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SunLit Interviews

A co-worker’s death, coincidence and imperfect societal safety nets converged to inspire a novel

Author Wendy J. Fox chose the mid-2000s for much of the setting for "If the Ice Had Held" in spite of -- and in some ways because of -- its dated technology

Author Wendy J. Fox.

Wendy J. Fox is the author of the collection ”The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories” and the novels, “The Pull of It” and ”If the Ice Had Held.” Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Buzzfeed, and Self, as well as in literary magazines including Washington Square, Euphony, and Painted Bride Quarterly. More at www.wendyjfox.com.   

The following is an interview with Wendy J. Fox.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book when I was working at a Denver-based tech company and a co-worker of mine died from an illness; I’d been in corporate life for a long time already, but it really started to get me thinking about how many people in our lives are linked by coincidence—as in, you get take one offer of employment instead of another, for example, and that changes the actual fabric of your life as you meet different sets of people. 

Part of what happened in that specific time was that our publicly-traded parent company had some trepidation about a donation pool we had taken up for our co-worker’s widow, and that information raised another question for me, namely, what are the everyday structures and systems that get in the way of us offering assistance and care to one another?

That conversation has entered into the national discourse in a much broader way since I started working on the fragments of writing that became “If the Ice Had Held” close to a decade ago. The same conversations and questions have been surfaced by COVID-19 as we see systems breaking or being shut down. I won’t suggest that Ice” has any answers, but that was the genesis.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?

“If the Ice Had Held” is told in alternating perspectives, and the excerpt here includes the first three chapters. I chose this because it offers the three primary narrative voices.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?

This book underwent many changes, and a great deal of structural changes, as it was taking shape as a novel. There’s the actual writing, and then there is all the cleanup, revision, and rethinking.

A really rough guideline is that a book-length work of fiction should be around fifty-five thousand words, though many are much longer (“If the Ice Had Held” is about seventy-five thousand) and many are shorter. 

The 300 or so pages that were the initial draft cycled between being arranged chronologically, by character, and then ultimately switching between the past and the more recent present. 

Some people have asked why I chose the mid-2000s as part of the setting, and have noted a consequence is that the technology in the book feels dated—for example, one of the characters has a Blackberry, rather than say, the modern smartphones we all have now. As ubiquitous as it seems now, the iPhone didn’t debut until 2007. 

However, a central plot point, which is not a spoiler, hinges on the question of one of the main character’s biological parentage. In the era of genetic testing easily accessed by regular consumers, there’s a whole genre related to the discovery of previously secret families and siblings; I wanted to choose an era that still felt relatively contemporary but was just far enough in the past to avoid having the whole thing be undone by 23andMe.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?

The biggest surprise in completing this book was frankly the positive response to it. There’s so much that goes into writing a book, and for folks who are not familiar with the publishing industry, there can be a period of a year—or even more!—between turning in the manuscript and having the book hitting the shelves. That gives writers a fair amount of time to agonize about every sentence, which, by that point, can’t be changed anyway, once final edits are done. Considering that each project often feels like a moonshot to begin with, it’s an absolute relief when readers respond positively to the work.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet? 

I used to write almost exclusively in the evenings, after my day job at a tech company. Since November of 2019, I’ve transitioned to freelance work instead of being a regular day jobber. While I still have the muscle memory of writing in the evening, I spend more time writing in the morning and the afternoon as well now. It’s interesting to see how that actually changes the work itself. 

What’s your next project?

My next project is “What if We Were Somewhere Else,” a book of short-stories, which will come out from Santa Fe Writers Project in the spring of 2021. I’m also working on a novel about the aftermath of a school shooting in the era of climate change.

Buy “If the Ice Had Held” at BookBar

Excerpt from “If the Ice Had Held

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