David K. Dodd is the author of Star Shooting and Star Dawning.
1. Your follow-up novel to Star Shooting is called Star Dawning and is primarily set in Leavenworth. Why did you choose Leavenworth for the backdrop of the story?
The few years that I lived in Leavenworth were formative ones for me, personally and professionally. To me, it is a special community, in no small part due to its symbiotic relationship with its prisons. I have many fond memories of the town, and grounding the novel in Leavenworth has allowed me to revisit sites and relive experiences through my book characters. In addition, what better setting to tell the story of an ex-convict who is trying to build a new future!
2. Can you give us a synopsis of what the book is about?
Ron Cousins walks out of prison after serving twelve years for murder. Feeling alone and forgotten, he joins up with a young woman who is trying to break free from chains of her own–a lifelong physical disability. They become family. A second couple, amidst marital troubles, determinedly tries to control their young son. Is he emotionally disturbed or a developing criminal? Either way, he threatens to sink them all. In a third family, a single mother faces a life-or-death struggle against cancer, even as her unknowing daughter pursues her carefree adolescent life.
Three separate families, striving to survive, interconnect in ways that are unpredictable and heartwarming. Star Dawning is a story of individual redemption and the restorative power of family.
3. You have taught psychology courses in a variety of settings, including prison. How has this experience helped you to create and flesh out the main character, Ronnie Cousins, who is adjusting to life outside prison?
The students I taught in prison surprised me in many ways. Compared to typical students, they were more engaged in learning and truly grateful for the educational opportunity. Friendly but respectful, they were very socially appropriate. A few openly discussed aspects of their incarceration, and sometimes their crimes and regrets. I tried to imbue my main character in the novel with some of the traits and perspectives of my student prisoners, particularly their fears and feelings of inadequacy about returning to life outside of prison.
4. Since the main focus of the book is about how families can protect or damage their children, what do you think is the most important thing people can do to help family members from falling into damaging situations?
The families in Star Dawning, for the most part, are functioning well internally, but they also seek reinforcement from the outside and gain strength through coalition. Star Shooting, the earlier novel, portrays the life of young Ronnie Cousins before he committed the horrific crime that landed him in KSP. He came from a family that was intact and loving but still deeply flawed.
Page 2 of 2 - The family's main fault line was an almost total lack of communication - feelings were hidden and much was clouded in secrecy. Ronnie concealed his problems in adolescence even from his many friends, and his secretiveness eventually sank him. In Ronnie's case, I wish that he had been encouraged from a very young age to express his feelings and self-doubts, rather than feeling compelled to live up to the all-star image that many people, including his family, had of him. But families are complex systems and the individuals within them are sometimes broken, so there are usually no simple answers for families in distress.
5. What's next on your writing agenda and will your next novel involve Leavenworth in any way?
My next novel, Carbonic World of NOY, is scheduled for release in late spring. It is a futuristic story of the way the world might be hundreds of years from now if we do not meet our environmental and ecological challenges quickly and effectively.
The future that I describe is one that is very bleak in nature, but more disturbingly is the cultural decline that has occurred. The characters in the story struggle along naively, with little sense of geography, culture, or knowledge of how humans lived in the past. The power brokers in this world have little contact with everyday people but carefully control them by stingily dispensing scarce resources. Even in this bleak landscape, though, the book characters take great risks to strive for fulfillment and hope, and readers will find themselves rooting hard for the underdogs.
— Rimsie McConiga