Where did you come up with the idea for The Lightkeeper's Daughter?
My first inspiration came from Lake Superior and Porphyry Island (a real place – pronounced por-fer-ry). I grew up sailing and visited the island and the lighthouse as a young child. I thought it was such a romantic place and wanted to live there myself. And then I discovered journals written by a lightkeeper who served there for about 30 years. That, combined with stories I heard as a teen about an abandoned boat found near the Sleeping Giant, set the creative ball rolling.
There are real journals you discovered!?!?!
The real journals were written the late 1800's. They were found in an attic in Silver Islet and captured the daily life of the lightkeeper and his family.
Who are your favorite authors -or some you think might influence your writing? I loved the writing style and characters in your book :)
I'm not sure if I have a favourite author as I read widely. In terms of writing style, I absolutely loved Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. Beautiful prose!
Do you prefer to write mysteries? Will your next book be a mystery?
With all of the amazing twist and turns in this book, what is your favorite twist?
Oooh! Favourite twists. That's tricky too. The final twist I already had when I began writing, so I think probably some of the ones that happened organically. One of my favourite scenes is when Morgan arrives, drunk at the senior home, and finally makes a breakthrough connection with Elizabeth. It made me cry - having her show her vulnerability and choose to do that with an elderly woman she's just getting to know.
Have you ever lived in a lighthouse? Did you research the life style?
While I've visited Porphyry several times (as recently as a few weeks ago) I've never stayed in the lightkeeper's residences. (I tented there once). I did a lot of research about lighthouses and light keeping to write the book, and was able to connect with several people who actually served as lightkeeper's at Porphyry. Once of them, Frances McKay, was assistant with her husband and was there off and of for decades - from the 1950's into the 70's. She's now 98 (!!) and has read the book several times. She was able to tell me little stories about living there - about bears and picking berries and her favourite places to go and watch the sunset. She was a gift to me.
So the light house and the journal's are based on real things and places... was Elizabeth's or Morgan's lives based on anything learned in the journal's? Or are the made up? Either way I loved your book. That twist st the end was amazing!
Yes!! The light house and the journals are based in reality, but Elizabeth and Morgan are completely fictional. There were lots of fascinating stories about lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes that provided inspiration. It was a harsh, difficult, isolated life, but many people were drawn to it.
How long did each family stay as light keepers?!
It varied. Andrew Dick, who wrote the journals, was there for about 30 years. His wife and two of his children are buried on the island. One of his daughters often filled the function of assistant keeper. There is a history on the Canadian side of Lake Superior for light keeping to run in families. The McKay family served at several lighthouses over a span of three generations. I was able to interview Frances as well as Bob, who were both at Porphyry. Bob also grew up commercial fishing on Lake Superior and was able to tell me about the Lake and Walker's Channel and all sorts of other things that added texture to the story.
Just out of curiosity do you have a favorite place to do your writing? And is there a certain place/thing that inspires your creativity?
When I was writing this book, I was also working and parenting. I wrote when and where I could and sometimes had to put the manuscript aside for months at a time. I would often drop my son off at running practice and then head to my favourite coffee shop with my laptop. Somehow I was able to focus better in the noise and busy-ness of a cafe than at home (where other things often clamoured for my attention.) I also found productive writing time on "retreats" often with other writers. My dad lives on Lake Superior just south of Thunder Bay and has a little cabin by the shore that I often use as a getaway. I call it "the Hermitage."
Do you think Morgan reached out to any of the surviving members of the Larkin family?
We may never know! But the beauty of a novel that ends with questions is that we can continue to have those characters live on, and perhaps craft their story ourselves.
Was there anything you originally had in the book that you decided to cut or dramatically change?
I actually cut an entire character! Originally, Peter, Charlie, Emily and Elizabeth also had an older sister who died of the Spanish Flu in 1918. But the plot line just muddled things up, and I wisely (on the advice of my editor) exhumed her and erased her from the family tree.
If your book was to be turned into a movie who could you see playing Morgan and Elizabeth?
I think Helen Mirren would make a great Elizabeth. Or Judi Dench. For Morgan... Hmmm. Have you ever seen Lindsay Sterling play violin? Who do you think would be good?
From what I could tell this was your first novel. If that's correct, what prompted you to jump over from children's books?
Yes - this is my first novel for adults. Most of my creative pursuits have been works for children (I've worked on a number of commercial projects). I LOVE writing picture books, especially the concept of co-creation where an illustration brings a visual element to the story. But when I found I had more time, and mental real-estate, to direct towards something longer, I decided to explore writing a novel. Interesting fact, I initially thought TLKD would be for young adults. But as I wrote and the plot and character developed, I realized it was for adults. So, simply put, it was the right story and the right time. And I learned a lot through the process. And it was great fun - I enjoyed working with a more complex plot and developing characters - watching them grow and change
Also, being a mama of 2 kids that play violin, what made you pick that instrument ?
Music has always been a big part of our home life, and while we have a piano and guitars and even a churango (sp? A Bolivian stringed instrument) no one in my house plays the violin! I think I chose that because it suited David. There are a number of fiddler players in our area, and the fiddle was important during the fur trade (I live near Fort William and all my kids have worked there.) So it suited the story and the characters. And I think it really really suited who Morgan is. The fur trade connection has to do with Metis and Scottish culture. Many lighthouse keepers in the late 1800's and early 1900's on Lake Superior had an Indigenous connection - either through their own bloodlines, or spouses.
Do you paint or sketch yourself?
Good question! I love art, and have dabbled, but I don't consider myself a visual artist. I think that's why I'm such a descriptive writer - I'm really a frustrated painter! I have to use words to create images instead.
What's your energy time period to write (morning, afternoon, night, etc)?
Definitely morning, though when I'm on deadline, I have to force myself to write into the evening. I fuel myself with green tea in the morning and get to it! That said, I am embarrassingly distracted by laundry and housework!
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
Like most writers, inspiration came from a combination of connecting with a couple of truly great books as a young person (for me it was Judy Blume and Louisa May Alcott!) and having a teacher or trusted adult give guidance and encouragement (shout out to Ms. Bernardin at Resurrection High School!). I would read anything I could get my hands on, and that is the best training for a writer.
Do you picture this book to be turned into a movie? I totally pictured Amy Schumer as Leona lol and also, great job on Garrett's character building, I felt the anxiety!
I have close friends and family members who suffer from anxiety, and I tried to get that element right. Amy Schumer is PERFECT for Leona! Good call! Now, please let the Hollywood Gods smile upon me and pick this book up for a movie! I always pictured @emmyrossum from Shameless as Carly.
I'd like to ask who/what inspired you to write the story?
Two things. I felt like a lot of women I knew felt powerless and fearful. A lot of this was brought on by the media. It seemed like every time I went online, someone was telling me that I was putting my eyeliner on wrong, or feeding my kids incorrectly, or making mistakes in my personal relationships. I started to think--how do women fight the fear that everything they do is less than acceptable. Then, I overheard a conversation between my sister, who is in her late thirties, and her friends. Their ticking biological clock was the topic, and they were all expressing worry. I put those two things together and got Leona!
I so appreciated the moment when Leona wrote "you are beautiful" on the mirror for her niece. Did you include this moment because of a personal belief that every female should know and believe that she's beautiful, or because this is an action specific to Leona's care for her niece?
Both. Again, I was bothered by the fact that women are given such a hard time sometimes, so much so that we are consumed with the need to be perfect, or as close to it, in terms of appearance, careers, behavior. Not only is this unrealistic, but it causes us to overlook the quirky, unique things about our personalities that make us interesting. And yes, it might make me sound a little hippie dippy, but I strongly believe everyone is beautiful, as the song goes, in their own way...And sometimes, I am, as Maura would say, a total cheeseball!
As an aspiring author, what sort of advice do you give to those of us who are professional procrastinators and easily distracted (like you!) 😅
Start small. Tell yourself "I will work for twenty minutes nonstop" and do it. Or fifteen. Or ten. Whatever it takes to get you started. Don't worry about quality control--that will come later! Once you start, you'll be amazed how fast twenty minutes will fly by. Soon, you'll do thirty, then an hour. When you start racking up the pages, you'll be so invested in what you're doing, procrastination will no longer be such a problem (Hate to say, though, it never completely goes away!)
I struggle with editing while I'm writing instead of just going with the flow!
That's my problem, too. Don't beat yourself up--editing as you go sometimes does save time. It becomes a problem when it stops you from reaching word count goals, or freezes you up entirely. This is something I definitely struggle with!
Leona was really funny...does she take after you?
People in my life roll their eyes when I say I'm not anything like Leona, so...yes? Humor is important to me, especially when you're writing about issues like aging, anxiety, financial pressures, etc.
Do you have a favorite character?
Jerry. When I was 22, I lived with my mom's cousin and her husband, who was in his sixties at the time. He became my best friend. We'd eat Ritz crackers with peanut butter and watch Magnum PI reruns. He was the inspiration for Jerry.
I couldnt put this book down! I related to it so much with her trying to have a baby and everyone already having it all. That being said will you be writing a part two?
I would love to write more about Leona's adventures! But, that is up to my publisher...I do have Leona's future worked out in my head...I'm a romantic at heart, so you can imagine what I have in mind for Paul and the other characters!
How did you find the inspiration to write this book? Was it based on someone in your family, or just your interest in that part of history?
I get asked that question a lot! It's just a part of history I find fascinating, and don't see enough books about.
Jo was able to see Francis and her dog. Was Francis actually mad when she was alive, or just able to also see people from the other side as well?
I do think Frances was mentally ill... possibly schizophrenic. And that affected her ability to see ghosts. But feel free to interpret differently.
What drew you to write about the paranormal?? Personal experience?
I don't have personal experience of the paranormal, no. But the idea of it scares me, so I figure it might scare readers too. I like to explore the things that scare me, you know?
How long did it take you to write this book?
The book took me about a year. That included coming up with the idea, writing, and then editing/revising it several times. It's a lot of work but I love my job!
You write a lot about his particular time period, after the world war. What is it about this time period that interest you? Also your stories always deal with ghosts how do the ghosts tie into the WWI and the aftermath of the war?
I do love the time period. However, after five books, my next book has a different time period, so I like to shake things up too!
Were there any times you wanted to give up on the story? When I write I find myself getting fed up with the story at times, and sometimes want to quit. If so, how do you get over that?
Oh, wanting to give up happens frequently! Once you have been working on a story for months and months, it starts to feel stale to you and you wonder why the heck you ever started. Every writer experiences that! I just try to remember that I thought it was a good idea in the beginning... so I have to trust that past me had good taste, lol!
I'd love to know who your personal favorite character is, and why...and what gave you the inspiration to present them the way you did - i.e. their personality, appearance, etc.
Confession: Alex Manders is one of my favorite characters I've ever written. What can I say? He's complex and imperfect :) Some readers had a different opinion, and that's fine too. I love a good discussion :)
How do you overcome Writer's Block?
Writers block means that you are second guessing yourself and your creativity. You are worried about it being "good enough." The best way around it is to write to please yourself, and pretend no one else will ever read it. What do you WANT to read? What story excites you? That's really the only thing you should be writing, anyway :) Hope this helps! Writers block can be tough to get past!
Why bring her husband back??
Because seriously... isn't that a more exciting tale?? Better than if he was just dead. lol! Actually I knew from my very first conception of the story that he would come back. That, to me, was always the emotional heart of the book. I loved telling Alex and Jo's story.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I have never seen one, but I certainly believe they are possible!
What inspired you to write? And also, what advice would you give to budding authors?
I have written for as long as I can remember... For budding authors I can only say, write write write! Write what excites you. It's the only way to get better at it :)
Do you have plans for another book soon?
My next book is called THE BROKEN GIRLS, and it's already written, though it isn't out yet. And I'm working on two more ideas right now...
What was your favorite scene or section to write and why?
I think my favorite scene to write was Alex's return. It was just so juicy. I actually had to revise it several times in order to get it just right :)
What kind of dog was Pincer?
Princer was a mutt... a demon mutt :)
How much time do you put into researching about the different time periods? Is it currently difficult to write a book based in the 50s compared to the 20s?
Research does take time. But I try to use small details and not overwhelm readers with a history lesson. I read novels, diaries, newspapers, and travel books from the period to get small details right :) The research is the same no matter the time period, I think.
How do you research for your books?
Historical fiction is a challenge that way. The best thing is to start with the characters and their story, and then figure out specifically what you need to research from there. For example, when I came up with the story for LOST I had to research the history of MI5 and MI6. That led to a few more ideas that I used in the book. It's tough!
What advice do you have for a novice writer?
My advice for anyone who wants to write a novel is to think about a story that excites you. One that is exactly what YOU would read. Forget about everyone else. Tell YOUR story and pretend no one will ever read it. That's what makes writing fun and creative, and makes the book one that only you could write :) Good luck!
What is your next book about?
THE BROKEN GIRLS is about a haunted girls' boarding school in 1950 Vermont... and the crime committed there that resurfaces when the building is restored in modern times :) It's finished but not out yet!
Any chance there will be a part 2 diving into Alex & Martin's wartime stories and Alex's struggle being away from his love?
I would love to write that story so much. I also want to write about what happens to Alex and Jo during the years following the book. Too many stories, too little time!
Q - First question! What inspired you to write about the Ringling Brothers?
Two things. My mom, who inspired me to love classic films from a very young age (The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952!), and my publishing family, who just knew Mable Ringling had a story to tell - so they asked me to write it. I am humbled and so glad they believed in me enough to let me do it.
Q - I know that some of the characters were fictional to enhance the story, but for those people and events that were real, how much time did you spend researching for the book before you sat down to write?
Tons of time. We spent a total of 3 days researching onsite at the Ca' d'Zan mansion in Sarasota. I also worked with curators at the museum and Ringling/Burton family members to learn all I could about the Ringlings. You can go on my YouTube channel and see the film footage of a tour - in the EXACT mansion where the story is set! It was so cool. I also had the honor of attending John Ringling's 150th birthday celebration at the Ringling Museum the past May - a 1920s lawn party with John Ringling's restored 1923 Rolls Royce there onsite! I was able to meet the Ringling/Burton families (who were so gracious and helpful). It was a researchers dream.
Q - What was your favorite plae and/or part of doing the research?
Oh it's hard to narrow that down! Ha ha! But I would have to say...that outdoor ballroom with the marble terrace overlooking the bay. It caputred me from moment one. You could almost feel the Gatsby-era parties that happened there. The history was so thick and I fell in love with Mable's Ca' d'Zan in the moment!
Q - What was the hardest part of the book to write?
It was Mable's story that took the most courage to write. It's semi-biographical fiction and I didn't want to get it wrong. I wanted so much to honor her, the Ringlings' legacy, and to wrap in a story of redemption at the same time. I spent much more time focusing on Mable's view just because she really lived, and I'd come to respect her so much.
Q - Was there anyone in particular that inspired Rose or was she completely of your own imagination?
Rosamund is entirely from my heart. Honestly. Both she and Ingenue came to my heart long before I knew I'd be writing a circus story. I just knew that I was called to the Jazz Age and wanted to tell their story.
Q - What does your writing process look like? Where do you write? How do you develop your characters?
I write everywhere! I do a lot of my writing on my phone, actually. I wrote my debut novel (The Butterfly and the Violin, on the art of Auschwitz) almost entirely on my phone. I have a favorite corner in a local coffee shop that is a very inspirational space. There are kayaks hanging on the walls and I sit at a table right under them, lost in story world.
Q - Is there anything about the main female character that reminds you of yourself?
YES! I'd stepped away from my former 15-year career in Corporate America just weeks ebfore I began writing the novel, and it very much felt like a leap of faith. I didn't have to cross an ocean like Rosamund, but I did have to step out into the unknown and that could be terrifying at times. Both women inspired me as a I wrote their story - isn't it funny how characters can inspire our own real life stories?
Q - Do you have a favorite character?
I would have to say...Mable, in this story. Simply because the research I did all told about her poise, wisdom, kindness, and generosity. She was as wonderful as I tried to write her, which felt honest and lovely at the same time.
Q - Rose was a very strong woman who was so brave to follow her heart. I was so hopeful to have a happy ending for her, which I know it was but a bittersweet one. I was wanting her to have everything, but why did you feel she couldn't?
I love that you asked this! I wanted Rosamund's story to end well, but realistically at the same time. We may have happy endings with seasons in life, but they rarely look exactly like we imagine they will at the start of the journey. I wanted there to be a hurdle for her to rise above and love for her to cling to. I think (without spoilers, haha!) Rosamund and Colin make a great team in that way. Love is a choice. Sometimes, it's a choice in the tough moments of life and that's so inspiring to me - not when things are easy, but when we mae a choice to love and stick to it.
Q - I felt like Sally made such an impact in the short amount of time she was in the book, especially on Mable. Was she based on someone that Mable really knew?
Sally's story is purely fictional in the novel, but I think the root of her journey is a familiar one. Too often we look back in regret over the "what if?" moments in our life. I wanted Sally to inspire Mable to move in a different direction, to never do that. To life her life in the relentless pursuit of love. My faith drives me and I wanted Sally's view of life and loss to serve as an example of that love.
Q - I felt very pulled in and transfixed by the way you were able to describe the characters in The Ringmaster's Wife, especially Mable. Before you write your books, do you find that you have to outline your characters on pen and paper to keep track of all the little details?
I learn best with hands-on experiences. So I like to travel to onsite locations - example, I am stopping by a vineyard to learn about French wine-making. My next book takes place in Loire Valley, France (wine country). I type notes on my phone, take TONS of video footage, interview as many experts as I can, and carry a journal and pen everywhere I go. I even name characters from life experiences. A character in my next book, THE ILLUSIONIST'S APPRENTICE, is named for an amazing barista at my local coffee shop (Olivia).
Q - Are you writing another Historical Fiction anytime soon?
YES! My next book comes out in March - a Jazz-Age story of a female illusionist (and one-time apprentice to Harry Houdini!) It's THE ILLUSIONIST'S APPRENTICE. I am also right now writing book 1 in a three-book historical series about abandoned mansions in Europe (and a journalist who is researching the origins of fairy tales onsite) - set for release in 2018-2020!
Q - How did you think up Mable and Rose's conversations together?
It's what happens with every story - the conversation, the scenes, the themes...they come to me and I document them. (Yikes, not a helpful answer at all.) . But truly, I try to imagine what life in that time/place would look, feel, smell, sound like, and how relationships would form in those spaces. I think Mable's friendship with Sally affected her mentoring of Rosamund. She didn't want to miss an opportunity to bless a younger (courageous too!) woman if she could. I firmly believe in mentors. I have many and I am blessed by them daily. I highly recommend bringing loving women into our journey - I wish Mable could be that for us too!
Q - First question to you Karin Tanabe! Did you personally like Lottie when you wrote about her? Obviously most people didn't like her much at the end but what did you think about the character? What were you trying to portray?
To answer the first question, I wanted Lottie to be a very modern woman. Dynamic and smart with a liberal view of women in the world. The women going to college during that era really were trailblazers, and I envisioned her leading the pack, which makes her deception more heartbreaking.
Q - During the process of writing, did anything you normally do help to add detail to scenes in the book?
Though it was my first historical fiction book, I did stick pretty solidly to my normal writing routine, but I allowed myself months more research. And reading books written during that era really helped me get the language right and hopefully avoid anachronisms!
Q - I was hoping you could tell us how you became interested in/inspired by Anita to write this story?
I actually learned about Anita when my parents made me clean out my childhood bedroom in their house! I found an old college alumni magazine from 2001 and there was an article about Anita Hemmings in it and her beautiful face on the cover. It was 2014 when I found it and as soon as I read about her, I wanted to write the book. Her dogged determination to get the education she deserved was so inspiring.
Q - The timing of this book seemed very appropriate as race relations in the USA have seemed to be at the forefront of the news. Was that a factor that you considered when writing/publishing this book?
When I started writing this book in 2014, I really wondered about the subject matter resonating with people. It was before the Black Lives Matter movement and though race had started to figure more prominently into the national conversation, it wasn't like it was today. Then as I was writing, race moved more and more into the conversation and Anita's story felt more modern (unfortunately) and even more important.
Q - Hi Karin! Will you tell us about some of your favorite or the most remarkable historical artifacts/sources you came across while researching the novel?
The most interesteing and eye opening things I found were the letters between the real Lottie Taylor and the Vassar president in 1924. To see how racist she still was a generation later was very sad but important for the book. Also really interesting was how helpful the phone books of the era were. They used to mark people's race in the phone book! And the census reports helped me immensely, too.
Q - I found it interesting to read about the strong desire Anita and her husband had to AVOID living a life of "passing" after their marriage in the book. But they ultimately decided to live as white in New York City. Can you elaborate on the events that may have lead to their decision?
So, very sadly, from what I know about Anita and Andrew, after they got married they moved to Tennessee where Andrew had lived before and practiced medicine as a black doctor. Once there, they were the victims of some pretty serious racism which I'm guessing was jarring for Anita. Not to say that Boston was perfect in The Gilded Age when it came to race relations, but I do think it was more progressive than Tennessee. From what I've read, the racism they experienced influenced their decision to then move up north and pass again.
Q - What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?
Oh, SO many good ones to choose from! Some classic favorites are The Remains of the Day and The Poisonwood Bible. More recently I loved The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls and The Kitchen House.
Q - What do you like to do when you're not writing?
If I'm not writing or reading, I love to explore the city (I live in DC), attempt to cook things that usually fail, go running, and send way too many text messages to friends!
Q - What do you like to read?
As for reading, I read 99.99 percent fiction! If anyone has any good non-fiction suggestions, let me know!