Could you tell us about the writers who have influenced your fiction most and if their presence is evident in Suite Harmonic?
—Eileen Hunter, Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota
I have a very long list of favorite writers, but I’m honestly not sure which of them have influenced my work except to say that every writer is created by other writers. We learn to write in part by reading and, whether or not we make a conscious study of a writer’s technique and style, those things are as intrinsic to the work as whatever it is that thematically draws us in as readers. Maybe something does rub off. But in terms of specific writers who may have somehow made their presence felt in Suite Harmonic, I can think of just two, and they may be surprising. The book I read over and over again as a child was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which of course is a family drama and is set during the Civil War. The other books I’ve gone back to repeatedly as an adult are the four books of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet. Those books tackle the huge task of looking at India during World War II and following events as it was it divided into India and Pakistan. As an aside, I’ll say that the scene of Nigel Rowan’s interrogation of the imprisoned Hari Kumar is one of the most brilliant and disturbingly moving things I’ve ever read in literature.
Whether or not Little Women somehow imprinted itself on Suite Harmonic long after I read it, the war period is the same in both, and Suite Harmonic is also very much a family story. And as far as Scott’s work is concerned, both the Raj Quartet and Suite Harmonic are about momentous, historical events told from the narrative view of one side. The back story of slavery in the South is just that in Suite Harmonic, much as the experience of Indians under the British Raj is backgrounded in Scott’s work. I suspect this reflects a larger oddity in the way we tell our most important stories: the very reason for their existence is often an all but invisible yet impelling force behind what we write.