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books: The Human Touch

Local author Howard Owen explores the theme of redemption.


Style: After writing six novels do you see any repeating themes throughout your books?

Owen: I like to tell the story of people's lives, and I like to tell it from the flashback point of view. Consequently, sometimes I wind up with older characters. But if there's any one theme to what I write, it's redemption. My protagonists are always trying to make themselves better. In a lot of cases they are trying to undo the mistakes of their pasts. I think we all do that.

Flannery O'Connor used redemption through violence. Would you say that for you it's redemption through sacrifice?

It would be more through sacrifice. For the most part my protagonists are good-hearted people who have been weak in one way or another and they are trying to be stronger. …The sad truth is that for most of us, if we're given free reign and we didn't have to be careful and considerate of others and try to be good people, we might not be. You see that a lot with professional athletes and rich and famous people in general. If they can be careless, a lot of people will be.

Do you think that an obsession with the past might be another trait that connects the characters of your novels?

I think so. If you write novels where you want to tell the stories of someone's life … if you want to mix the present and the past, then it's almost by necessity that you're going to have characters who look back. That a lot of the chapters will start in the present and something will spur memory. Neil is not an introspective person, but two years in prison have given him some time to think. Now he's in a house that's a memorial to the past and he's there with his family. It's the perfect situation for this to come flooding back.

How important is the setting to your books?

I feel most comfortable setting stories in this part of the world. Most of the places in my stories are fictional. The small towns, the midsized towns that I use are mostly invented. It's more fun to make them up. Some writers have the characters dominate a book so that the setting doesn't matter at all. But I like to have the setting be a mute character in my books. The place where Neil grows up has these drop-shaft coal mines like Midlothian did back before it became suburbanized. And the house where he grows up is like Agecroft Hall, a place that was moved over stone by stone. A lot of these things I guess you could pick up just by going and doing some research. But I don't do it like that. …mostly what I write about is more like the feel, the things you pick up from living somewhere without even knowing that you're picking them up. The things that you see and hear and smell and touch… everything. The one great thing I discovered when I started writing fiction was how much information we pick up just by living. The thing is just finding one thing to write and blocking out everything else. S

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