A Conversation About The Crossing
Michael Doane is the author of The Crossing.
Rachel Small is an editor, traveler, and avid reader. The Crossing is one among many novels she has edited.
Goran “Dula” Radulovic is a musician, friend of the author, and the co-host of Between Pages Podcast with Mike and Dula.
In The Crossing, your protagonist sets off on a journey across the United States. Did you draw on any of your own travel experiences when writing this story?
This question comes up a lot, so thank you for asking it. The short answer is no. I’ve never travelled cross-country and this is not an autobiographical novel. There are, however, experiences I’ve drawn from my own travels that have made their way into the fabric of the story.
When I was ten, I took a flight to Kansas City with my father, great aunt, and great grandfather, where we rented a car and proceeded to drive to various points throughout the state. The ultimate destination was Smith Center for my great grandfather’s high school reunion. There were only about ten classmates still living. It was fascinating. The bits in The Crossing that center around Kansas are certainly influenced by this trip.
My wife, Emily, and I also travel often. Our preferred mode of transportation is via car. There’s something about road trips that give you time to think and have fun and turn your brain off. This pleasure has also worked its way into the narrative, although the main character is learning to enjoy the road and learn from it rather than coming to it with some sort of predetermined fondness.
Goran “Dula” Radulovic:
Many books use travel to tell a story of self-discovery. Did you write this book because you consider yourself an adventurous type, or because you long to experience the type of journey described in The Crossing?
I think every journey we experience stretches our hearts and minds a little more. I didn’t have many opportunities to travel as a child, but once I entered college a whole new world opened up to me. My wife (then-girlfriend) and I took a tour of Western Europe. It was an amazing experience and in a sense it was healing. I was going through a lot at that time and the trip really gave me a sense of calm and understanding.
The protagonist works through heavy issues in his process of self-discovery. Did you intend for this work to provide hope for readers?
Absolutely. The protagonist begins at a point in time in which his best friend and lover has left him and is not coming back, most of his friends have moved on in some way or another, and, having done little with his life, he is a twenty-something still living with his parents. He has no real prospects and I think many people, whether warranted or not, have similar feelings about their own lives. He works through his issues and comes to a place of peace. I hope readers can walk away feeling they can make the journey forward from whatever past they carry with them.
Was leaving the protagonist nameless intentional?
No, not at first. When I began writing, he kind of wrote himself that way, as if I were him, journalling about this trip. I realized I’d never given him a name about halfway through and decided there was something nice about that. This story is a personal journey — not only about him, but about the reader too. I hope leaving him nameless will allow people to step inside his shoes and vicariously give perspective to their own lives.
Did the story come to you fully formed? Or did it grow and develop in ways you didn’t expect?
An image came to me in a dream. I saw two people — lovers — standing on the edge of a cliff, holding hands, staring out at an erupting volcano. It was beautiful and tragic all at once, like a Thomas Cole painting. At the same time, a good friend and I were having conversations about traveling cross-country, something he’s now actually planning on doing in a converted van. These things together formed the beginning and the end of The Crossing. Everything in between happened organically.
Writing the bones of the story was fairly quick. I actually wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2014. It was very rough at that point, and I spent the next two years editing, getting feedback from beta readers, working with my developmental editor, Rebecca Faith Heyman, and of course, working with you, Rachel, on the final round of edits.
Are the relationships the main character has with others influenced by relationships in your own life? I’m interested in Duke in particular.
Sure. Many of the characters in The Crossing draw their personality traits from people I know or have known in my life. Duke is a very interesting example. There was a time in the middle part of high school that I put myself around unsavory characters. I had my fair share of being left high and dry. Duke was certainly influenced by those people.
Duke is also an amalgamation of personas like S. E. Hinton’s Tex, and famous musicians like Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. Dylan, being a city boy feigning country, and Van Zandt, who was from a wealthy and prominent Texan family, kind of presented themselves as something they weren’t. I think this is part of Duke’s main appeal. You’re not quite sure who or what he is, but he’s got this charisma you can’t deny.
Speaking of Duke, can we expect a spin-off novel with Duke as the main character?
This is the second most popular question I get. We never learn about Duke’s backstory, or his relationship with Aubrey. There’s lots of potential there. He also mentions a desire to write an album called Starry Nights. Nothing’s planned, but we’ll see.
Mountains are quite significant throughout the story. Do they hold special meaning for you?
A couple years ago I walked the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail in a weekend. Fifty miles in forty eight hours. The ups and downs — geographically, physically, and emotionally — I experienced on that short trip were amazing.
I also walk a trail near my house often. It is mostly flat, but there is a particular section that zigzags up a large, steep hill. That section is what I look forward to on every hike. Sometimes I struggle up it, sometimes I run up it, sometimes I pace myself and enjoy the challenge.
I think mountains represent journeys well. And they represent life. They can be challenging to climb, they can be beautiful, sometimes they even explode unexpectedly and throw everything off balance. But we have to learn to enjoy them for what they are and experience the challenges and joys as they come.
Do you consider yourself to be a genre-based writer or is your spectrum wider than that? Will you be writing any more travel stories?
The genre discussion is a tough one for me. The Crossing is only my first published novel and, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve found my niche quite yet. I’ve written two other novels, one of which does involve travel and coming-of-age themes. The best thing I can do for myself and my readers is to continue writing what I love, what interests me, and what I am passionate about. If it fits into a certain genre, so be it.
What works have influenced you as a writer?
This is a tough question to answer too because I am constantly being influenced by the books I read. J. K. Rowling, as I suspect any writer my age would answer, had a profound influence on me. T. H. White’s study of the human psyche through King Arthur is also important. Steinbeck and Borges are two others for whom I have a deep admiration.
The Crossing in particular was influenced by Homer’s Odyssey first and foremost. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse were important as well. I hadn’t read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or On the Road until I was well into editing the final draft, but I’d like to think of The Crossing as a spiritual successor to these, and it was certainly influenced by the idea and tradition of the American travel story. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild also had some sort of sway on the book.
What’s next for you?
There’s potential for a sequel or spin-off of The Crossing if enough people seem interested. I have two other drafts I have to tend to as well. We’ll see.