Interview with Shawn StJean, author of Clotho's Loom


Publisher: Glas Daggre

Publish Date: August 10, 2012

Order From:  Amazon 

Synopsis: William Wyrd, an introverted history professor at long remove from his youthful days as a marine sniper, is drafted to serve overseas in the U.S. military at age thirty-nine. Already in a relationship made tenuous by the demands of dual professional careers and their own dearth of interpersonal experience, he and his wife are completely estranged by the blunder on the part of the government. But is this merely human error at work, a bad mix of circumstances—or warping of the skein of Fate? In the tradition of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity and follow-up novels, this literary action-adventure tale tests whether one’s present choices, and even ultimate destiny, need be determined by one’s past.

CLOTHO’S LOOM tracks the struggles of a husband and wife to reunite against forces arrayed to keep them apart. Will decides to keep his reactivation a secret, and deal with the claims from his dark past alone. Assured by faceless authorities that there has been no mistake, and given a date to report, he falls in with political undesirables and succumbs to their attempt to recruit him. He soon embarks on a quest for identity that leads him around the globe. Meanwhile, his partner, pregnant and abandoned, must navigate the no-less-treacherous task of survival at a highly politicized law office, dominated by two temperamentally opposite bosses, and the glass ceiling they erect over her. The narrative proceeds in an alternating chapter structure, paralleling Will’s masculine adventures with those of a woman enduring both professional and domestic perils. The common solution: a razing of egos, and the tempering of two spirits into alloy, alchemized by the common love of a child.   


Excerpt: In a quiet house, in the protracted hours of early morning, nothing apparent to the eye moved–not even the man who sat in the kitchen, staring. A fresh, tall glass of icewater stood within reach, yet seemed remote on the plain of table stretched before him. He desired it, yet now that he had settled, he did not wish to move; he wished nothing to move. He felt terrible. Shadows of blinds in window frames, painted by the rising sun, did creep their way along the floor, though so imperceptibly that any ant, burdened by a crumb, might slip their confinement. The temperature in the room climbed by half-degrees. The man blinked and watched, though in his torpor refused to acknowledge, a microcosm of activity taking place before him: the temperature in the glass fell, then, in a swing like a pendulum-arc, syncing itself with its environment, rose. Droplets formed on the outer surface. An ice cube popped and tumbled. Solid to liquid to ether to energy. His dark eye and dormant brain knew little of the way of these things. He stretched out his hand lethargically, brought the sweaty glass to his lips, and abruptly drained it.

Author Bio: Rather than try to describe who I am through a series of historical events or by listing my accomplishments while concealing my failures, I thought I would name several writers/books that I can honestly say have changed my life in a material way.  I have also included a few remarkable films.  These influences may not always be done justice to in my own writing, but they are definitely owed a substantial debt.  In no particular order:

-Stan Lee, author of hundreds of Marvel Comics.  Some have called him heavy-handed or naive, but to me, from an age even before I learned to read, really, Stan’s plots, characters, and dialogue epitomize soul.   Considering the increasingly cynical environment in which his work appeared, it’s truly inspiring to see the spirit of the Romancer carried on with unwavering trust that young people still get it.

-Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos.  This book showed me the interconnectedness of all things, and buckled my world-view at a period of my life when I defined myself against others.  This caused me infinite trouble, but I would not trade away the experience for any amount of inner or outer peace.

-Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden and various political lecture-essays.  Could anyone actually read these works and not walk away dissatisfied with the status quo, even as regards one’s own heart?

-Stephen Crane, the too-briefly-with-us author of more great fiction than many who lived three times longer.  Those who have oversimplified naturalism, the most stark version of literary realism, have had to willfully ignore his works to do it.

-Oliver Stone, director of JFK.   This film was for me what The Matrix was for the next generation: a dramatic reinterpretation of Plato.  Valid or not, his presentation raises the spirit of inquiry to such a height that one must question every “reality” from then on.

-Stephen Speilberg, director of the quintessential monster movie Jaws, showed us that there is no outworn plot, archetype, or device, creative writing teachers be damned.  By every professional standard, this film should be an obscure failure, and yet it’s one of the best and most well-known ever made in any genre.

-James Cameron.  The Terminator proves, in its retelling of the Oedipus myth, that a solid premise can overcome any budget deficit: time, money, materials, personnel.


Author Interview: Q. How did you come up with the idea for Clotho’s Loom?

I'm interested in two bodies of literature that have a philosophical intersection: ancient Greek mythology/drama, and literary naturalism (late 19th century in America).  They share in common the premise that human beings have very limited control over their own lives--less than we are comfortable acknowledging.  For the ancient Greeks, they assigned the power over human life to their pantheon of gods, and even more impersonal beings like the Moirae (3 Fates,) of which Clotho is the Spinner.  More recent naturalism, which is scientifically based--our modern mythology, if you will--prefer to see human beings as determined by phenomena which are classifiable by observation: heredity and environment are most often named.  Short example: "If you're born poor, you'll likely always be poor."  It can seem a little pessimistic, but it's also far more complicated than that.

So I invented a dramatic situation in which a man was drafted into the military well beyond the usual time of life: 39 years old.  And his wife, at 40, thought she had her career on track, until her bosses insisted she take several steps backward.  In both cases, very little choice there.  Or at least, significant negative consequences for choosing against the grain.

Q. Is there a message in this book that you want readers to grasp?

If you mean a moral, I tried to build several in--although today, in the age of literary realism, one must be careful to treat them as themes.   This is the English Prof in me, peeking out.  A theme is never explicitly stated, and relies much more on the individual reader to put it together from the evidence.  So there's never a character or narrator who serves as a mouthpiece, anymore, as Hawthorne often used in the 19th century.  Now, back to your question: I will say that, taking all its characters and events together, the novel modifies, rather than directly agrees or disagrees with, the position that human beings are ruled over by a strict Fate, destiny, or genetic determinism--call it what you like.  In the universe of CL, each person is given very clear, but fleeting, windows of opportunity for choice.  And the challenge of being human is to recognize them when they're open, and act judiciously--and quickly.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your book?

Hmm, probably the time it took to write it!  I hate to admit this, but it took the better part of twelve years.  Of course, I published two academic textbooks during that same period, and taught much of the time, too.  Had I ever any idea how long it would take, well. . .

Q. What was the hardest part of writing Clotho’s Loom?

Keeping Time and spatial arrangements in order.  With a large cast, and a plot taking place in different parts of the world, I sometimes lost track.  For a more local example, the six-floor office building where my heroine works had to have a very definite plan in my head--so much so, that I was forced to devise blueprints for it!  Otherwise, I kept writing contradictory paragraphs on different days.  Probably some of those errors are still there, for alert readers to catch.  Not many, I hope.  Ah, well, there's always a second edition.

Q. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned what a genuine pleasure hard work--of the kind you can choose for yourself--can be.  As a middle-aged white man, I was challenged to create a complex woman protagonist, that was strong, but not merely a "fake male warrior," like you see in a lot of movies today.  She had to be damaged and vulnerable, but able to grow beyond--or rather, with--her limitations.  And so devising situations in which to achieve that really taxed my imagination.  I even had a childbirth scene! For women readers, I'm sure to have failed at some point or another.  But I did do my best, and that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.  It's the same feeling I get after a teaching day in which I've emptied the tank.

Q. Did you have a musical playlist you listen to when writing? If so, what kind of music?

I only do that when I'm at my laptop in a public place, and conversations around me are distracting me.  In that event, I plug in Bruce Springsteen, Blue Oyster Cult, Nightwish.  I like Rock, but Classical or any kind of instrumental is often better.  Lyrics distract me.

Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Oh, I was very fortunate to have relatives read to me from the time I was a small child.  No video games in the early 1970s.  Peter Pan appealed to me.  Outsider characters.  By the time I was ten, I was devouring books waaay above my level--but they grew my brain.  And comic books: very underrated. I'm currently revisiting T.H. White's The Once and Future King, which I haven't read in over thirty years.  I suppose I wanted to contribute to that long legacy of human evolution which only literacy, I'm convinced, will bring about.  Reading, under optimal and focused conditions, makes your brain work at about 90% capacity.  Writing: 100%.

Q. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

My Top Ten list would sound familiar to most who had taken more than two or three English courses in college.  One favorite?  Homer, I suppose.  "It's all in the Odyssey," I often say.  That is, the full range of human experience.  Rich to poor, young to elderly, and he even does a decent job with his women characters.  Also, since he has to be translated, he really is timeless, having to be reinvented every 30 years or so for each generation.

Q.  Tell us your latest news.

I'm probably going back to literary criticism for awhile.  Variety suits me.  I interpret film and literature, and steal what I can from and for my teaching.  Writing fiction is infernal hard work.

But I would like to point folks to my blog at http://clothosloom.wordpress.com/  I post every three days or so.  There has been a lot of promo-stuff for publication day lately, but I normally ruminate on literary issues surrounding the novel, and I think it's a nice resource for teachers.  I would love to get some good discussions going over there, among small groups of people who dig literary fiction.  And not necessarily my book, but others that we can discover and share.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? 

Sure.  I think my subtitle can be misunderstood: A Novel of Literary Romance and Realism.  "Romance" does not mean what it used to, and I'm using the archaic form.  Washington Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville were the great Romancers in America.  They did not write love stories, however, though love certainly played a role at times.  What they did write were exaggerated tales in which allegory, symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, and a host of other techniques allowed them to explore fundamental truths about human existence.  And I tried, in my modest way, to adopt that mode into a 21st century context.  That's where the "realism" comes in.  CL is part military-style action adventure, similar to the Jason Bourne books.  In that mode, a writer has to be specific, concrete, and plausible in his facts, speculations, and dramatic situations.  It's a very delicate balance between Romance and Realism.  I'll probably spend the rest of my days trying to achieve it.


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