Interview: Rene Denfeld, author of The Enchanted

THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld was one of the most lovely, heart-wrenching novels I’ve read in a long time, and I’m honored to have her on the blog to talk about the book, and more. Please give her a warm welcome.

renedenfeldRene, you’re the author of three non-fiction novels (and more), and your first novel, THE ENCHANTED, just came out! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
I was raised poor, by a single mom of five kids. My childhood was difficult, and books became my escape. The local library was my sanctuary—I would spend hours there, reading at the long wooden tables while sunlight poured in the windows. Later, in my early twenties, I was fortunate to meet a community of local writers. They encouraged me to put pen to paper. Today, I try to do the same for other aspiring writers. The beauty of writing is anyone can do it.

You are an investigator for death row inmates, and THE ENCHANTED is about an inmate on death row. Did you have to do any additional research for the novel, or did you just draw on your own experiences?
The job of the lady is very much like my job. I find witnesses, locate records—essentially plumb the history of men and women facing execution.

There’s definitely a “message” to be found in THE ENCHANTED, and compassion is a huge theme in the book, but it’s not at all heavy handed, and it’s a topic that needs more attention. How did you manage to convey hope amidst such dark circumstances, and what would you like to see readers to take away from the book?
While the setting is quite grim, I hope readers feel the same about the story that I do—that it is a celebration of the human ability to find hope, joy and beauty even in the most despairing of circumstances.

Aside from her occupation, obviously, how much of “the lady” is like you?
Both the lady and I share hard childhoods. We both grew up in poverty, with mothers who had issues that impaired their ability to parent. Both of us experienced trauma. And both of us use our understandings of the pain people can cause each other in our work. But at the same time, the lady is a much different person than me. She has different desires and opinions—she is not me. I was rooting for her to find love in the book.

What is your writing process like? How long did it take to write THE ENCHANTED?
It was an absolute joy to be immersed in this story. The hours I spent with the narrator felt so magical. At first it was slow going, and then the writing came in a flood. It took a little less than a year to complete.

enchantedTHE ENCHANTED goes to some very painful, difficult places. Did you have to decompress after writing certain passages?
There were many times I would get out of my chair and leave the room— more than once in tears. I knew what I was writing was true, but some of it was so hard to bear. The sections on the white-haired boy were especially difficult. I have dealt with that issue in my work. It happens. I wanted to show it for how it really is—the terrible truth of it.

THE ENCHANTED, for me, defies genre and is hard to categorize. How would you describe it, genre wise?
To me, the entire concept of a genre is in itself a fiction. A book is a book, a story a story. I fear that trying to write for a genre encourages clichéd writing.

On a bit of a lighter note, can you relate something, in your experience as a death row investigator, that has brought you a bit of hope regarding the future of our prison system?
There are a lot of good people who work in prisons. I’ve met wonderful wardens, officers and counselors. Many are trying to change the system for the better. I enjoyed writing the character of the warden in The Enchanted because he shows there are people of integrity who work in prisons. There are lots of good people, on all sides, working to change our prisons for the better.

What authors, or novels, have influenced you the most, in your writing, and in life?
I am the most voracious of readers. I can —and do—read just about everything. If there isn’t a book handy, the back of the cereal box will do. The novels that have influenced me the most are the ones that capture the wild beauty of life. Some of them are mentioned in The Enchanted. I keep dog-eared copies of favorite books and read them time and again.

If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I remember reading Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban when I was about sixteen. It was a revelation. I finished it in one draught. Put it down and then picked it up again. Every time I read that book I would find something new in it.

What are you currently reading, and what books are you looking forward to reading this year?
I recently got lucky and scored an advance copy of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. It’s gorgeous.

When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I love to spend time with my kids. I also love working out and gardening. I live in beautiful Oregon, and so lots of walking is always in order!

What’s next for you?
I have a few death penalty trials coming up—and more stories inside me waiting to be told. I think it is going to be a busy year!

Thank you for having me on your blog—it’s been a pleasure and an honor.

Keep up with Rene: Website

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.” The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

Beautiful and transcendent, The Enchanted reminds us of how our humanity connects us all, and how beauty and love exist even amidst the most nightmarish reality.

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