Randi Triant joins us this week to discuss her latest book, What We Give, What We Take
Author Name: Randi Triant
Book Title: What We Give, What We Take
Book Genre: Fiction
Release Date: 4/12/22
Publisher: She Writes Press
Welcome, Randi! How would you describe What We Give, What We Take?
It’s an unforgettable mother-son saga about survival and family bonds. Fay Stonewell, a single mother and escape artist in Florida, leaves for Vietnam, abandoning her disabled teenage son, Dickie, with an abusive boyfriend.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I went to school with someone who contracted polio despite the vaccine being available and I always wondered why he didn’t get the vaccine. What it feels like for parents who think they’re making the right decision but it’s one of the worst decisions they could make. I also wanted the book to partially address the AIDS crisis. The latter part of the story is set in 1992 when AIDS was raging through the U.S., especially through the gay population. In 1993 I lost my best friend to AIDS. I still believe that AIDS is a public health crisis. It was important for me to show the discrimination and stigma that AIDS universally provoked then and still does.
How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you do any research?
It took me ten years on and off to write. I did quite a bit of research, including reading archival material kept by the American Friends Service Committee from a rehabilitation clinic they ran in Vietnam during the War. My character, Fay Stonewell, ends up near a fictional, similar clinic. She’s a water tank escape artist in a carnival entertaining the patients. I also had to do research about the sixties: what was on the radio and television, how much things cost. I really enjoy the research phase of writing.
What drew you to literary fiction?
I’m drawn to literary fiction because it examines the human grain and is character driven. There’s nothing better than understanding something about the human condition, why we behave the way we do, while we spend time with memorable characters that we might never get the chance to meet otherwise in our real lives.
What’s your favorite part about writing/being an author? What do you find challenging?
I love creating a completely fictional world, and, if I am lucky, there will be another person out there who, when they read it, will also enter that world but with their own thoughts and history. That’s mind-boggling to me. Finishing this particular novel was challenging as there were so many moving parts spanning the 1960s to the 1990s.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read What We Give, What We Take?
If you like emotional journeys about unconventional families that are fast paced, yet complicated, this is the novel for you.
What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
No matter what life has dealt you, no matter how many times you’ve failed or fallen, you can dust yourself off and start over.
Are you working on a new project? Please tell us about it.
I’m thrilled to be doing a May 7th reading from the book as part of the “What We Give” art exhibition at The Commons gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The exhibition will explore artwork by and about individuals living with physical or mental challenges, including HIV/AIDS. I’m also working on a novel about two childhood friends who are estranged as adults and are forced to come to terms with their falling-out. Imagine Thelma and Louise but they can’t get out of the car, and they don’t drive off the cliff.
Where can readers find you?
Thank you, Randi! What We Give, What We Take is available for preorder!
In 1967, Fay Stonewell, a water tank escape artist in Florida, leaves for Vietnam to join the Amazing Humans—a jerry-rigged carnival there to entertain the troops—abandoning her disabled teenage son, Dickie, to the care of an abusive boyfriend.
Months after Fay’s departure, Dickie’s troubled home life ends in a surprising act of violence and he soon lands in Manhattan, where he’s taken in by an eccentric artist. Fay, meanwhile, is also facing dangerous threats that make her confront every bad decision she’s ever made.
Decades later, Dickie is forty, living in Massachusetts with a man who’s dying of AIDS, and doing everything he can to escape his past. In some ways Dickie has what he’s always wanted—a home without wheels—and yet the farther Dickie runs, the tighter the past clings to him.
What We Give, What We Take is a deeply moving story of second chances and rising above family circumstances, however dysfunctional they may be.
Randi Triant is the author of the novels What We Give, What We Take (April 2022), The Treehouse, selected as an AfterEllen ultimate summer read, and A New Life. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals and magazines, including two anthologies of writing about HIV/AIDS, Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A & U and Fingernails Across the Blackboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS from the Black Diaspora. She has taught writing at Boston College and Emerson College.