Questions and answers for Becky Bohan’s book, A Light on Altered Land.
1. What is the basis of the remarkably open and honest communication between your main characters?
At their core, both Ellie and Kathryn are compassionate and kind. Part of that comes from maturity and their life experiences. Another part comes from their practice of nonviolent communication (NVC). Although I don’t name it as such, both characters demonstrate the principles of NVC, which concern empathetic connections based on universal human feelings and needs. I wanted to show in this book two people talking with the intention of deeply connecting rather than finding fault, winning points, or defending themselves. The characters model collaboration rather than dominance.
2. What role does age play in this book?
The main characters are in their mid to late 60s, not the age range usually associated with romance. But older people fall in love all the time, and I wanted to honor the amazing ability of the human heart to connect at any age. I also wanted to illustrate the ageism older women face in a culture that idolizes youth. Elders can be deep wells of knowledge and wisdom, and society is missing out by dismissing them as irrelevant. We also see the “microaggressions” against old people—as when a waiter calls the main characters “young ladies,” assuming it’s a compliment. Instead, it’s dishonest and disrespectful.
3. What role does cannabis play?
Cannabis is part of the main storyline. The characters take a road trip from Minnesota to California to pick up a cannabis product for a friend who suffers from severe arthritis. My book highlights the crazy patchwork of laws governing the use of marijuana and talks a bit out the burgeoning industry surrounding the legal use of CBD products. But not all products are legal—such as the highly concentrated, full-spectrum oil that Ellie seeks for her friend. And that’s where our heroines get into trouble.
4. A technique for dealing with anger and stress illustrated in the book is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). What can you say about EFT?
My wife, Nancy, and I use Emotional Freedom Technique when something triggers an intense emotion such as anger or shame. We learned it after a traumatic experience at the Paris airport. We kept reliving the trauma, which was disturbing our sleep and our relationship. In the book, Kathryn, a retired psychologist, has used EFT with her clients, and she teaches the technique to Ellie. Tapping end points of certain meridians on the head and chestwhile repeatedly describing the triggering event causes the emotion to dissipate and transform into peace. It is a wonderful emergency first aid kit for self-care. YouTube has several videos illustrating EFT.
5. What does the title mean?
A Light on Altered Land refers to the shifting ground under both characters. They have each lost their mates—one through death, the other through divorce—and they are both looking to downsize from big houses. Kathryn is also dealing with moving from heterosexuality into a lesbian relationship, and Ellie is grappling with the loss of lesbian culture and the changing landscape of the alphabet soup of LGBTQ+ culture. Light can be a cleansing and purifying power. By shining a light on their wounds, healing can begin.
6. How important to the book is it that Ellie is a lesbian feminist?
Very important. I know that this is a controversial part of the book, but this is who Ellie is. As my grasp of Ellie’s character deepened, I realized I had never seen a lesbian-feminist portrayed in fiction. I felt obliged to be true to and respectful of Ellie’s life experiences and how they informed her politics. For instance, Ellie attended the Michigan Womyn’s Musical Festival for several years, and she mourns its demise and the loss of other lesbian spaces. Kathryn, on the other hand, is a good liberal. By looking at the world through Ellie’s eyes—such as the oppressive nature of department stores and women’s fashions—she deepens her understanding of the way patriarchy subjugates women.
7. What is the significance of birds and dinosaurs in the book?
Birds and dinosaurs are a major image in the book—either overtly or subtly as on the very first page when Kathryn swoops into a chair at a coffee shop. During Ellie’s spiritual crisis, she wonders if she and other aging lesbians who resist gender ideology are just dinosaurs whose time has passed. But she comes to realize that the dinosaurs never really went extinct; they are present today in the form of birds. It is a hopeful image; all things evolve, and gender politics will eventually evolve into something else—maybe even a new type of feminism.
8. What’s with the Star Trek references?
I’m a Star Trek fan, so, I tip my hat to that wonderful franchise. Kathryn’s daughter is a Trekker who goes in costume to Star Trek conventions with her family. I’ve put several Easter eggs in the story as little gifts for Trekkers. For example, the names of Kathryn’s granddaughters pay homage to Gene and Magel Roddenberry, the Star Trek creators.
9. Why does your book bring in the strange topic of home funerals and green burials?
I touch on home funerals during a conversation early in the book when the protagonists are getting to know each other. Ellie lost her wife, Mary, to breast cancer three years before the book opens. Mary wanted to die at home, have a three-day vigil, and be buried in an environmentally friendly way. She chose a simple linen shroud instead of a casket. My wife, Nancy, and I have been activists in the home funeral/green burial movement for over a decade. We were inspired by our sister-in-law, Diane Manahan, who planned her death and bodily disposition. We wrote about Diane’s amazing final three years in our award-winning book, Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully: A Journey with Cancer and Beyond. In fact, much of the inspiration for A Light on Altered Land comes from Diane, who, like Kathryn, was a psychotherapist.
10. Will there be a sequel?
Yes! I’ve been busy getting my suspense/romance blend The Santorini Setup published. But I’ve begun writing a sequel about Ellie and Kathryn. The story is set four years after A Light on Altered Land ends. Some big developments are coming!