Lake Roland, by debut author C. Roloson Reese, is an enigmatic book. It’s a coming-of-age tale that spans decades. It is a mystery about a missing person but its catalyst is a beautiful and placid lake. It’s about a family man with a white-collar career as a banker, but this stolid citizen suffers from intense and incessant emotional trauma stemming from an experience that left him grieving and always a little empty inside. It’s haunting and homey, provocative and recognizable and uniquely affecting.
This is the kind of novel that organically begs questions, so we were happy to ask some of the author himself. C. Roloson Reese opened up about his personal connection to his characters, locales, and creation, gave us a glimpse at the also somewhat enigmatic life of a writer, and offered a sneak peek at what lies on his literary horizon. After perusing his responses and before getting to experience his next work, read the review of Lake Roland here.
Q: Lake Roland is a work of fiction but it reads almost like a memoir. How much inspiration did you pull from real life? In what ways are you like your protagonist?
A: A real event inspired this novel. When I came across a news article eight years ago about a 45-year-old missing-person mystery that was solved by a fluke, I couldn’t stop thinking of the families and those closest to the missing youth, and how they went about their lives for so many years without knowing what happened. And then, one day, it was unexpectedly solved! How did they react? What went through their minds? I couldn’t shake these questions, and before long I was imagining how one of those loved ones must have experienced those years and events. The story needed a protagonist able to carry a chip on his shoulder for multiple decades and still come off as witty, sensitive and occasionally charming. In that respect, he’s nothing like the author.
Q: Much of the book centers around the emotional fallout of the sudden disappearance of Tom’s best friend Mark. What is your strategy for writing about this internal struggle in a way that comes alive for the reader?
A: How does a child and a man mourn the loss of a loved one? And what if it’s the same person mourning the same loss, with decades bookended between disappearance and discovery? That’s the novel approach for this novel. All humans mourn loss at various times in our lives, but the disappearance and discovery can expose emotions in varying, uneasy ways. On the front end, the realizations come slowly; on the other, overwhelmingly quickly.
Q: What was your writing process like? How much research and editing had to be done?
A: Before my fingers touch a keyboard, I want my heart to touch a reader’s heart. Every writing session begins with this goal to keep that connection, to create a smile or draw a wistful recognition of our own frailties, not to play on emotions but to underscore those we already feel. As for research, in areas where subject matter knowledge was lacking, I sought out experts and read what I could find. Editing is an exercise in humility. It is equivalent to showing your manuscript to someone and asking them, “does this writing make my story look fat?” We don’t always want an honest answer, but it’s what readers deserve.
Q: Do you have your own personal, real-life haunt like Lake Roland or did the idea of it come to you in another way?
A: Lake Roland is a real place, and it is near where I grew up in Baltimore, but it wasn’t the location of where the real events happened that inspired this novel. I chose it because it is a body of water that was formed by two skimpy, barely-noticeable streams on one end and a dam on the other end. A body of water between each end provides a lovely vista, and at times this water overflows and moves far beyond the dam. The story of Lake Roland is about two friends who converged and made a lovely friendship that tragically sees one move far beyond their youthful setting. It seemed like an appropriate parallel of place and people, of convergence and moving on.
Q: What are you working on next? How will it be similar to or different from Lake Roland?
A: There is no shortage of inspiration for stories of how resilient people heroically triumph over the tragedies they face in life. I am drawn to this type of story, where life continues anew after disaster. Much like the seeds in a forest that can only germinate after a fire, the human spirit can sprout anew following intense trials. My next book won’t have Lake Roland’s plot or point of view, but some themes might be familiar. I wish to prop up the serious next to the farce in life, recognizing what G. K. Chesterton said about seriousness not being a virtue, and let the reader regard the two in equal measure. Then unmercifully beat the ever-living crap out of the seriousness.