Interview with the Author

Daily Sundial May 13, 1996

Psychology professor takes break from technical writing for fiction

By April Banks
Staff writer

As a psychology professor at CSUN, Toke Hoppenbrouwers may be better known for scientific writing than for writing novels. This might change with the publishing of her first novel, " Autumn Sea ", currently available in bookstores.

In a departure from her usual professional writing, Autumn Sea is written almost poetically, something that Hoppenbrouwers said, "felt healing." Hoppenbrouwers said she "found her lyrical voice" while writing this book. "[I} found a lot of reward in writing…. [It] made me whole," she said. "That's what is wonderful about it. When I write scientifically or [write an] essay, you have to forge a structure on it, [and] battle with your language to be logical…[whereas with] non-academic writing you are the scribe and a voice within you speaks out." The theme of the novel deals with the "coming to terms, forgiveness and transformation" of romantic relationships, both past and present, Hoppenbrouwers said.

"The characters test their mettle and transform [their romantic relationships] into [one of] a different kind…the endings are much more benign." The settings in the novel vary as the characters travel to such faraway places as Egypt and Israel . The exterior journeys {the characters take] are a metaphor for…internal journeys," Hoppenbrouwers said. Hoppenbrouwers admits that she was "sticking her neck out" in dealing with the lesbian theme. "Not everybody is going to love this book."

Race and class, and how they can affect relationships, play a large role as the narrator recounts her relationship with an African-American lover. Although she admits that the novel is "definitely autobiographical fiction," Hoppenbrouwers added that the book "doesn't capture me entirely… [You] can have a map of LA, but it never describes all of LA. This book is a map. The title of her novel came from a reference in an encyclopedia. " Autumn Sea " refers to a dry seabed on the moon," she said. It was attributed to the title because the moon and sea are very feminine."

Hoppenbrouwers said she had to learn to deal with rejection as she tried to get her manuscript published. One publishing house liked it, but after a year the novel was not published. She then met poet Audre Lorde, who read the manuscript and recommended it to a publisher. "They hated it," she said. " I let it sit for quite a while." A writing class she was taking was what finally allowed the novel to be published. A woman in her class, after seeing the manuscript, gave it to her mother-in-law who was part of a writing [publishing] collective. "I didn't have to do anything," she said, laughing. "The world came to me."

After teaching at CSUN for the past 15 years and studying Sudden Infant Death Syndrome with a team of researchers at USC for the past 24 years, Hoppenbrouwers has no plans to give up her day job. "I enjoy what I do," she said. But she also admits that she would love to write another novel. "Writing is a source of my survival."