Sunday, December 4, 2011

Light from the darkness of abuse: An interview with David Cleinman

Today, I'm talking with David A. Cleinman talks about his novel, Toys In the Attic.

1) Tell us about Toys In The Attic.

Toys In The Attic follows the life of a young girl, Sara (fourteen at the start), and her suffering at the hands of an emotionally abusive and misogynistic father.  Eventually he loses his mind and sexually assaults her.  The result is a child that she cannot embrace, cannot love, and cannot abandon out of guilt.  The story follows her personal recovery, and her eventual ability to bond with her son.  All is well until she meets a nice guy who enchants her, only to develop a serious mental illness while living with Sara and her child. Coping and surviving, and escaping, become the final thrust of the novel.  

2. What inspired this book?

True to life stories that have collected in my soul as painful stones. I needed both to share the stories, pretty much as I had learned them, but also show the way forward. The story is less about suffering, and more about living.  It is less about horror than it is about coping.  It is less about fear and avoidance than it is about overcoming and thriving. There has been nothing more painful to me than working with a young girl who has suffered the horrors of abuse. There is also nothing more rewarding than seeing them break free from that past and learn to live and thrive.

3. This book has some rather dark themes that are uncomfortable to read about let alone write about. Did you have any difficulty confronting these darker elements during the process of writing the book?

Indeed. It was neither an easy story to write, nor simple. The abusive scenes were best written quickly, with gritted teeth, and frequent deep breaths.  To counter them, the positive emotionally moving scenes in the book are very intimate and loving. Part of writing such a dark tale is understanding that shying away from the darkness denies the reader, as well as the characters, a true opportunity for completeness. So I dedicated myself to avoiding the easy way out, but the bullet, and wrote as realistically as possible.

4. A rural farm is a key aspect of the setting of this book. Did you call on your own life experiences in depicting the farm or was this something you just researched?

I grew up surrounded by farms, working on many of them, and loving the animals and the environment. So I knew the farm well when I wrote the tale. The details of Sara’s breeding operation, however, required the help of an old friend in my hometown, who provided some valuable info, as well as some internet-based research. The entire location is an area that I know well, have lived in for a period of time, and truly love. The final part to this puzzle is that much of what happens in the book are things I experienced personally. I wanted the setting to feel realistic so the story could just flow.

5. Can you tell us about your literary influences?

There are many.  JRR Tolkien is king, in my opinion, of literary language and epic story. Stephen King’s willingness to blow his readers apart with drama and straight scene was a major help in writing Toys In The Attic. Edgar Allen Poe used dark themes (personally generated from his own emotions) to his advantage… something I chose to do with this novel. Charles Dickens combined dark and light, probably learned from Shakespeare, to both enchant and dismay his readers.

6. This seems like a complete departure from your previous novel, Principle Destiny, a fantasy adventure. Why the radical shift in genre?

I would say it is, in some ways, but not in major ways.  Principle Destiny is an action story with a strong literary element.  But it does deal with some of the same basic concepts. It is about a heroine struggling to overcome massive forces against her, and achieve a life-long goal.  Toys in The Attic is similar in theme.  Principle Destiny is mostly about dealing with external forces, and Toys In The Attic mostly deals with emotional (internal) struggles. The reason for the shift was that I wanted to write a different story. I doubt I will ever be able to write in a single genre. I tend to be a jack of all trades.

7) Did you have any difficulties writing in this genre that you didn't face with Principle Destiny?

No. The characters pretty much tell their own tales, and I bring them to life. I read in every genre, even an occasional romance. Writing cross-genre just comes naturally, I suppose.


Thanks, Dave.

To learn more about Dave Cleinman, please visit his writing blog at  

You can learn more about the novel, and purchase it if you desire, at its home on my writing blog:

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Dave Cleinman said...

Thank you Mr. Beard for taking the time to chat with me this week!

J.A. Beard said...

You're welcome.