INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL OLIVER, AUTHOR OF THE LONG ROAD
Published by Black Rose Writing on 2/8/18 The Long Road follows a young man, sometimes in mental turmoil, as he doggedly prepares for his dream career in aerospace engineering. I’m pleased to have first read this work in manuscript form and now to see it available for the world to read.
Question: What are a few of your all-time favorite novels, and what makes them so? Is there a type of fiction that you read most often?
Answer: My all-time favorite is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I gravitate toward stories that are realistic and that include characters who take a long time to overcome their problems but are victorious in the end.(Dickens wrote two separate endings, one of which has Pip “victorious.”) I admire these characters more than those in thrillers. Thriller characters solve their problems in the matter of weeks or even days and usually lack a character arc. Pip is more interesting to me because of his character arc and his ability to endure years of suffering. Also, Dickens didn’t fear bringing up social issues, such as his portrayal of the heartless lawyer handling Pip’s fortune and the extreme poverty in London during his time. I’m currently reading The Conte of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, another story that takes place over decades of a suffering character’s life. From these two novels, you can say I prefer the classics.
Question: In The Long Road protagonist Hank faces the question of when a young man should tell a woman whom he asks for a date that he has recently suffered a mental breakdown. Does he tell her on the first date? The second? The third? Before he sleeps with her, after? Imagine another scenario. Hank is dating a young woman about whom he’s unsure. He likes her but doesn’t know whether he’ll ever fall in love with her. She bores him at times, and she’s frequently irritable with him, especially if he doesn’t do something she wants him to do. He wonders if he should break up with her before things become more serious. But before he decides whether to break up with her, she learns she has cancer and will be in treatment for the foreseeable future with the results uncertain. What does he do? Stay with her to be supportive, possibly leading to marriage to a woman he may never fall in love with? Try to ease away gently, although her predisposition toward irritability combined with the stress of the disease makes unlikely that she will let him go without hating him?
Answer: I suggest disclosing a mental illness or breakdown fairly early in a relationship. Trying to hide it, as Hank does, only stresses both parties going forward. The one suffering from the disorder would most commonly feel guilty and under increasing pressure to tell his partner, while the partner would be angry and disappointed that the disclosure wasn’t made sooner, if at all. As for the second scenario, even though the woman is sick with cancer, I would call it off if it is a loveless relationship. The stress of staying together will make both individuals unhappier if the relationship continues.
Question: Hank worries about schizophrenia. He asks if it’s genetic or what causes it otherwise. A psychiatrist tells him that a recent study suggests that some schizophrenia is caused by childhood trauma. You’ve obviously researched the illness. What is known about it? What percentage of people suffering from schizophrenia have an older relative with the disease? Need Hank worry about fathering a child? What percentage of schizophrenia patients suffered childhood trauma? Is a domineering, explosive father enough to give a growing child schizophrenia?
Answer: From my research, I learned that twenty percent of cases of schizophrenia are caused by some sort of past emotional trauma, while the rest can be attributed to genetic predisposition. In the early days of psychiatry, past emotional trauma was thought to cause almost all mental illness. Then, after genes were discovered, the pendulum swung away from the emotional trauma theory and shifted to psychiatrists thinking that an individual’s DNA caused mental illness. Today, the statistics are as I stated. A person like Hank need not worry about fathering a child that is “extra prone” to schizophrenia, since he “acquired” his illness from having a tough childhood and not because another relative had the illness. An individual that suffered what Hank did can most definitely develop a mental illness later in life.
Question: Hank has seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. He is heroic, yet has much to fear, and fears much. His friend Tom rescues Hank when a fellow surfer is on the verge of beating Hank up. On the street in Philadelphia Hank is hit on the back of the head and robbed while unconscious. In his Atlanta home, “The Mansion,” Hank’s father bullies the family. Alone in his various apartments Hank is assaulted by fears that send him on the run, escaping into the hands of perhaps lying, abusive police and institutional staff. To what extent is Hank’s conflict man vs. himself and to what extent man vs. man?
Answer: First and foremost, Hank’s troubles are man vs. himself because of his schizophrenia and other personality faults not associated with his mental illness. When the surfer almost beats him up, he questions why he is such a wimp sometimes. Another fault is that he’s too passive about discovering his true diagnosis after his first hospitalization. He fails to scour the internet or press his various healthcare providers into giving him an honest opinion. Only when he begins seeing his therapist, Paula, and afterwards, Dr. Sloane, does he finally begin to ask some difficult questions. There is a character arc in the story about how Hank begins to change; he stands up for himself in the end without Tom’s help and presses his healthcare providers to give honest information regarding his illness. As a result of this man vs. himself struggle, Hank encounters man vs. man problems. His mental illness leads to his arrest, his relapses, and so forth, although some of the problems, such as his mistreatment in jail and the inaccuracies of his medical report, are out of his control. I leave it to the reader to figure out why these occur.
Question: Do you have a novel in progress? Perhaps also a short story? Do you see writing fiction as a lifetime preoccupation, maybe writing some nonfiction also?
Answer: My second novel is called Power Play. It’s about a physician with bipolar disorder who is wrongly accused of assault. It deals more with mental illness and the justice system than with establishing a career, like in The Long Road. Right now, I am sticking to writing fiction as opposed to nonfiction. I enjoy using my imagination to entertain the reader as well as educate him. I’m not sure whether I’ll write for the rest of my life. Right now, I’m going book by book.
Thank you, Daniel Oliver. I enjoyed reading The Long Road and look forward to Power Play.
Daniel Oliver has bachelor’s degrees in both Spanish and Physician Assistant Studies. In writing his debut novel, The Long Road, he drew inspiration from his experience as a Physician Assistant in a psychiatry ward and his own struggles with mental illness and hospitalizations.
Oliver is a resident of Baltimore, Maryland, where he enjoys the single life—and the oysters.
Gary Garth McCann
First-prize winner for short works and for suspense/mystery, Maryland Writers’ Association, Gary Garth McCann is the author of the novella Young and in Love? and of the novels The Shape of the Earth and The Man Who Asked To Be Killed, praised at the Washington Independent Review of Books. His most recent published stories are available online in Chelsea Station Magazine, Erotic Review Magazine, and in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. His other stories appear in The Q Review, reprinted in Off the Rocks, in Best Gay Love Stories 2005, and in the Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly. See his blogs at garygarthmccann.com and streamlinermemories.com.
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