1) Your book is about incest, multiple addictions, suicide, lots of subjects that might turn away some readers who don't want to enter such a depressing world. Please tell us why it is important for people to read your book.
If a reader is feeling overwhelmed by the content, skip to page 80. However, I hope they can read through it.
For the survivors: I want them to know there is hope.
For the “normie”: a reader told me that he had a co-worker whose erratic behaviors he just could not understand. In reading As Far as You Can Go Before You Have to Come Back, he thought, “Maybe she is an abuse survivor.”
One in three women world-wide suffers sexual and/or physical violence. For women aged 15-49, close to one third (27%) have suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence from their intimate partner.
I put forth that whether we know it or not, everybody interacts with at least one abuse survivor. However, we don’t fully realize how hard it is to live a normal life after having survived. I’m hoping that the normie will come away from As Far as You Can Go Before You Have to Come Back with a greater empathy based on a better understanding.
2. Maybe this is related to the first question, but why did you choose such topics to write about?
I am an incest survivor. Every survivor I know has something they want to express about having stayed alive. If I were more of a natural caretaker, I would be expressing through a healing profession. But I’m a writer. Sexual trauma was the situation I was born into. This book is what came out.
Until I had a solid draft of As Far as You Can Go, my need to express healing from sexual trauma wanted to be a part of everything I wrote. Cooking articles. Travel pieces. In the mid- 1990s, I was sent to cover employment statistics at a hotel chain. All I wanted to write about was the level of sexual abuse experienced by the housekeeping staff.
3. It took you 30 years from writing the book to publication. Talk about some of the ups and downs you experience and what kept you submitting your work after so many rejections and so much time.
I received close to 500 rejections over the course of 30 years, yet I never stopped getting feedback and revising until—well, a few months after my deadline from the publisher. There was no option but to keep going. To quit would have been even more depressing. I was going to have this book published by someone other than myself, or I would have on my tombstone: “Here lies Alle C. Hall. She went down trying.”
I bet that if more writers stuck it out, there would be more stories about publication happening after decades of work. Too many writers give up when they get their first feedback and there are issues with the draft, or when they don’t get an agent after five, then, twenty, fifty tries.
Don’t let that be you. Expect the miracle.
4) Your character visits multiple countries in Asia. I imagine it would have been easy to have this story take place in Thailand, Bali, or Hong Kong. Why did you choose Japan for her to settle in? And how did your experiences and encounters in Japan influence you as an individual?
What a great question! It never occurred to me to have Carlie settle anywhere other than Japan because Japan is the only Asian country that I’ve lived in. To write so outside my experience seems like risky business. Also, everything about Japan is so evocative: the aesthetic, the food, the way fall feels. I’ll never forget my first fall mochi-pounding, in a small town in Kyushu. The whup of the mallet hitting the cooked rice, turning it into the putty substance that they grilled in sesame oil and then wrapped in nori. See? All those experiences sit in there, informing every scene I wrote about Japan even if I don’t bring those details into that scene.
As for me personally, I could look at Japan as simply where I was when I found it within myself to come to terms with how deeply I had been damaged and what I would need to do to move forward in my life. Or I could say: being in Japan was critical to my healing because that is where it happened. If I hadn’t been one-half a world away from the abuse I grew up in, I couldn’t have crawled from under the sequela as early in life as I did.
Teaching English in Tokyo gave me an economic stability that I wouldn’t have had, if I’d stayed in the States. A survivor must have financial independence from the perpetrators. Financial autonomy doesn’t have to mean a trust fund. It means meeting your own wants and needs, financially. It means being in an adult relationship where you used to be a powerless child.
5) Which character did you especially enjoy writing and why?
Um … all of them? I guess it was the most fun to write Johnny, a minor character with a deep crush on Carlie (the main character). He’s this easy-going Aussie with a low-key humor that you don’t have to poke too far into to come to some real grit. Cho was awesome, too. She is the Japanese-American woman who runs sales at a large department store chain. She swears like a sailor; which I gifted her from myself. She is a font of kind yet firm support. Now that I think about it, she probably came out of my relationship with my therapist of 30 years standing—filthy mouth excepted.
Also, I loved writing the primary Tai chi teacher, Doug. I didn’t expect him to become so important a part of the plot. I just needed a Tai chi teacher and he showed up. It came to be that whenever I wrote him, I could feel his arms as mine. (Which would be nice b/c he has great arms. Mine are getting flabby on the underside. Fuck.)
6. If a reader has no knowledge of Tai chi, how will they relate to the story?
After Carlie encounters Tai chi, I name each chapter after a Tai chi posture: “Wave Hands Like Clouds” is about letting go. “Snake Creeps Down” is about sex and love addiction. “The Eighth Treasure” is about love.
My goal was to write each chapter in a way that the reader understood not only how the body moves in the course of the posture, but more importantly, how the body feels and the effects on the psyche. In traditional Chinese medicine, and therefore Tai chi, the mind and the body express the other.
7) What authors or artists do you relate to and what are you reading now?
Georgia O’Keefe. She said—and I’m paraphrasing—she knew if she painted something big, that people would pay attention. As it relates to As Far as You Can Go, I’m talking about scope. Also, place is a huge part of O’Keefe’s work. Sometimes, her subject is intense and overwhelming. Other work is lush and vaginal. There we go.
I don’t read much. I have two teenaged boys, a husband, a house, and I keep up with the news. That’s what I can do.
8) Tell me about the role of writing in your life?
I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a writer, let alone being published. I grew up dreaming of being loved and listened to—however that took shape: famous movie star was the low-hanging fruit. But I’d have taken president or female Che Guevara. Or the Miss America who rejects the crown just as it is going on her head because—as she dramatically announces to the TV audience—“This pageant objectifies women!” For the longest time, I thought I suffered from an insatiable need for attention. I didn’t. I had a story that needed telling.
This is the power of writing. The need to tell the particularly story, even if it is not your story, but one you need to put it into the world exactly as you hold it in your head and in your heart. The power inherent can change the world.
This is why people with pathological control issues want to ban books. They understand that power passes book to reader, book to reader. Whichever book is in question took everything that author had to bring it to the table. The reader senses that gift. The writer senses who she can touch as she is writing. I dreamt of being loved and listened to during a time when neither was happening. Writing helped me achieve both.
Bio: Alle C. Hall’s debut novel, As Far as You Can Go Before You Have to Come Back is nominated for The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Book Award. Her short stories appear in journals including Dale Peck’s Evergreen Review, Tupelo Quarterly, New World Writing, and Litro; and her essays in Creative Nonfiction and Another Chicago. She has written for The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and was a contributing editor at The Stranger. She is the former senior nonfiction editor at jmww journal, the former associate editor of Vestal Review. Hall lived in Asia and traveled there extensively, speaks what she calls “clunky” Japanese, and has a tai chi practice of 35 years running.