Photo credit: Chemenn Chugg
Brooke Fossey is author of The Big Finish, a novel brimming with heart and humor and the power of friendship and second chances. She’s also a former aerospace engineer, the past president of DFW Writers’ Workshop, and wife and mom of four.
In The Big Finish, Duffy Sinclair, a resident of Centennial assisted living center, fears getting booted to the roach-infested nursing home down the street. So, he does his best to play by the rules—not always easy for a guy who likes to do his own thing.
Then his roommate’s granddaughter, Josie, climbs through their bedroom window, running from her own challenges. As Josie upends all their lives, she also provides Duffy with one more chance to do the right thing.
Brooke was kind enough to answer a few questions about writing older heroes, creating metaphors, and her shift from engineering to writing.
What sparked the idea for The Big Finish?
My grandfather lived in an assisted living center. I’d visit him, often with my kids, and talk with him and the other gentlemen he shared a table with. Their stories were amazing. For instance, one man had been a pilot but now couldn’t bring a spoon to his mouth. I wanted to write a book in which these guys and gals were the heroes.
Can you talk about shifting from engineering to writing?
Everyone assumes engineering is lots of math and science and all left brain. It also requires a lot of creativity in designing solutions. I think it’s not that big of stretch to move to writing, as you’re also using your creativity in engineering.
What was your journey to publication like?
I’d been home with all my kids, and while I was glad to be able to do this, I also was going crazy. One day, I put them down for naps, opened a book, and thought ‘I could write one.’ I opened my computer and started.
Over the span of a decade, I got better. I joined DFW Writers’ Workshop and learned a lot. My next book, I was better at plotting. The one after that, I was better at characterization. I kept adding layers of understanding.
I know some people who are learning the craft add those layers to one book they’re constantly rewriting, but I’d get bored and move on. The Big Finish is my sixth novel.
In the book, a driving force behind Duffy’s actions were his fear of having to move to another, less desirable senior center. If you could wave a magic wand and change how we deal with senior living situations, what would you do?
I don’t know if there is a perfect solution. I’m Greek, and culturally, we tend to bring older people into our homes. My mom was a caretaker for many seniors in our family and I learned a lot watching her. Yet there comes a point where home care isn’t feasible. I think the solution has to come from the family, and they have to advocate for the seniors in their family.
Your novel highlights the idea of redemption, and how it’s never too late to do the right thing. Can you talk about that?
Duffy is gruff, but with a big heart. Redemption is often part of the hero’s journey, but I think sometimes readers are surprised when the hero is old. So often they’re ancillary players or flat characters, like the old lady in a haunted house or grumpy old man.
When I was writing this, I’d often hear critiques like, ‘Well, Duffy doesn’t sound old enough.’ But that was sort of the point. At the end of the day, even at eighty-eight, you’re still you. The humanity of you doesn’t change. And you still make mistakes, even as you’re running out of time to correct them.
One thing I loved was your use of metaphors and analogies, like describing Nora, a nurse in the story, as a ‘songbird built like a sparkplug.’ Any hints for creating these?
I was born and bred in Texas, and many idioms I used in the book are standard fare here. You can tweak them, make them a little bit more yours, and add a layer to the story.
I also read screen plays, like The Sopranos. They’re the best of the best in terms of dialog and help in getting voice and tempo. (Many screenplays are in the public domain, and you can buy the newer ones.)
Can you talk about your next book?
I can say it involves a large Italian family and soap operas.
Finally, who are some of your favorite authors?
I read ‘literary light,’ or something between genre and literary fiction. I love Tana French, who writes literary mysteries, and Dave Eggers, author of the best-selling memoir, A Heartbreak Work of Staggering Genius.