What inspired you to write A THOUSAND ROADS HOME?
My pleasure, honestly. The inspiration came from the news headlines. I can remember sitting at my desk listening to the radio and hearing about families being moved to emergency housing - hotels, just like the fictional Silver Sands Lodge - and I wondered what that must be like for them. The seed of an idea came from that. I have to admit, that when I started to write this book, back in 2016, I had hoped that by the time it was published, we might have made some positive changes, to reduce the number of homeless. Unfortunately the numbers have risen. Also to add, the character of Ruth, was one that I had carried with me for years, waiting for the right story to put her in. I knew how she spoke, all her little quirks, I just didn't know what world she should live in! When I decided to write about the housing crisis, it felt right to include her!
Did you draw any real inspiration for your characters from anyone you know/read about in real life?
Such a great question. There is someone in my life who is on the autistic spectrum. Someone I love dearly! And years ago I decided that I would one day write a book where the main character was autistic. I'd read books where the sidekicks had special needs, but I wanted my 'Ruth' to be centre stage. So a lot of Ruth's 'quirks' came directly from my person. Ruths love of reading for eg!
As a person with an anxiety disorder, the quirks that Ruth had were quite comparable. I felt very connected to her character and it made me enjoy the book even more.
This comment makes me so happy. I was worried about how people would react to Ruth. I know from my own experience with autism, that when you meet one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. I didn't want to go down any stereotypical routes, but yet I had to include characteristics that were real to Ruth. I'm so happy that readers, like you, have been able to relate to Ruth and that you felt she was authentic. She's one of my favourite characters to write ever!
When you wrote this, did you have everything planned out ahead of time? Or does the story change and grow as you are writing it?
What a great question! I am what us writers call, a Pantser! Which means that I fly by the seat of my pants and work it out as I go along! I knew that Ruth and DJ were going into social housing. And I knew that Tom was living on a park bench, because he lost everything in his life. But how their lives connected only came as I wrote the book. One of the first scenes I wrote was Tom and DJs first meeting, where they discuss Banksy. It's one of the most important scenes in the book really. The first connection. And the rest of the story came from that. I loved the grandfather/grandson relationship they had.
This book was absolutely beautiful. I feel in love with all the characters and felt every emotion they went through.
That is just wonderful to hear. There were parts in this story that made me cry, when I wrote them. In particular Tom's backstory with Cathy. I still get very emotional when I think of that scene with Mikey. And Ruth's parents too, that really upset me, but felt like a truth that I had to share. Not all children are lucky enough to have parents who will fight for them, be warriors on their behalf when they cannot be. BUT, I have to say, I did giggle a lot when writing scenes with Cian in the Silver Sands. He was a lot of fun!
What does the title mean to you? Did you title it or did your publisher?
The title was a collaboration between my editor and me. I really loved the quote at the beginning of the book by Rumi and it was play on that. But it’s also a truth for me. I’ve taken the wrong road in my past and I think that sometimes we have to do that to get to where we need to be.
I know it is probably hard for you to decide, but which book of yours would you recommend next? Is there any of your books that you are more connected to for one reason or another?
I'd suggest that you read The Woman At 72 Derry Lane next. It's very different to this story, so might be a nice change. And for Christmas, you should read Every Time A Bell Rings. It was the Christmas read for @onceuponabookclubbox in 2017!
You seemed to really capture the struggles of an adult living with autism. Do you have personal experience that you used as inspiration? What was the hardest part of writing from the perspective of someone with autism?
Oh such a great question. Yes, I do have someone in my life with autism. But she's young, so I'm not sharing who it is yet, as it's her story to share, if that makes sense. But she did give me so much inspiration for Ruths character. Getting into Ruth's head was hard at first. She's very different to me. But I did some tricks to try and understand her. I spent a weekend avoiding eye contact and physical contact - trying to understand what that must be like for Ruth. And realised that I looked at a lot of pairs of shoes! I gave that to Ruth and it really helped me understand how people change, when they are presented with someone who at first, seems stand offish. It's sad, but true, that many don't take the time to peel back a layer or two, to understand the real person.
What was the most challenging part of writing this novel?
Going to the dark places. It broke me writing Tom's back story. I had to book into a hotel for a weekend to write those scenes with Cathy and Mikey. I just couldn't write them at home with the children around me. I sobbed my way through them. I also found the scenes with Ruth as a young child difficult to write. But I thought it was important to share that not all children have the same love at home that most do. Her early life, coloured everything for Ruth.
Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book?!
I always hate this question, because I have so many favourite authors! I'm a huge Liane Moriarty & Jodi Picoult fan too. I love Dean Koontz and Stephen King for my horror/sci fi. Nora Roberts is wonderful too! I have quite an eclectic taste and read from all genres. My favourite book is a tricky one to say ... probably The Wizard of Oz series by Frank L Baum. Full of wisdom and love and light and darkness and wonderful things. As a child I loved these books and as an adult I still do!
You did such a great job making the characters and their journeys feel so real in both books, and pulling me in emotionally to them. Were any of these experiences from your own life??
Oh how lovely that you read Belles story too! This book club is so wonderful! There is parts of me in all of my books. Both Belle and Cathy experience child loss. While my story is very different to either of theirs, I understand first hand what it's like to lose a child. I used my own heartbreak for their stories. And I send love to everyone who has ever gone through child loss themselves. Lot's of the humour in my books comes from personal experience too! When something funny happens to me, I store it in my head and wait for the right character to give it too. x
What advice do you have for aspiring writers who struggle with adding emotion to their words?
For me it's about carrying my characters with me everyday while I am writing. They become family to me and I bring them everywhere! I ask them questions and I find that the more time I spend with them, the more they whisper their truths to me. And then they become real on paper. The emotion I write, well it comes from me. I am a self confessed wearer of my heart on my sleeve. I laugh - a lot - but also I cry too. For aspiring writers, you need to open a vein when you write. Be honest and authentic. I work hard to write relatable characters, but I also work hard to subvert the stereotypes too.
What inspired you to write The Turn of the Key?
I have such trouble answering this question! Very few of my books have a clear moment of inspiration - usually they are kind of like a primordial soup of bits and pieces - my own anxieties, pieces that I've read in the newspaper, stuff that has happened to friends and acquaintances, my own experiences. This book is no exception! But definitely one thing that fed into it was a raft of pieces about the growing phenomenon of "smart home abuse" - where people are spied on or terrorised by partners, using devices they installed to make their homes safer or more environmentally friendly. Thankfully this is really rare - but it was enough to get me wondering.
Does the dad ever figure out that he is her dad as well?
I think it would probably all come out in the court case!
I was wondering if you could tell a little about your writing process, how do you plan out a book or does it all just come to you?
Every book is different, but usually I try to start with a compelling "what if" - something that sparks my imagination - a situation I can imagine myself in, or a scenario that I want to explore. If it sets off lots of questions in my head then I know it's going to be an interesting "what if" to explore, and the answers are how I plot. How would that person have got into that situation? What would he or she do next? How would I react? I don't usually do a formal outline - I just think about the characters and their problems - and then I start writing.
Do you think there could be a sequel for TTotK?
Not at the moment - I feel like I've said all I can for now. But who knows - maybe one day!
What does your schedule look like when you’re working on a book? Do you stick to a daily schedule or just write when you’re inspired? And how do you work past any parts where you feel stuck?
I try to treat it like a job (partly because it IS my job!) So I start work when I have dropped my kids off at school, and keep pretty much office hours. I stop when they come home, which is usually when I'm starting to run out of inspiration and think about what I want for supper. I don't only write when I'm feeling inspired (if I did, my books would take a lot longer to write than they do!) But if I'm really stuck I give myself a day off and do something non-creative - like sorting out my expenses or filing my VAT return :) I'm very lucky that I've never experienced true writers' block. Touch wood!
My question is if you have your house completely monitored and controlled by smart features, and if you don't, is that something you would do just like in the book?
Ha ha, no, most of my books are rooted in my own weird anxieties and phobias, and I have to confess that I would never have cameras inside my house - I would be way too paranoid! I am however totally addicted to my smart phone, which is basically a tiny GPS tracking device so...
Did you do any research about how marital problems could affect children in such a way?
I'm tryiing to keep the thread spoiler free which makes plot questions quite hard to answer - but no, I didn't do any specific research about that. I trusted to my own instincts.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
It's a really difficult one to answer because although I know what was holding ME back, my obstacles are maybe not your obstacles, or the obstacles of someone reading this post. However I would say two pieces of advice that are generally good advice across the board - have an idea of your ending before you start. I don't really plot, but I DO usually know how the book will end - what the solution to the mystery is, and whether my character will come out of it ok or not. I think a lot of fledging writers abandon books because the plot begins to meander and they can't see where they are heading. Knowing your ending is a really good way of giving a book a sense of direction, and keeping you on track. And the second piece of advice is really just to do with the number of rejections writers face. I did a poll over on twitter a few days ago - only 40% of writers sold their first book (and I was surprised by that - I thought it would be lower! But lots of them said in the comments that that was after many false starts, unfinished projects, and rewrites). And two thirds of the published writers who responded said that they had had to shelve a finished or mostly finished book AFTER publication. In other words, getting that first magic "yes" didn't mean an end to rejection. As a writer you have to really learn to just keep on keeping on. I wrote many, many books before I got published. None of them were wasted - but I learned to persevere through the tough times.
There are so many places fictional murder can happen, and your books set them in a variety of locales. Do you have a favorite type of setting to place your stories?
I just love really atmospheric places. If I'm going to spend a year somewhere (in my imagination anyway) it might as well be somewhere interesting!
Who is YOUR favorite writer?
I can't pick just one - but you can safely say that I love anyone I've blurbed! I only put my name on books I've really enjoyed. I also love the classics - Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Dorothy L Sayers. In non crime, I love Elena Ferrante, Nancy Mitford, EM Delafield... too many to name!
Re: Turn of the Key, did you have any personal experience from which to draw your inspiration for the story and also, what makes you decide on character names?
Well I've never been a nanny in a terrifying smart house ;) But I do know that part of Scotland well, and I do have kids, so I am pretty familiar with the frustrations (and joys!) of looking after small people who don't always want to do as you say. Character names... good question. They just float into my head. I do sometimes change them though, if I realise I've made it confusing or reused a name from previous books by accident.
Has there been talk of any of the books being made into movies?
Yes! Most of them have been optioned (either for film or TV, some are them are a bit sprawling for film). But so far none of them have actually come out - it feels a bit like a race where all the horses are mine!
What was the most difficult or challenging scene for you to write?
I'm going to try not to post spoilers so this is hard to answer - but the scene in the attic was the scariest scene to write - I actually had to stop writing and go downstairs to shake the heebiejeebies out of myself, which has never happened to me before or since. The hardest scene... I'm not sure. Probably the end. I knew it wasn't going to end in a way that would make everyone concerned happy.
Can you give us any hints about your next book?
It's at a bit of an ugly duckling stage right now so I won't say tooooo much in case it all changes in edits - but it's about a corporate retreat in the French Alps that goes horribly wrong.
I had no idea before reading that poison gardens were even a thing and looked into them a bit after finishing the book. Have you ever visited one?
Yes! Not for this book - I visited one long before I ever thought of this book. They are really unnerving places - they're usually locked up and hedged around with all these signs about keeping pets under control and supervising children. But what makes them scary is that when you get inside, you realise that 90% of the plants are just ordinary regular plants, that you would find in any suburban garden. Yew, laburnum, laurel, foxglove, hellebore, all these plants that we take for granted as just pretty hedgerow plants, and suddenly you realise that whatever ways human beings can come up with to kill each other, nature has got us beat. AND they manage to look pretty while they do it. It felt like a good counterpoint too all the technology in the story - a reminder of the power of nature.
Can you tell us what happened to Rachel at the end of Turn of the Key?! I’m dying to know!
I can't really post this on insta without MAJOR spoilers for everyone who hasn't read the book, but I wrote a post on my website about the ending as you are not the only person with questions! It's on the secret subscriber-only part of the site, to prevent the unwary from stumbling on spoilers, so you have to sign up to my bookclub to access it. But you can unsubscribe from the newsletter straight away if that's not your thing!
Was the ending always planned? Or in the initial stages of writing was the ending completely different? We love learning about the evolution of the plot!
I always knew who did what and why - but the exact details of it played out and the choice my narrator has to make (trying not to post spoilers here!) all developed as I wrote.
Where do you get these amazing ideas??
I wish I knew - every book I worry that I won't be able to come up with a story this time - and yet somehow it always works out... so far anyway!
What inspired you to write THE LONG FLIGHT HOME?
I became captivated by a 2012 British news report about the skeletal remains of a war pigeon found in a Surrey chimney, decades after the war. Attached to the pigeon's leg was a coded message, one that has yet to be deciphered by code breakers around the world, even today. I often wondered what was written on the secret message...and I knew I had a story I just had to write!
My question for you is why did you choose to end the book the way you did, set in the future from the original story?
I wanted to be true to what inspired me to write the story, the 2012 new report about a war pigeon remains found in a surrey chimney.
Were the messenger pigeons something you always knew about? I’ve read so many novels about WWII and this was the first one I read that mentioned them and it was so interesting!
I knew little about homing pigeons until I completed research. And I was amazed that British services used over 200,000 war pigeons in WW2!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Yes, read a lot and write every day. Also, it is hugely helpful to join a local writers group.
What made you add a character like Ollie into the story? Did you find a lot of Americans joined early before the US decided to get involved in your research?
I actually began my research for the book on Americans who disregarded the US neutrality act, early in WW2, to become pilots for the RAF. There were about 240 american pilots who joined the RAF before the Japanese bombing a Pearl Harbor. I imaged one these pilots to be Ollie, a crop-duster from Maine.
What made you decide to become a writer? AND do you have any other books planned?
I've always love writing. I was fortunate to have parents who instilled in me a passion for reading. Earlier in my business career, I took every opportunity to write articles for magazines and journals. I later joined a writing group, and soon after I wrote The Long Flight Home! I have 2 more books that I’m working on for my publisher. One is set in WWII and the other in WWI. My next manuscript will be finished in February.
What was the hardest scene to write?
I would have to say the scenes when Ollie and Susan were preparing pigeons for the mission, I wanted to create a lasting bond between them , knowing they would have little time together.
Do you have any writing rituals, like listening to music or writing in a special place?
Yes! I write early every morning. I do much of my writing at a coffee shop. I love coffee!
What was the most challenging scene for you to write?
The scenes when Susan and Ollie are together on Bertie’s farm, knowing I need to create a bond between them that would last a lifetime.
In this time in history do you think that this book could open some eyes to what could happen if society allows something like WWII to happen again?
Yes, I certainly hope so. It’s often said that history repeats itself. I hope that stories, like TLFH, can play a part in helping us shape the future.
Are you working on any future novels?
Yes, I'm currently working on 2 additional books for my publisher. The next book will be set in WW2, involving British spies in who were parachuted into German-occupied France. (Lots of true, yet little-know historical events about women agents who served in Britain's Special Operations Executive.). The third books is set in World War I in Germany. I can't wait to finish them!
Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book that you recommend everyone read?
I have several favorite authors, including Anthony Doerr, Kristin Hannah, Sara Gruen and John Irving. I highly recommend All The Light We Cannot See, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Wonderful books!
What inspired you to write a retelling of Pride and Prejudice?
Oh boy - I know it sounds strange, but it wasn't my intention to write a P&P retelling. It sort of just...happened? :) I love #Austen and #PrideandPrejudice and I think those well loved stories really stay in your heart, so maybe it was inevitable that I would be inspired to write my own, loose retelling!
There seem to be a lot of good Pride and Prejudice retellings out now. What are your thoughts on why?
#prideandprejudice definitely seems to be having a cultural moment. I think it speaks to the timeless quality of the #enemiestolovers trope (one of my favs of course!) In addition, there are a lot of #diverse #prideandprejudice retellings - #Pride by @ibizoboi, #Unmarriageable by @soniahkamal and #prideprejudiceandotherflavors by @sonali.dev spring to mind, each set in different cultures/spaces. It makes me happy to see so many authors reclaiming #Austen and retelling her timeless stories in a new way!
What inspired you to write this book?
I've always been a reader, and writing naturally grew from that. Early on, I realized there weren't a lot of stories about South Asians, or Muslims, especially set in a Western context, that didn't feature a lot of stereotypes or sad stories. I wanted to write a laugh-out-loud, swoonily romantic book about the #brown #Muslim experience, that was accessible to everyone.
Sheila was so horrifying, she was almost unbelievable, except for the fact many of us have worked with someone who was that bad. However, you slipped so many back story details into the book, that part of me would like to hear her story. Have you considered writing it?
Sheila was pretty despicable in a lot of ways. Her bigotry and hatred was aimed at showcasing the way visible minorities like #Khalid sometimes can be targetted in really unsubtle ways - and in Sheila's case, she was pretty blatant about her dislike of Muslims. No plans to tell her story!
What are your thoughts on Rishtas?
A rishta - for those of you just joining - is an Urdu word for "relationship/connection" and is used to describe a formal courtship/proposal process. It's basically being set up on a date by your family. Some families are more conservative about the process, others are less so. In #AyeshaAtLast both Ayesha and her cousin Hafsa, and even Khalid, receive rishtas...which I naturally play for comedy, as like most blind dates, they can be hella #awkward! I think #rishtas are a great way of meeting people, so long as everyone involved is free to choose, and free to refuse or accept. In communities where families play a huge role in young people's lives, #rishtas can be a great way of figuring out if both parties are compatible. After all, there are many paths to #love
Have you considered using themes from other classics in your future novels?
I love retellings too - especially the funny ones, that manage to remix my favourite stories in a way that makes me rethink the original. As for my future novels, as a debut writer, I have tons of ideas. I love #Austen, especially #Persuasion so if inspiration strikes, who knows? I also really love #Shakespearean comedies, and I can see myself trying to retell one of those classic tales.
Did you always plan to be a writer?
As early as I can remember, I've always been a reader. When I was in grade 2 or 3, my teacher did that activity where we each had to make a picture book, complete with cover and illustrations. She had the books bound and laminated, and I think I've been hooked ever since. It took me a long time to admit that I wanted to be a writer though - the arts simply aren't a career choice encouraged in a lot of #diverse #immigrant communities. For first and second generation immigrants, the emphasis is on establishing ourselves in a new country. My parents immigrated to #Canada from #India in the 1970's, and I understand where they were coming from. However, I always hoped for an opportunity to tell the stories about #Muslims and #SouthAsians that felt authentic to me, and I feel so lucky that #ayeshaatlast is out in the world!
I really loved how Ayesha was a mid-twenties woman how was still struggling to find the courage to pursue her dreams. As an author, was her struggle inspired by your own past struggle, and how did you find the courage to finally pursue your dream?
The mid-twenties can be such a pivotal, confusing time for young people - perhaps they have finished, or are finishing up school, and reality and the work world beckons. I certainly felt my own share of confusion, though it happened a bit earlier for me. I'm a high school teacher, and have been working in the classroom straight out of school. However, the character #Ayesha and I both share a hesitancy in pursuing our artistic dreams - #Ayesha is a poet, who feels compelled to pursue teaching. I'm a teacher who writes books, and for a long time, nobody (except my very supportive husband) knew about my secret dreams of one day being a published writer! I worked on #ayeshaatlast for years before finding the courage to pursue publication. My advice for all the writers out there: find your supporters, because writing is a lonely job; continue to work on your craft; accept critiques but trust your voice; never stop reading, in your genre and outside of it.
Which character did you identify most with and why?
Funnily enough, I think it's Khalid. I'm a bit of an introvert, and while I don't stick my foot in my mouth as often as he does, I know what it is like to be judged based on my appearance, as I wear hijab. Of course, I identify with Ayesha as well, but there is something about Khalid's introspection and his desire to make others happy, that I identify with quite a bit.
Where is your favorite spot to do your writing or your quiet place to read?
I need quiet to draft - so usually that's done in my basement office. When I'm revising I can be someplace noisier, like a coffee shop. As for reading - usually in bed, or in a car while I'm waiting for my kids to finish some activity or the other!
Who is your favorite author/what is one book you recommend everyone read?
This is such a tough question! I don't have a favourite author, but plenty of writers I admire. @skalibooks writes heartfelt #diverse YA, and @azkhanbooks writes both a fantasy AND crime fiction.
What is one piece of advice you have for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Make time to write. Take your art seriously and treat it like a job - not in the sense that you write every day (though that is great too!) but more that you treat your writing time with respect. Remember that a lot of writing happens in your head, so trust your subconscious to work out what you really want to say. Give yourself that time and freedom, and don't stop dreaming.
What inspired you to write Clover Blue?
I visited a commune when I was a teen and it planted a seed of curiosity. I've often wondered what it would be like to live in tune with nature along with others with a shared belief system. Rather than move to a commune, I created one so I could live there vicariously.
I just love Clover Blue, he’s such an extraordinary character...what was your inspiration for him?!
I'm so happy you enjoyed the book. Clover Blue is the manifestation of that part of my younger self who yearned for an ideal life, to have a wise mentor/teacher, and to live in an idyllic setting. He and Harmony are representative of the two sides of my personality. On the one hand I'm very staid/earnest and yet I'm also rebellious and fiercely independent.
Which was your favorite scene to write?
Probably the mushroom scene. It felt like a turning point in Blue & Harmony's relationship. I got a contact high writing it. LOL
Who was your favorite character to write?
My favorite character to write was Gaia. I like delving into flawed people because I think readers appreciate seeing themselves reflected in imperfect people. I also love writing Lotus becasuse she represents our lost dreams while being a champion for the dreams of others. Of course eventually she advocates for herself, which I hope we all can do.
Did you always plan on the book ending as it did? Did you have an alternative ending in mind at any time?
I originally ended the books with Blue & Harmony in the driveway and the last line was, "You're bringing them twice as much good news." I was all like, BAM! Killer ending. But my editor wanted me to keep going. The final chapter just spilled out of me. I just let Blue tell me what he would do. I expected him to give Goji a piece of his mind but as is fitting with his personality, he forgave him. I sent it back to the editor and he loved it.
Have you ever visited a commune yourself?
I visited a commune when I was a teen, but only for a weekend. My friend and I "house sat" the property while the hippies were away. ;)
What's a fun fact about you that no one knows?!
Hmmm. Probably that I've moved over 40 times in my life. I finally settled down (for now!) and have lived the longest in my current home (18 years).
What/who inspired you to write?
I think I was born with a pen in my hand. LOL I started writing poetry as a child. My inspiration is and always will be readers, however, my mom, who went back to college in her 50s, inspired me to never give up on my dreams. My debut novel This I Know was published when I was 59!
What did you do before you decided to pursue writing?
I was a Realtor for about 10 years before my 25-year career in massage therapy. I quit my day job to write full time this past January. I am so grateful for my writing life!
Are you working on any future novels right now? Any hints you can share with us?
I can tell you that my current WIP is set in during the 1983 recession in rural Oklahoma. The story features a 13 year-old girl who lives with her recovering-addict mother and their struggle to survive all the odds stacked against them.
Was it a challenge to write from a young boy's perspective in Clover Blue?
It really was! I'd send chaps to my 29 year-old son who would read it and make notes, usually along the lines of, "A boy would never think/say that." He encouraged me to let Blue get in touch with his anger and resentment. And he gave me insights into the mushroom scene. haha
Were there any major scenes or characters you ended up cutting?
I cut at least 3 characters because it felt like too many people to keep track of. R.I.P Feather, Peace, and Tao. I also cut a scene with the minister, who picked Blue up while he was hitchhiking. My sis read it and encouraged me to drop it so I did. It turned out to be a good choice for the story line.
What is your writing process like? Do you have any rituals? A favorite place? Do you listen to music?
I need complete quiet in order to write. I usually read the news and catch up on email in the morning over a couple of espressos. Once the caffeine kicks in I lock myself in my she shed and write until I run out of words.
Are you a hippie at heart?
I guess you could say I'm an adult flower child. ;)
Goji made me angry, I hated him from the beginning. When he had the hidden letters and candy I just kept thinking how big a fraud he was. Obviously, his deceptive ways escalate. I just wonder how others can be so deceived by someone like this. I can’t tell if it was because “they needed him” or if it was because he was just good at being an act? Was he a difficult character to write about? Were you saddened for him or angry?
Goji was a complex character to write. To my mind, he started out well-intentioned but like Gaia (although in different ways) he was flawed. Over time the tenets he espoused weakened, and he also became weak. And then when he fell in love with Rain he lost himself and most everything he stood for. He became selfish and wanted her for himself at any cost. This obviously did not go as he had planned and he ended up losing her and everything he loved. In the end he take's the coward's way out. I sometimes felt sad or angry or disgusted while writing his scenes but I tried my best to remain objective and compassionate. The fact that he cause such a strong emotional response in you is a compliment. Thank you for reading and hanging in there!
What piece of advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I always advise writers to complete more than one ms before submitting for two reasons. The first reason is that an editor/agent may like your writing but the story isn't a fit for them and you'll have a back up. The other reason is that once your first book is published you have WAY less time for writing so it's good to stay ahead of the publishing calendar. Publishers expect the author to do tons of marketing and promotion through social media, blogs, newsletters, appearances, articles, interviews, etc. In fact, write three! ;)
Hi AJ Finn. Since this is your debut, what made you decide to write a psychological thriller?
As a teenager, I read a lot of Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell, so I’ve long loved this genre. Gillian Flynn helped induct a mass global readership into psychological suspense, but it wasn’t until many years after Gone Girl that I had an idea for a thriller of my own.
My question for you is you had so many references to old movies in your book, is this something you grew up and were familiar with or researched just for this character in the book?
I grew up down the block from an arthouse cinema, where I spent a lot of time soaking up classic films. Many of the quotes featured in the book I already knew by heart!
I wanted to know do you ever think the book would blow up the way it has? You’re #1 all over the place and have a movie in the works which is amazing. Did you think it would be such a hit?
This was a total surprise! I just wanted to be able to write the words THE END at the conclusion of the final chapter.
What advice would you give a wannabe author??
READ! Read as much as possible. It aerates the brain. It exposes you to new ideas and techniques.
I liked the insight that Anna Fox had into her own illness and her desire to help others. What inspired her character?
I myself have grappled with severe depression since age 21 (I’m now 38), so I can empathize with Anna. By the time I started writing the novel, I was in a much better place, and I wanted to help Anna get to a better place, too.
Wondering if you have any other books in the works?
My second book is almost finished. It’s another psychological thriller, this time set in San Francisco.
How did you come up with the story ? Did you know someone close that this happened to?
I had the idea while watching Rear Window one night in my Manhattan apartment; across the street, I could see my neighbor in her townhome, and just like that, this story took root and took shape in my mind.
Congratulations on the movie! Do you get to help with casting of the characters?
Afraid not! That’s up to the studio.
I'm really interested to learn about how you went about researching agoraphobia for this book. This seemed like a really good representation of the condition and I was curious how you managed to create such a good depiction of the anxiety disorder, especially since it seems to involve some very specific emotional reactions that seen would be hard to imagine if you couldn't experience them.
I myself have grappled with agoraphobia over the years. It’s not an issue for me anymore, but I vividly recall those days/weeks when I could barely leave the bed, much less the apartment. So I tapped into personal experience. I also consulted agoraphobes and psychiatrists.
Do you picture actors/actresses in your head that you could see portraying your characters in a film adaptation?
I didn’t have anyone in mind when I was writing the book, but there are lots of actors and actresses I can imagine casting. We’ll see what Fox decides to do!
What were you trying to accomplish in the first half of the book? It was a bit slow.
The first half of the book is quite deliberately paced, so as to adjust the reader to the rhythms and routines of a life spent indoors. Then the story disrupts that life, and Anna must find a way to deal with an environment that’s no longer safe.
Were any of the characters inspired by real people?
None, I’m happy to say — although Anna and I share several interests!
What was the biggest challenge when writing your characters?
Making them feel three-dimensional. So often in fiction, characters seem to exist solely within the confines of the plot. I like to see characters endowed with hobbies and habits — just like real people. This makes them relatable.
Was there anytime while writing that you had someone else as the killer? If so, who? And why were they the killer & why did you change?
I knew exactly how the story would unfold before writing a single word. It was important to me that the ending satisfy readers — I’ve read too many thrillers that fall to stick the landing!
I'm having the hardest time with a title for my story... any tips? What did you struggle with most when writing this?
Titles are a tricky beast. I’d suggest you keep it short and snappy, if possible. For me, the toughest part of writing is the sentence-level composition — I try to write interesting, even memorable sentences, and those take time!
How long did this story take you to write?
Exactly one year, start to finish. The second one is taking longer...
Is it taking longer because of the storyline or the characters are harder to create?
Storyline. More intricate plot and a bigger cast of characters — most of whom actually set foot outside!
Are you an old movie buff like your character or was the references to enhance the tone of the book? Some of the references also seemed like foreshadowing.
I’m a total movie buff. And some of the references do indeed provide clues... while others serve as red herrings. It’s up to the reader to decide which are which!
What made you decide to write a book?
I suddenly had a story to tell. I’d written a lot as a graduate student and as a publisher, but I’d never really attempted creative writing — because I didn’t have anything to say. Once this story sloshed around in my head for a bit, though, I found I wanted to get it down on the page. And now I’m writing full-time! Quite a change of pace...
If you could meet any author, who would it be any why?
Either Dickens Or PG Wodehouse. Both wrote really funny books, and I love to laugh. I love Patricia Highsmith’s novels, but she was famously unpleasant, so I’ll probably leave her alone...
What the umbrella suppose to symbolize something for Anna?
Not as far as I could tell! It’s a technique a psychiatrist described to me, and one I found interesting. The umbrella is sort of Anna’s personal and portable cocoon.
Wondering if you have a routine you follow when writing?
When I write, I listen to music — usually electronica or pop songs in a language I don’t speak — and I drink Earl Grey tea with milk and honey. Lots of tea. I don’t actually like hot beverages very much, but I found I was chugging waaay too much Cherry Coke Zero.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read as much as possible. It’ll nourish your imagination. Also, don’t be discouraged if you aren’t having fun. Writing is (or can be) a job — and like any job, it’s not always fun. But the more you work at it, the better you get. Also, write what you want to write. It’s smart to pay attention to the market — are people reading the sort of book you’re writing? — but don’t force yourself to crank out something for others. You are your own ideal audience.
Did you have to go back and edit anything that could have given it away?
The story was mapped out in pretty exacting detail from the very beginning, and almost nothing changed as I was writing it. Although there’s a loose end that many readers have commented on: What happened to the cat?! I admit I rather forgot about him. (I’m more of a dog person.)
What was the most challenging scene to write in the novel?
There’s a crucial passage about three-quarters of the way through the book — the longest chapter in the novel. It’s a flashback that takes place outside; you’ll probably know the scene. I found it punishing. But it forms the heart of the story, I think.
What was the most fun scene to write?
Most fun scene was the entire ending. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I quite like the ending. I hope readers agree.
How long was the process (idea to published novel) for The Woman in the Window?
I started writing the book in September 2015; it was sold to the publisher in September 2016; and it was published in January 2018. That’s a pretty long time between selling it and seeing it out in the world — unusually long, I’d say. But the publisher (rightly) wanted to set it up properly.
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!