Rick Hodges, author of To Follow Elephants, is a professional writer in Washington, D.C., by day, and author and playwright by night. He earned his BA from the University of Virginia in 1987. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two daughters.
What books have you read recently that have made an impact on you?
Hodges: The Loop by Joe Coomer turns a man’s mundane job as a night-shift highway maintenance worker into a quest for answers about his origin, and for a meaningful future. He’s an orphan, and he works on the same highway where he was found as a baby in a car crash with his dead, never-identified parents. His search, and first real relationship with a woman, both come into focus when he finds a stray parrot and searches for its owner. The Loop does so much with so little. It has only two main characters, plus one parrot. It digs deep rather than wide.
Do you have a routine you follow when you start writing a book?
No. My writing consists mostly of having an idea pop into my head and then desperately writing it down so I can stop thinking about it, followed by long periods of not knowing what to do next until a new idea pops into my head and the cycle continues. I’m driven more by impulse and hyper-focus than planning. Unless I have a deadline imposed on me, I’m not usually an X-pages-a-day, disciplined fiction writer. It works for me, though, since the ideas keep coming.
What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?
My favorite part was writing the passages in which the elephants are characters. I had nearly total freedom, since nobody can tell me that’s not how elephants really talk. In my book, what they do is always real elephant behavior that has been observed in the wild, but their thoughts—stories, spiritual beliefs, views about people—were mine to create.
What are you working on next?
I have a few strong ideas, but my first priority is to adapt my stage play, Three Generations of Imbeciles, as a novel.
Three Generations of Imbeciles shines a light on a disturbing event in U.S. history: the little-known practice of involuntary sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. The play follows an intellectually disabled woman’s struggle to reclaim her dignity by adopting a daughter after she is forcibly sterilized in a eugenics program. The daughter, a baby with Down syndrome, was given up by her parents and was sent to live in the same institution as the sterilized woman. But when the daughter grows up and wants a child of her own, the mother must confront the doctor who sterilized her—and prove her fitness to be a mother all over again. It’s an uplifting story with a positive, triumphant ending.
The story is based on a real court case from Virginia that allowed involuntary sterilization. The title comes from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared, since the woman to be sterilized allegedly had ancestors who were also “feeble-minded,” that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” My daughter born with Down syndrome inspired me to write the play. It should make a great novel too.
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Enjoy the process, not just the outcome. That will help the frustration of writing to propel you forward instead of getting you down.
Rick Hodges was scheduled to take part in the 2020 Virginia Festival of the Book. You can learn more about his work by clicking here, and you can order his books from a local bookseller by clicking here.