A Discussion with Bradford Morrow about The Diviner's Tale
How did you discover the mysterious art of divining?
Through one of those ridiculous to the sublime circumstances. I had the very mundane problem of a frequently flooded basement in my old farmhouse in upstate New York, and an excavator I knew recommended I contact a local water-witch to dowse the land around the house so he didn't make a mess guessing with his backhoe. I'd never seen a real dowser at work before. It was amazing. His rod half leapt out of his hands as he walked along. He told me there was a strong underground stream running at such and such a depth and distance from the house and, to cut a long story short, he was absolutely right about everything he said. As it turned out, my plumber is also an old-school dowser, and when I marveled at what I'd witnessed, he gave me the friendly pitying look of someone who's so used to everyday divining that it was he who marveled that I should marvel.
How far have you delved into the world of divining yourself?
I went so far as to attend Basic Dowsing School at the American Society of Dowsers convention in Vermont a few summers ago, where I had the good fortune to study with a wonderful, magical woman named Marty Cain, among others. I have my diploma to prove it, and a small collection of the diviner's toolsbobbers, rods, and pendulumsbut I wouldn't recommend you hire me if your well runs dry.
Do you consider yourself a diviner?
I consider myself at best an amateur dowser. But I can say with certainty I no longer consider myself a doubter. Everyone is in his or her own way a diviner. And that's what the novel is in part about. Certainly being a writer demands that one engage in a form of divination, but that's true of so many creative activities in people's lives.
The Diviner's Tale seamlessly brings together themes such as religion, philosophy, Greek mythology, baseball and bird-watching, and also creates a mash-up of literary fiction, mystery, and fantasy. How were you able to bring all those ideas and elements together so flawlessly?
That's such a nice question I hate to ruin it with an answer. In fact, I've never really viewed the so-called genres of fantasy and mystery as being, by definition, distinct from the "literary." I've read any number of fantasy and mystery works I think of as highly literary. I'm keenly aware that one of the old cardinal rules of mystery is that it doesn't mix with the supernatural. P. D. James mentions this in her recent Talking About Detective Fiction: "All supernatural agencies are ruled out." But the world into which I was drawn with this bookCassandra Brooks's worlddefied such conventions, and so did I.
The Diviner's Tale seems distinctly different from your other novels in that there's no overt political or historical dimension at its center.
I think earlier novels like Giovanni's Gift and Trinity Fields examined the deeply political nature of family relationships. The Diviner's Tale is, in many ways, about what it's like to be a true outsider, gifted in ways the culture finds unacceptable or even bogus, trying to negotiate a path through the real world, the supposedly sane world. So the politics in this book are more familial and local. More about how some people considered freakish by society are often our most incandescent, brilliant members.
Dowsing, or divining, is rich with metaphor. You play with ideas of the seen and the unseen, and with literary writing within the mystery. Are there hidden literary references in the book?
You're right, divining is one of the richest metaphors I've ever worked with, even though much of the divination in the novel isn't metaphoric at all, but the real deal. I always love weaving hidden allusions in my novels. Beyond the obvious reference to the Cassandra myth, though, I think it's best to leave it to readers to do their own divining.