Michigan author, Michael Zadoorian, wrote the effusively memorable book The Leisure Seeker:
"John and Ella Robina have shared a wonderful life for more than fifty years. Now in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and has chosen to stop treatment. John has Alzheimer's. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed "down-on-their-luck geezers" kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives to steal away from their home in suburban Detroit on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery.
With Ella as his vigilant copilot, John steers their '78 Leisure Seeker RV along the forgotten roads of Route 66 toward Disneyland in search of a past they're having a damned hard time remembering. Yet Ella is determined to prove that, when it comes to life, a person can go back for seconds—sneak a little extra time, grab a small portion more—even when everyone says you can't." - from Goodreads
Foodie Bibliophile: Thank you Michael for agreeing to this interview. The Leisure Seeker is such an unusual plot - probably one of the most memorable and unique I've read in a long time. How did the idea come to you? Was it an inkling of a particular character? The desire to write a road trip story that no one had tried before? A personal experience?
Michael Zadoorian: THE LEISURE SEEKER was definitely inspired in many ways by my parents. All through my childhood, my Mom and Dad took my sister and I camping (we had an Apache pop-up tent trailer built in Lapeer, Michigan) and many of those experiences informed large parts of the book. We traveled all over the country (often out west), staying in many of the same kinds of places that John and Ella frequent -- everything from KOAs (Kampgrounds Of America) to small trailer parks to state parks to fanciful tiki-themed campgrounds.
Later, when my sister and I grew up, and my parents started camping on their own, they graduated to a small custom van. John and Ella’s Leisure Seeker is a little bit fancier than what my parents used, but you get the idea.
FB: A scene in the book that really stuck with me, but would probably pass most people by is when John and Ella encounter a man in Oklahoma who asks them where they're from. When he hears they're from Detroit, instead of cringing like most people do, this guy does something unheard of and says, without any sarcasm, "Beautiful town." Coming from Detroit like you, and spending my entire life having to apologize for where I'm from, this scene really touched me, if not perplexed me. What was your motivation for writing it?
MZ: Good question. I’m not entirely sure how that scene came about. But I guess I did want to give Ella a chance to talk about what you just mentioned: that cringe that Detroiters get from people from other cities and states. I also wanted someone else to remember the Detroit of years back that Ella and John remember, although in a different way. (The character who approaches John and Ella is about the same age as them, but he’s African-American, so his experience in Detroit would have been somewhat different.) And I have to say, it was fun to write a scene where, when someone brings up the subject of Detroit, another person says: “Beautiful town.”
FB: What made you decide to choose Ella as the narrator instead of John? I've heard that one of the hardest things for a writer to do credibly is narrate for someone of the opposite sex. Obviously with John's Alzheimer's he couldn't coherently narrate, but was there ever a temptation to give John the cancer and Ella the Alzheimer's?
MZ: It may have crossed my mind once or twice, but never seriously. Using Ella as the narrator was always what felt right to me. I don’t know why writing a book in the voice of a woman in her eighties felt so comfortable to me, but it did. Let’s just say that as a child and as an adult, I always listened to my mother. She was definitely a big influence on the character of Ella.
FB: Did you have to research how someone with Alzheimer's would behave or was it all coming from personal experience?
MZ: Unfortunately, that part of the book was inspired by my family’s experiences with my father’s Alzheimer’s disease. When he got ill, we went through a pretty awful five-year period before he passed away. Much of John’s character was influenced by my father and my experiences dealing with his illness.
FB: When I was in high school I used to always wonder if writers intended for the symbolism and "hidden meanings" in the stories they wrote. Actually, I used to think that the symbolism the teacher was trying to force on us was BS. But now that I'm an English teacher myself, I wonder if the writer intended the symbolism or it was just happened upon by readers, reviewers, and critics. In The Leisure Seeker, the symbolism of John and Ella traveling down an old and decrepit road practically shouts at the reader. Was this by design or just divine serendipity?
MZ: Both, I suppose. When I originally decided that John and Ella should travel Route 66, I hadn’t really given any thought to the symbolism of it. It was a draft or two later that I realized it was the perfect road for these two characters to travel. It was falling apart, but full of history, just like them. That’s when I started to turn it all up in the narrative. This is what re-writing is for me, a kind of discovery process. So was it an accident that I chose Route 66 or did it just take a while for my conscious mind to catch up with my unconscious? For me, that’s one of the mysteries of writing. And one of the reasons why it’s so important to go with your gut when it comes to the choices you make when writing. Later, those reasons may become apparent.
FB: I assume you've traveled route 66? Was it in a Leisure Seeker?
MZ: I did travel Route 66 in small sections when I was a child, camping with my parents. Maybe that’s why it always held a fascination for me. After I finished a few drafts of The Leisure Seeker and was pretty sure that I had a book, my wife and I took the trip, one way from Chicago to L.A. It was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. A true American adventure. We didn’t camp, though we did stay in a teepee hotel in Arizona though.
FB: Do you write knowing the ending of a story or do you have to ramble and meander to figure out the character before you decide how a story should end?
MZ: There’s definitely quite a bit of rambling along for me, which can be dangerous. But sooner or later, I usually know how the book is going to end. It just seems to present itself.
FB: Are there plans to write a book with characters from places other than Detroit or will you stay loyal to your roots?
MZ: I’m open to anything, yet I just seem to write about people from around here. I’m fairly well traveled, but I’ve lived here all my life. I know the people around here. Detroit, good or bad, is a huge part of what I am as a person and a writer. When I was a kid, I couldn’t believe that I was so lucky to live where they made all the cars. It just felt special to me. Now in a lot of ways, it’s kind of a low self-esteem town. Either way, I like writing with a strong sense of place, so I always feel the need to write about Detroit. My story collection, THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT, has a lot of pieces about living here.
FB: What inspired you to be a writer?
MZ: Like a lot of writers, I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver's short stories. His work allowed me to understand the inner-workings of fiction in ways that I never had before. I don’t know why, but he allowed me to think that maybe I could write fiction. His work is deceptive in that manner of extraordinarily talented people: he made it look easy. Once I started though, I found out differently. Like a lot of people, I wound up writing my share of Carver stories. Still, it was a way to learn. And whatever helps you to find your personal style or voice or whatever you want to call it, is a good thing.
FB: What are some of your writing habits? Do you listen to music? Write at a certain time of day? Hang out at coffeeshops?
MZ: Since I work afternoons in an office, I write in the mornings, Monday through Friday. I’m usually sitting in front of my Mac at my slightly scraped-up Paul McCobb desk between 7:00 and 7:30. I try to work until 11:30 or so. We have a small study filled with all our books and music. It’s nice. I’m facing a window but it just faces the side of my neighbor’s house, so it’s not much of a view. I usually keep the curtains drawn so I’m not distracted. I drink coffee if I’m not feeling jumpy. Unfortunately, I’m pretty jumpy these days. I can’t listen to music while I write. It’s just too distracting for me.
I want to sincerely thank Michael Zadoorian for agreeing to this interview. I encourage everyone to go out and read The Leisure Seeker. You'll be hard pressed to find a more memorable book to read.