Interview With Jonathan Coleman

JONATHAN COLEMAN is a journalist and a lecturer at the University of Virginia, where he teaches ``creative nonfiction'' writing. ``Exit the Rainmaker'' is his second book. The first, ``At Mother's Request,'' was made into two network miniseries. Mr. Coleman talked with the Monitor when he was in Boston recently. Some of his comments follow.

When writing a book such as this, which is more important - the story itself or how it is told?

I have an obligation as a writer to tell a story as interestingly as possible, but with integrity and not inserting false drama.... I'm looking to be subtle, but being a wordsmith does not interest me - I want to communicate.

At the book's close you write ``Fear and fantasy, it seems, make interesting bedfellows.'' If flight is our fantasy, what is our fear?

That someday someone we're close to may abandon us. And this is why there are so many voices in the story. The feelings it triggered in the friends Jay Carsey left behind were just as important as his wife Nancy's. For this story to transcend itself it needed to be whole.

How does this story transcend itself?

By focusing on a particular from which the universal can be drawn. It finds itself when the reader begins to fill in the story with his own life and friends.

You deal with real and private lives in your works. Did you ever go too far in questioning, ask something too personal?

No, but I would have had I pushed for answers to two questions concerning an affair which may or may not have taken place during Jay and Nancy Carsey's marriage. One, did Jay have a child out of wedlock and two, if so, who was the mother? Obtaining and using that information would have taken something from him that is his alone. A man is entitled to a few secrets.

Who will be most affected by this book?

Equally the people involved and the book's readers, because it gives everyone a lot to consider. For the Marylanders among whom Jay lived, this is an enormous revelation in terms of his past, of which he never spoke. For Nancy Carsey, I hope it gives her closure.

Does it give readers any way to prevent getting to the point where escaping seems the only alternative?

Yes, in both encouraging and discouraging ways. Encouraging, in that Jay found a better life for himself with [his] second wife Dawn, and a good professional existence where he felt honest in his work, not like he was playing a role.

The discouraging message is a primer for how to have a truly good life. Don't sit and wish for some ideal; the grass is not always greener with the big house and cars and artwork. And choose someone to be with for the right reasons. Once when Jay was robbed during his wanderings, he called Dawn, and she came for him no-questions-asked because they had that true a relationship. Find someone for that, not social status or glitz.

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