My name is Jane Schumacher and I’m the press secretary to the governor of New York, who is also the front runner for the US presidency. I’m 39 years old, and my life is frenetic. If you take a quick glance at the back cover of Upcountry, you’ll discover that my writer has described me as smart and spirited, but that is only his euphemisms for sarcastic and often profane. My clear mission is to elect Gov. Wendell Foley the next president of the United States. Not much will stand in my way, apparently, until, of course I get some news…
Where do you live?
I have a condo in Albany, New York but my life has been one continuous road trip for the past couple of years. Me and my suitcase are good friends. I do get to spend a good deal of time in New York City, because my boss has an office there. New York is also a handy place to hang my hat since I know an Argentine immigrant who happens to be a Wall Street lawyer, who also happens to be my lover.
Are you the hero of your own story?
If that’s what you can call it, since my story begins early on Thanksgiving morning. That is when I awake with a bitchin’ hangover as a result of some pretty crappy news that I received the night before. That is when I decide to change my Thanksgiving plans with Roberto, my Latin lover, and return to Morgantown, a forgotten little hamlet in the shadows of the Adirondacks, where I grew up. I haven’t spoken to any of my so-called family, and figure it’s time.
What is your problem in the story?
Where do I start? Well, to begin with, as I say, I learn that I have a very serious illness and one that has sidetracked my career ambitions. As you will learn, I also had a very troubled upbringing in Morgantown, and one that caused me to abandon my life there when I was eighteen—to live on my own and fend for myself.
How does the author see you?
From what I’ve read, he (and it is a ‘he’, surprisingly) sees me as a strong woman with a singular goal in mind. He considers me a tough woman in a man’s world, and that is not only flattering but true. But he has also figured me out. My haunted past. My inability to commit to any one man, and indeed a woman who feels the need to hold the power in a relationship. Doyon is certainly correct in describing my overwhelming desire for a career instead of a personal life.
Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?
Absolutely. No one gets inside my head better than Doyon, whoever the hell he is!
What do you think of yourself?
Oh, I think pretty highly of myself, judging from the sarcasm that regularly comes tumbling from my mouth. But I do think I’m smart, perhaps even shrewd in the political job I hold. So far, I’ve been able to shepherd Foley towards the presidency. But I don’t hold back any contempt I might have for many different people or groups of people, such as politicians, reporters, hypocrites, and assorted other lowlifes. As a political operative, it’s a continuous game between myself and those who might stop me in pursuing my dream of electing Foley president. Of course, all that seems to go to hell when I decide, abruptly, to return to Morgantown on an icy, frozen Thanksgiving Day. That is when it becomes evident that I am also vulnerable, impulsive, and quick to action. Readers soon begin to believe that I might, just might, have a very large chip on my shoulder. They might also discover that I might not have much to lose, particularly when I’m faced with my past—and a very violent present.
Do you have a goal?
If you had asked me that on the day before Thanksgiving, my answer would have been clear; it was to ensure Wendell wins the Democratic nomination and then the general election. But all that changed, and now my goals—plural—have changed abruptly. In short order, I come to believe that I have to make amends with my totally dysfunctional family, and set out on another critical mission, one that has troubled me all my life.
What was your childhood like?
My fraternal twin sister, Joanne and I, grew up in a small, upstate New York town under the guidance of a mother, who was a shrew, and a father who never demonstrated any backbone. Donna—she was my mother, I can’t remember calling her ‘mom’ much—was a dominating, controlling and unhappy woman who got herself pregnant with twins at the age of 20, and was forced to abandon her dreams of becoming a doctor. She always seemed to take her anger out on me, because I was always a pain in the ass, and with my father for ostensibly ruining her life. Though she’s my twin, Joanne is my polar opposite. As a kid, she never rocked the boat and was never the object of my mother’s scorn. I don’t know why Donna never launched tirades against Jo, however. Yes, I had made my share of mistakes, and was a rebellious teenager. But my sister was not immune to bad decisions either—the biggest goddamn one being her choice of Denny, her husband!
What do you remember most of your childhood?
I try not to remember most of the shitty details, except the day of the last big fight I had with Donna. I was 18 and she said some things about me that I would never forgive. That was when I packed up my old Datsun, and all of my tip money from a summer job on the golf course, and departed Morgantown. That I turned left instead of right that day determined what I later became, since I landed in Lake Placid and found a job that decided the course of the rest of my life.
Who was your first love?
My first love was a fleet running back for the Morgantown Marauders named Brian Boychuk. He was the guy in the hall at high school who kept eying me up and down—for weeks—before summoning up the courage to come over to my locker. After quarterback Josh Callaghan, ‘Chucky’ was the best looking guy in school. We had a good thing going right up to, and shortly after, graduation from high school. That was until…well, I really don’t want to talk about what happened that summer. But suffice it to say that I’d had enough of Morgantown and all the assholes that inhabited the place. When poor old Chuck announced that he was staying in Morgantown to become a cop—man, he was a good-lookin’ rook!—well, that wasn’t in the cards for me. Brian always thought his decision was the deal-breaker between us, but it wasn’t. But I’m not in the mood to talk about why I broke up with him and why I got the hell outta Dodge…
Sounds like you have something in your past that you’d like to forget. What was it?
I’m not falling for that! Besides, everyone has secrets, don’t they? But I guess I can say that I spent my entire adult life trying to forget about Donna, and how she treated me. I didn’t need family. I was quite happy on my own for twenty years, or at least I thought I was.
What changed your mind about your family? What made you go home after so many years?
Well, let’s say that one particular event changed everything in my life. It was Thanksgiving, the most over-rated holiday of holidays in my opinion, and I woke up that morning in Albany with a horrific hangover. I couldn’t remember what the hell happened the night before, even though the evidence was right in front of me. A half-empty bottle of scotch. My briefcase was on the floor and all its contents spewed all over. That was when I began rifling through my mail and found yet another card from my father, wishing me a happy holiday. No other message. Just ‘Dad’, it read. He never forgot a holiday. Well, he was a retired postmaster and liked to send letters. But right then and there I decided to change my plans and head back to Morgantown. Why? I don’t know. Maybe to make up for lost time, make amends with a family I really didn’t know? Who knows? I just packed up my car and headed north. A gunmetal gray Mercedes, by the way.
What happened when you arrived in Morgantown?
Jesus Christ, where do I start? When I arrived in town only to suffer a flashback about my fight with Donna, some twenty years before? Or when the first person I run into is Chucky, outside my father’s garage? Or my reunion with the dad who never really was a dad? How about my first glimpse of Denny, Joanne’s asshole husband? All of the above? Okay, so I invited myself to Thanksgiving dinner at Jo’s house, which was a nerve-wracking and uneasy affair. But all that served was to jar a memory in my head about just how bad a choice in husband Denny was for my sister. Denny was her high-school sweetheart—fuck, I hate that phrase!—but I guess that’s an accurate way of putting it. Like Brian, he was a great football player in high school, but an injury prevented him from pursuing a sports career. Of course, he resented this all his life, since he ended up owning a septic tank cleaning business. Which was appropriate, I suppose, because Denny was always a total shit-head! Well, our Thanksgiving dinner went from bad to awful as Denny hurled one insult after another at me, and at my boyfriend, Roberto, the Argentinean lawyer I told you about in New York. “Just what the city needs,” Denny said. “Another spic lawyer!” I decided that enough was enough, and stormed out. But on the way out the door, Joanne caught up with me. That was when I noticed a few bruises on her neck. Instantly, I knew what was going on, and I confronted her about it…and, well, you can figure out the rest of our conversation.
Was this a defining moment of your life?
It certainly set the stage for a defining moment, because an hour or so later, as I was contemplating my departure from Morgantown, I heard a commotion coming from Jo’s house. And sure enough, it was Denny beating the hell out of my sister. That was when I decided to put a stop to it, and I guess that was when all hell broke loose, and the next thing I knew I was packing up my stuff and heading to my car. I was about to leave when Joanne pulled up in her SUV and declared she was coming too. Of course, I had no idea where the hell I was going, and tried to talk her out of it, but she was determined to join me. And so off we went.
What, if anything, haunts you?
How much time do you have? I mean, really, that is a loaded question, and I’d have to warn you that I have a number of loaded answers!
I have all the time in the world. How do you answer that question?
Well, you remember me saying that I had one helluva brawl with Donna when I was about eighteen? Well, that fight was the result of her blaming me for everything that went wrong in her life, and really never being a mother to me—when I needed her the most. That’s the first haunting I’ve had. I could hear her damning voice all my life, blaming me for my bad decisions—even after she died of cancer at the age of fifty, some eight years ago. Of course, over the years, I had attempted to hide my anger at her by staying away. But the events of that summer have haunted me ever since, and that’s perhaps why I’ve treated some people very badly, including Roberto, who is probably the best man I’ve known in my life. He’s always wanted more from me than I’ve been prepared to give. I liked having him in my life—he’s the hottest Republican I know!—but my single goal has always been to elect Wendell Foley president, and nothing was going to stand in my way. That, of course, was until Thanksgiving, and the news I received the night before from my doctor. Everything changed after that…
Are you healthy?
No, and that’s the reason I decided to go home. But after that disastrous dinner at my sister’s house, and after we hit the road, my health almost became irrelevant. Immediately, I had a new mission in my life, and that was to…well, you’ll have to read Upcountry to get the full story. But the events surrounding Thanksgiving enabled my sister and I to venture out on a journey together that defined us as siblings. No longer were we estranged from each other. Yes, we argued and fought. But we smiled and loved.
Is there anything else about your story that you’d like to tell?
If I had one message to convey, it is one of redemption and rebirth. That family is ultimately what keeps all of us altogether.
How do you envision your future?
That’s a tough one. For a good part of Upcountry, I guess I only envisioned myself in the present tense. But if I have a future, it is in the minds of a few people whom I’ve loved, and who love me. That’s what my story is all about.
Click here to find out more about: Upcountry
Read an excerpt here: Upcountry by R. M. Doyon