New Hampshire author Nicholas Conley joins us today to discuss what inspired his novel Pale Highway.
Q. What was your biggest source of inspiration while writing Pale Highway?
A. The setting of Pale Highway emerged from my real life experience working with Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home setting. As I wrote about on Alzheimer’s.net, this gave me a strong desire to speak out about my experience, to do what I could to raise awareness about the disease, and the lives of those who live with it.
Q. The story centers mostly on Gabriel, a brilliant man who is now living with Alzheimer’s disease. Why did you feel it was important to shed light this affliction?
A. Once I knew that I was going to be writing about Alzheimer’s disease, I knew that I wanted to write a protagonist with Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s are so often forgotten, and by casting an Alzheimer’s patient as the hero of my story, I hope to demonstrate that people with this terrible cognitive disease are still people, first and foremost, and thus deserve equal respect and love.
Q. I loved that, although deeply affected by the disease, Gabriel is given purpose in the novel – he is more than simply a diagnosis. Was this deliberate on your part?
A. You said it perfectly – he is more than a diagnosis. That’s exactly what I wanted to get at here, by showing Gabriel as a real human being; flawed but brilliant, stubborn and strongminded, but also sometimes short sighted.
Q. Aside from Alzheimer’s, the novel had a lot of scientific and medical information especially when it came to Gabriel’s theories on the immune system. Did this require a lot of research?
A. The research that went into writing this book took a long time, but was worth every hour. In order to write about Gabriel I had to first understand how such a person thinks, and this meant understanding his scientific passion.
Q. How did you come up with the title Pale Highway?
A. As you know from reading it, the title is pretty tightly connected to the central themes of the book. I struggled with finding a title for a long time before starting to write the book, but then one night it came to me in a lightning bolt, and it was right then—through finding that title—when Pale Highway was really born.
Q. As a writer, do you tend to plan each chapter ahead of time or do you just “let it happen” so to speak?
A. I’m a meticulous outliner, and I work pretty hard to deliver payoffs for all of my buildups. That said, the process is organic rather than forced, so there are times during the writing process where characters go off, make decisions and redirect the storyline.
Q. I found it interesting that, while the present was seen through Grabriel’s eyes, the past flashbacks were shown from other people’s point of view. What was the reason behind this?
A. In order to get a fully rounded view of who Gabriel is as a person, I felt it was important to show him from other people’s points of view. Gabriel is a highly introverted individual, and in his younger years is shown to be socially awkward and tense, so by writing the flashbacks through the POV of others—while simultaneously reading the future scenes through the eyes of an older Gabriel, who has already learned a lot of the harsh lessons that his younger self has yet to experience—it allowed the full spectrum of the character to become fully fleshed out.
Q. What did you find most challenging about writing Pale Highway?
A. When one writes about a character long enough, that character can start to feel like a friend. And Gabriel goes through many painful, humiliating moments in this book, so going through those moments with him felt like being pushed through a meat grinder.
Q. What process did you go through to get your book published?
A. I submitted the novel to Red Adept Publishing. When the acceptance call came in, I can’t even describe the sense of elation I experienced; after all those years of working on this project, dreaming about it, imagining it happening…the reality of the publication contract was a senses-shattering experience.
Q. Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?
A. Definitely a combination. I’d say the initial brainstorming process is mostly all intuition, and then logic comes in as a guiding force that takes in all of the disparate ideas, visualizations and character concepts, then ties them together into a cohesive whole.
Q. What are your future writing plans? Can your readers look forward to more books?
A. My creative mind feels like a train station, where there are hundreds of trains, and each individual train is going somewhere amazing. The only shame is that I have to pick and choose one at a time!
Q. What advice would you give a new author?
A. Never give up, and never lose sight of the passion that compelled you in the first place.
Q. Where can readers find your work?
A. At www.NicholasConley.com, of course! Readers can also follow me on my blog, where I regularly post about books, media, traveling, and coffee.