AN INTERVIEW WITH LAUREN FRANCIS-SHARMA
AUTHOR OF ‘TIL THE WELL RUNS DRY
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: I was not inspired as much as I was looking to understand my maternal grandmother, a woman whom I did not feel like I really knew. When she had her first stroke, I sat next to her hospital bed and realized I knew so little. She was not one to share her feelings and I had never bothered to push her on the details of her life story. I wrote this book, which is loosely based on the little I knew about her, as a way to fill that void.
Q: The case could be made that Blanchisseuse, a sea-side village in Trinidad, is a character in the book. What drew you to this particular town, and what effect does it have on the lives of your characters?
A: I firmly believe that the places where we live as children are natural characters in our story, so it seemed befitting to attempt to make Blanchisseuse come alive on the page, as this is how Marcia feels about her birthplace. My grandmother's family purchased land in Blanchisseuse in the early twentieth century, and my grandmother was born and raised there. Many of my mother's childhood memories, her stories, are set there. To me, Blanchisseuse is a magical place, and it has been a part of me for as long as I remember.
Q: The chapters in ‘Til the Well Runs Dry are told from the perspective of three central characters. Why did you choose these specific characters to hold up the arc of the story?
A: When I began writing this story, Jacqueline was the protagonist. On the first page she wakes to the sound of her mother tapping a spoon on the lip of a pot. The story should have been a coming-of-age story where Jacqueline grows to understand herself and her quite difficult mother. But as I continued to write, this mother, Marcia, began to steal scenes. And before long, Farouk also became a necessity, as someone needed to tell his story. Now I couldn't imagine it any other way.
Q: Marcia, one of your main protagonists, is an incredibly strong woman – both mentally and physically. Where do you think her strength comes from, and is she an amalgamation of you and your grandmother?
A: The circumstances, the world, into which Marcia is born makes living a challenge, but she wants to survive. And even though she can be a hard woman, many of her decisions show immense vulnerability. To me, therein lies her real strength: To choose to love. To choose to be a mother. To admit fear. To fight fear. These qualities make her strong. My grandmother faced many of the same challenges, and Marcia is who I hope my grandmother was deep down inside. Marcia is also who I hope I am or will be, though I would like to be more openly expressive about my love for others.
Q: The topic of parenthood – and most especially motherhood – is central to your novel. This theme deeply affects two of your three protagonists, namely Marcia and her husband, Farouk. After they have their first child, Farouk learns of a family secret on Marcia’s side, which threatens their relationship. In fact, he moves out of their shared home. Yet year after year, they keep having children. After their fourth child arrives, Farouk becomes very detached from his family. What is it about parenthood that brought them together and then drove them apart?
A: For Farouk parenthood is an extension of his love for Marcia. After the breakdown of the marriage, he is angry, and feels betrayed, and though he still loves Marcia, the children become central figures in his burning resentment—the only way he can continue to hurt Marcia for the never-ending pain he experiences. For Marcia, because of the twins, perhaps even because she is a woman, she understands that parenthood is a separate entity from marriage, though she'd like for them to co-exist. Of course, having the children means having a small part of Farouk, and though she sometimes resents the burden parenthood has placed on her life, Marcia's commitment to them is unwavering. Farouk eventually comes to understand this kind of commitment, this kind of love.
Q: You manage to capture the sights, sounds, food, and – let’s not forget – the voodoo of Trinidad. How much research did you have to do in order to make this country come alive? Can you talk a bit more about the obeah women and their role not only in your book but in Trinidadian culture?
A: I was born in America to Trinidadian parents. There are some things that come to you by osmosis when you are part of the first generation growing up away from the family homeland. But to be honest, there were more things that were fuzzy. I did my best—through asking questions, reading books, and traveling to Trinidad—to make it as alive and as authentic as possible. I know I did not get it all right, but my goal was to serve my family and the country well. As such, I do not particularly like the word “voodoo.” “Magic,” “the mystical,” “witchcraft” are used for the same purposes, yet do not carry the same connotation. So, yes, perhaps “obeah” is simply a different label, but in my mind, obeah, the use of which was far more prevalent fifty years ago, is not always hateful and vengeful. People have used obeah to guide them in making important life decisions and to protect them from negative outcomes. In this story, Farouk simply wants to capture Marcia's heart. It is the obeah woman, the bearer of the institution, abusing her privilege for her own gain, who throws a wrench in his plan.
Q: Marcia makes the ultimate sacrifice for her children when she leaves them behind in Trinidad and immigrates to the United States with the intention, of course, to earn enough money to bring them all to the States at some point. While Marcia struggles to get her footing, do you think that her home country of Trinidad and its melting-pot population gave her an advantage when she arrived in the melting pot of New York City?
A: No. I do not think anything can prepare a person for that kind of life transition. Immigration is dislocation. One's life is completely turned on its head. Think back sixty years or more and imagine you have no television, you've seen maybe one movie, you know very little about the place where you will live. Then imagine that when you get there nothing goes as planned. The person who leaves her home seeking a better opportunity, who is willing to do what it takes and sticks it out despite all that inevitably will go wrong, is inherently better equipped than many of the rest of us. But she needs a chance. The only advantage Marcia has when she arrives in New York is that there are other West Indians who are willing to help her. Community is the key to many immigrant success stories.
Q: Is ‘Til the Well Runs Dry the first book you’ve written?
A: I wish! No, I had two novels prior to this that I failed to get published.