked in a strong accent, “Can I help you, young lady?”

 I couldn’t think of how to begin, so I just stood there, tongue nailed to the roof of my mouth. He tapped his foot and waited.

 I cleared my throat and said in as strong a voice as I could muster, “I’d like to try out for the track team.”

 The corners of his mouth twitched as he stared at me. “Back home in Cuba, girls were involved in all aspects of sports. But in Valencia, only boys are allowed to join the track team. I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, young lady, but I can’t.” He turned his attention back to his clipboard.

 I stood rooted to my spot, getting more annoyed by the second. He obviously needed to add people to the team, and from what I could tell, only one new boy had shown up. After all I’d gone through to be there, the coach wouldn’t even let me try out for the piddly high school track team just because I was a girl?

 I cleared my throat. When he looked up again, I said, “Uh, how far is one lap around the track?”

 “A quarter mile. Four laps make a mile.” He smiled at me. “You can run for fun if you want to. Just stay in the outside lanes. But if you’re going to run, let me give you a tip: start slow.”

 I walked back to my seat and untied the wraparound skirt I’d worn to school over my shorts. I would run a mile that day if I had to crawl. And I would run it as fast as my feet would carry me.

 I joined the boys and began to jog on the track’s soft surface. The rubber gave a little with each step. I felt like I was running on a trampoline or a cloud. I stretched out my legs and swung my arms and watched the world whiz by. My mind settled into a peaceful hum, my breath slow and easy.

 The first curve arrived quickly. I sped up. The jog turned into a flat-out sprint, with my feet kicking up high behind me and my arms pumping. As I ran, I lifted my arms out to shoulder height, feeling about three years old. I pretended to be an airplane, for no other reason than that it was fun, and laughed for sheer joy.

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About Diane Byington 

Diane Byington has been a tenured college professor, yoga teacher, psychotherapist, and executive coach. Also, she raised goats for fiber and once took a job cooking hot dogs for a NASCAR event. She still enjoys spinning and weaving, but she hasn’t eaten a hot dog or watched a car race since.

Besides reading and writing, Diane loves to hike, kayak, and photograph sunsets. She and her husband divide their time between Boulder, Colorado, and the small Central Florida town they discovered while doing research for her novel.

An Interview with Diane Byington 

Diane Byington’s debut women’s fiction/historical fiction novel, WHO SHE IS, was published on March 20, 2018 by Red Adept Publishing.

Question - Please describe what the book is about.

Diane Byington - A retirement-age Faye is looking back on the year that changed her life. In 1967, she and her friend Francie discovered they loved to run. They decided to run the Boston Marathon in 1968, even though women weren’t allowed to register for the race. While training, Faye began to have strange memories—or maybe they were small seizures—about a different early life and different parents. The story combines her goal to run the Boston Marathon with her determination to figure out what was going on in her family.

Q - Give us a short pitch of your novel

DB - In the fall of 1967, Faye Smith’s family moves to Florida to work in the orange groves, and she has to start a new school… again. She tries out for the track team, knowing her mother would never approve because of Faye’s epilepsy.

When Faye discovers she has a talent for distance running, she and her friend Francie decide to enter the Boston Marathon, even though women aren’t allowed to compete. Desperate to climb out of the rut of poverty, Faye is determined to take part and win a college scholarship.

After the school bully tries to run her down with his car, a strange memory surfaces—a scene Faye doesn’t recognize. Her parents insist that it’s a symptom of her epilepsy, but Faye thinks they might be lying, especially when it keeps happening. To get her life on the right path, she’ll need to figure out what her parents are hiding and never lose sight of the finish line.

Q - Where did you get the idea?

DB - I wanted to write about someone who had a goal and achieved it. Then I discovered photographs from 1967’s Boston Marathon, when Kathrine Switzer was assaulted by the race director for daring to run the race with a bib. She managed to finish the race, but the photographs of the assult were horrifying. I wondered what it would be like to have found out about his when I was a teenager, and Faye’s character was born.

Q - What’s the story behind the title?

DB - For years, the title was “Run Away Home.” My publisher discovered that there were other books with that name, so we had a meeting to come up with another name. The essence of the book is Faye figuring out who she really is, hence the new title. To show that the book is also about running, there is a photograph of dirty tennis shoes on the cover. I love the new title.

Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.

DB - At the end, we discover that Faye is back in the small town in Florida where the story mostly takes place, and she is there for Francie’s retirement party. We find out what happened to all the characters during their adult years. People tell me that’s very satisfying.

Q - Tell us about your favorite character.

DB - Faye is definitely my favorite character. She’s determined to get away from the life she lives with her migrant farmworker parents. She wants to go to college, and she will do whatever it takes to do that. I love her pluckiness and her ability to persevere.

Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

DB - I’d love to spend the day with Faye and have her tell me about her grown kids, her new romance, and what she’s going to do with her life after she retires.

Q - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?

DB - They are from my imagination. I am the same age as Faye, but she is much braver than I ever was. I’ve never been a good runner, but I admire people who can put one foot in front of the other for a long time. Of course, some people in my life have somewhat similar characteristics as the characters, but nobody was made of whole cloth.

Q - How long did you take to write this book?

DB - It took about seven years from first draft to publication. There were somewhere around twenty complete drafts during that time.

Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?

DB - I started with Kathrine Switzer’s mesmerizing book, “Marathon Woman.” And I went from there, reading books about women who ran marathons, talking with runners, and learning about flashbacks. Of course, I spent years as a psychotherapist, so I knew quite a bit about the effects of trauma. That was the easy part. I found a town in Florida that hadn’t changed too much since the 1960s and went there several times to do research. We ended up falling in love and deciding to spend several months each year there.

Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

DB - Nothing during the final round of edits. Much earlier, there was an entire sub-plot about buying up the land in Florida for Disney World that didn’t make it past the second or third draft.

Q - What is one theme in your book?

DB - There are three main characters in my book, and they are all looking for freedom/liberation in some way. Faye wants freedom from being forced to do farm labor, Francie wants to prove to the world that women can be distance runners, and Jess, their trainer, wants to support the civil rights movement. I love the theme of freedom/liberation. 1968 was a heady time when all kinds of people were trying to change the world, and my characters fit into that framework. It was inspirational for me to write.

Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?

DB - Some of each, I think. I prefer being a plotter, though, and I’ve developed that as I’ve continued writing.

Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

DB - My favorite part is thinking through plots. I love complicated stories with lots of twists and turns and surprises, so that’s what I try to put together.

Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

DB - Because I write complicated plots, there tend to be numerous plot holes. Trying to fix them will, of course, changes the plot. It drives me crazy that I miss so many glaring errors.

Q - Can you share your writing routine?

DB - I know you’re supposed to write every day, but I don’t do that. I generally write for long hours when I’m writing, and then stop to think about it for a while. I wish I were more consistent, and maybe I’ll become that way.

Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block?

DB - If yes, how do you overcome it? Nope. I start writing and something comes out. It usually isn’t great, but I love to see words on the computer screen.

Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

DB - I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I gave it up in order to make a living. I would tell my younger self to not stop writing, no matter what.

Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

DB - I have one unpublished book that I wrote before “Who She Is,” one finished book that I’m polishing, and one that I’m doing a first draft on.

Q - Do you have any writing quirks?

DB - I’m not a quirky writer. I don’t listen to music or anything. I just sit at the computer and write. Well, I often eat popcorn while I’m writing.

Q - Tell us about yourself.

DB - I’ve done a lot of jobs in my life: college professor, psychotherapist, executive coach, business writer, hot dog maker, yoga teacher, etc. Now I’ve retired from all those jobs and spend my time writing, painting, and kayaking. My husband and I divide our time between homes in Boulder, Colorado, and Tavares, Florida. The fictional town of Valencia, Florida, is loosely based on an adorable neighboring town called Mount Dora.

Q - How did you get into writing?

DB - For an assignment in the fifth grade I rewrote “Great Expectations” by Dickens, into current life. Pip became Smitty, for example. I loved it and got an A on the assignment. I was hooked on writing after that.

Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

DB - Read, read, read. Do yoga. Kayak. Hike. Spend time with my grandchildren.

Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?

DB - I still do some business writing. I also write short stories.

Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.

DB - I used to raise angora goats for fiber. I love spinning and weaving, and my garage is filled with enough wool and mohair to last me several lifetimes.

Q - Which book influenced you the most?

DB - “Gone with the Wind.” I read it when I was twelve, and I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara. I didn’t have her gumption, though, so I had to write about it instead.

Q - What are you working on right now?

DB - I’m finishing up a women’s fiction/time travel book in which my main character accidentally finds some journals written by Nikola Tesla about how to do time travel. She wants to go back into her life and change a decision about a relationship she has always regretted. It’s called “The Second Time Traveler.” I love it.

Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?

DB - Believe in yourself. Never stop learning. Keep writing, no matter what. Everything doesn’t have to be published, but it will never be published if it isn’t written down.

Q - The book you’re currently reading.

DB - I’m reading an ARC of Paula McLain’s new book about Martha Gelhorn and Ernest Hemingway. It’s amazing. I’m in love with her writing.

Links to Diane Byington