Ginnah Howard

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A Conversation with Ginnah Howard

Photo of author Ginnah Howard.

Photo by Rose Mackiewicz

Why did you entitle your novel Night Navigation?

The actual title, Night Navigation, was inspired by waking up to find several bats flying around in the dark above my bed. This led to my discovery that there were hundreds of bats living in the space above my ceiling. Further investigation revealed that this was a maternal colony and that the bats in my room were adolescents who’d mistakenly entered through the small opening around my overhead light rather than exiting out the hole in the vent-screen like their mothers. Each evening I watched bats flutter over my house. It came to me that their flight through the dark was a good metaphor for my novel.


Did you draw on your own experiences in the writing of this novel?

Though Night Navigation is a work of fiction, with its characters and much of its development based on research and invention, the core of the story springs from real events in my own family’s life: suicide, and all of this complicated by the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse. Like Del Merrick, the mother in Night Navigation, I have received many calls in the night, driven many miles on snowy roads to support meetings: Al-Anon, where I’ve been encouraged to “let go” and to National Alliance on Mental Illness groups, where I’ve been advised to “hang on.”

Perhaps all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways, but in any home where one person usurps or is given more than a fair share of the oxygen, the others must find ways to go on breathing: denial, secrets, control, use, anger… As a writer, no question my anxiety, my concern for my children, my sometimes longing to escape and leave no forwarding address, were the initial energy that caused me to try to make this world on the page, but right from the beginning, the story came to me as a novel: a fugue in two alternating voices—that of a 37 year old man and his mother. By working in the third person, by imagining the interior of this man, I was able to enter places, to walk around in rooms where I could never have gone as myself.

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