I’m really excited to welcome Bee Rigway today to Literary, etc! Her book, The River of No Return is already available. If you’re a fan of historical fiction or time travel then this a MUST read for you. Walk…no make that run to your nearest book retailer and purchase it. I can’t stress enough how much I LOVED this book. I reviewed it here.
Giveaway details are located at the end of the interview along with a synopsis of The River of No Return. It’s open international as long as The Book Depository ships to where you live (check here), you’re 18 or older and void where prohibited by law. Good luck!
Q. Tell me something about Bee Ridgway other than the standard bio on your website.
I consider myself a courageous person and I love all sorts of physically adventurous activities but I have a paralyzing fear of cantilevered staircases — the kind that go up the inside of old towers, or domes. I once got stuck up at the top of the dome of St. Paul’s in London and I had to be carried down.
Q. You’ve written extensively primarily for academia. How did writing The River of No Return differ from writing academically?
The only difference was that I did it only for myself and my pleasure. I did it because I desperately needed to do something different, something that burst open the ways of writing and thinking to which I had become accustomed. But honestly, other than the mood I was in when I wrote (gleeful, sometimes giddily so), it wasn’t that different. My plot is quite complex, and I have a lot of characters I had to keep in my head. It’s historically researched, and it has dozens of citations from other novels, poems, songs, scattered throughout. The work of keeping it all organized in my head, and the work of research, and the work of citation – all that stuff actually comes from the training I’ve had across twenty years in academia.
Q. Your area of research is 19th century American Literature and it’s a period where American writers were trying to find a voice and what it meant to be American. In 1820, British clergyman Sydney Smith asked the question, “In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?” We see aspects of this mindset in Nick especially when he makes note of Americans and how easy they are to please. How difficult was it to set aside your personal research and not inject it throughout?
What a terrific, scholarly question! But I’m going to answer this question a little bit on a slant, if that’s ok – take it as more of a personal than a scholarly question. As you say, I’m a scholar of America and American literature. I never really thought much about Great Britain – I’m not one of these Anglophiles from birth. But the accident of true love changed all that – I’ve been in love with a very wonderful, very persnickety Briton for 20 years now, and I’ve spent a total of five years living over there. I became a student of Englishness out of necessity. If I was every going to understand my partner I realized I had better turn my scholarly skills to understanding that place and those people. There’s a lot about Britishness that I love, and a lot that drives me completely insane with frustration. And I can tell you that the same is true for English people who become intimately acquainted with the United States. It’s a mutual relationship of admiration and revulsion. Nick is an Englishman who has lived in the United States for ten years. There is a great deal that he admires. But he knows that Americans will always be somewhat opaque to him. He says that Americans are “deceptively simple,” but he suspects that there are hidden depths. The best way to describe this is the relationship Americans have to British humor, and that Brits have to American humor. Americans venerate British humor – they talk about wit and cleverness and how refined it is. They think it is incredibly deep. Meanwhile, a great deal of American humor seems not at all funny to Brits. You’ll often hear British people say something along the lines of, “the thing about Americans is, they have no irony,” or, “American humor is so shallow.” Of course a lot of British humor is funny precisely because it is shallow, and of course Americans have irony and a great deal of American humor is piercingly profound. But we maintain these fictions about each other, even as we gobble up each other’s TV and film. My point is that Nick – like any immigrant – struggles to see beyond the surface of his adopted nation, and he often feels like a complete stranger in his new land. But when he goes back to Britain of 1815, he realizes that he has become much more American, and much more 21st century, than he had ever suspected. He has to confront the fact that modern America has permanently changed him. These questions, and Nick’s issues as an “Englishman in New York,” grow more out of my personal situation than out of my scholarship.
Q. The idea of our emotions being tied to time travel is an interesting concept. As an academic, you get to travel in time when your handle original documents or read something published in the past. How did your academic work inform or impact The River of No Return?
In every way, and I could go on and on and on about the philosophies and the history behind my idea of time travel and emotions. Also, the novel is full of citations from other texts, because I wanted my readers to have a sense of time travel, a sense of another era, as they read along. I don’t want those snippets to necessarily be obvious, but I want them to flavor the reading experience. Teaching also influenced me, quite profoundly. Getting students to enjoy texts from the past, to be seduced by them, is a bit like popping them into a time machine and spinning the dial backward a century or two. I have thought a lot about how my students emotions literally change their arrangements when they read a book like Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, or Little Women. These are texts that demand feelings that my students aren’t necessarily familiar with, and they must stretch to feel them. The fact that they can feel them, that they can “touch” the past through feeling, is an incredible revelation to them, and to me as well, whenever it happens.
Q. You’ve stated that you pretty much closed yourself off while writing The River of No Return and when you finally told family and friends, they were highly supportive. I know some academics look down at colleagues who write fiction. What was the reaction of the faculty as well as the students?
Yes, I kept the writing a huge deep dark secret from everyone until the novel sold to the publisher. This was mostly because of my intense, personal need to do something new, something untouched by any other element of my life. But of course I did worry about what my colleagues at Bryn Mawr might think. It is a prestigious school with a reputation to maintain. But you know, academia has changed. And most scholars know that the distinction between high and low culture is an invention, and that it changes in every age. Today’s low might well define the culture of tomorrow. So if my colleagues are contemptuous, they have not let me know it. Everyone has been very kind, very excited for me, especially my provost and my department chair. My students have been shocked – but also thrilled. Obviously they have teased me about the sex scenes – I would be worried if they didn’t!
Q. Devon is the location for Castle Dar and Falcott House. Is there a particular reason why you chose Devon for the countryside location?
I love Devon – it is extraordinarily beautiful. I have spent many happy days hiking in Dartmoor.
Q. What was the hardest scene for you to write and what was your favorite?
The hardest scene for me to write was the one where Arkady and Nick are fighting Eamon, and Julia is watching. A great deal is revealed to everyone across those pages, and keeping all the characters’ levels of understanding straight, while slowly revealing more and more from different angles, was very hard. I rewrote it about 150 times. At one point it was probably close to 150 pages long! My favorite scene is one of the very last that I wrote – the paper airplane incident. It is the moment in which Nick and Julia can simply be happy together. I am a big romantic softy at heart and I loved giving them that gentle scene together.
Q. One of the most intriguing characters in The River of No Return is Arkady. What character have readers asked you the most about? Which left an impression on them and does it surprise you?
Well, one reviewer of the novel has named her puppy after Arkady! Arkady and Peter ave sparked the most interest for readers, and Peter is a very minor character – so I know I have to bring her back. With that said, there are big Clare fans out there, and one of my close friends is completely obsessed with Alva. And of course there’s Solvig. But back to Arkady. He appeared in the writing of the novel as a side-note. I decided that Alice needed a husband, so I had one turn up with her at Heathrow. I had NO IDEA that this silent Russian was going to take over the entire book! But he strode right into the heart of the novel and made himself at home. I’m glad that so many of my readers respond to him. I love older characters. People who remain flawed into their later life, but have lived enough to be at home in themselves, lived enough to inhabit their contradictions with grace. I also am a big fan of slightly lascivious old dudes with a twinkle in their eye. What can I say.
Q. Let’s discuss for a moment Nick. He’s in many ways a reluctant hero and one that is caught between two opposing organizations: the Guild and the Ofan. What characteristic do you think all heroes should have?
Oh, I don’t know. It takes all kinds, right? But for me, personally, I’m not usually a fan of the hyper-studly hero who is motivated by rage. I mean, there’s definitely a place for that in literature, but it’s not my thing. I like a Jimmy Stewart type of hero. Or to reach for a more modern example, Robert Downey Jr. or to choose an Englishman, Colin Firth. I know those three men are all really different, but they share a thread of uncertainty, a thread of sadness, an ironic distance and the ability to get it together and kick ass when need be – but only when need be. I also like a hero who doesn’t completely understand his girlfriend. I certainly think a hero should spend quite a lot of time being perplexed, and trying to figure out what to do. I’m not so interested in men who are immediately certain of what’s to be done. Or if they are immediately certain, the lesson they learn is that they shouldn’t be. Honestly, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story pretty much have it sewn up between them.
Q. If you gave one of the characters in The River of No Return an opportunity to speak for themselves, who would it be and what would they say?
I feel like I did give them that opportunity. For real, they were the boss of me, not the other way around. But perhaps if Solvig could speak she would have solved things quite a little bit earlier.
Q. Finally, you’re working on book two as we speak. Any spoilers you want to give us?
Don’t be mad, but it’s going to be a different couple at the heart of it. Nick and Julia are going to be characters, but not the main ones.
01. Superpower you wish you had?
Always being able to sleep when I like.
02. Favorite season?
03. Favorite city?
04. Favorite song?
Glowworm by Johnny Mercer
05. Cake or Pie?
My mother in law’s walnut cake. Otherwise pie.
06. Beach or Mountain?
07. Favorite drink (alcohol counts)?
A wet gin Martini with homemade vermouth (oh yes!)
I was raised in Massachusetts, then drifted around from here to there until I finally came to rest in Philadelphia. I teach American literature at Bryn Mawr College, and for fun I read, write, read, cook, read, walk all over my beautiful and dirty city, read . . . THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is my first novel, and the experience of writing it was so overwhelmingly fun that I’m roaring ahead on the sequel.
Connect with Bee
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Synopsis: “You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life’s advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.
In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.