Thursday, January 18, 2018

Q&A with Anna Snoekstra

Anna Snoekstra is the author of the new novel Little Secrets. She also has written the novel Only Daughter. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and other publications, and she is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Little Secrets, and for your character Rose?

A: Believe it or not, the main premise of Little Secrets is actually based on a true story.

A few years ago I read an article about porcelain dolls that were found on doorsteps of family homes. The creepiest part was that the dolls looked just like the daughters that lived in the houses.

It turned out to be an innocent misunderstanding, but the whole idea of the dolls, and the way people reacted to them, was fascinating to me.

I love crime stories that don’t have a traditional detective as their main character, but instead feature a regular person with invested interest in the mystery.

When I first started writing this book, my first novel, Only Daughter, had been accepted by a publisher but hadn’t been released yet. I had spent the previous five years working nights at a cinema/bar, and spending my days trying to get my writing career off the ground.

I channelled those feelings of desperation and drive into the Rose character. She is a budding journalist who latches onto the story of the dolls as a potential story and ticket out of her dead-end job at a pub.

Q: In this novel, you tell the story not just from Rose's perspective, but from the perspectives of various other characters. Why did you decide to structure it that way?

A: Structuring the novel to include different perspectives felt like the only way to tell the story I wanted to tell. I was fascinated with examining the way the truth can be twisted and manipulated.

Everyone sees the same events in different ways, so therefore have different ideas of what truth is. They bring their own desires, prejudices and previous life experiences to any situation and I wanted to show how much they can colour what each individual perceives as the truth.

Q: The novel takes place in a small town. How important is setting to you in your work?

A: Really important. For me, it is on par with character as the most important part of a story. Setting is usually the first part of a new concept that comes to me. Colmstock in Little Secrets is more than just a town. I created it as a symbol of claustrophobia and dashed dreams.

Before Colmstock, I’d always set my works in real places. It was really liberating to create a whole new place just from my imagination. I wanted it to feel real, and to make sense spatially, so I created road maps and set out where all the buildings and important locations were in relation to one another. It was actually really fun!

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

There’s so many! I try and read widely, not just crime but literary fiction, young adult, graphic novels and literary fiction as well.

Some of the authors I love at the moment are Candace Fox, Elizabeth Jolley, Emma Cline, Maggie Thrash, Emily Maguire, Samantha Hunt, Francoise Sagan and Angie Thomas, just to name a few.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At the moment I’m working concurrently on another crime novel as well as a young adult novel!

The crime novel is about a young woman who is sitting in a police interview room waiting to confess to a crime. She was the victim of bullying by a group of girls in high school and has spent the next 10 years tracking down each of her tormentors, infiltrating their new lives, and getting revenge.

My young adult novel is about a group of teenagers living in a mountain town who believe them selves to be adopted. As they work together to try and find the truth of their parentage, they discover that the situation is much more sinister than adoption. It is a secret that goes to the centre of the town itself.

Both of these novels are coming out this year and I’m so excited!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Just a thank you for asking such interesting questions. I’ve really enjoyed answering them.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anna Snoekstra.

Jan. 18

Jan. 18, 1882: A.A. Milne born.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Q&A with Linda Williams Jackson

Linda Williams Jackson is the author of Midnight Without a Moon, a novel for kids, and its sequel, A Sky Full of Stars. They focus on a girl named Rose Lee Carter who is growing up in Mississippi in the 1950s. Jackson is based in Mississippi.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Midnight Without a Moon, and for your character Rose Lee Carter?

A: I have always wanted to write a story about a sharecropping family in the Mississippi Delta because of the stories I heard about my own sharecropping family from that area.

Rose’s character is inspired by a cousin who was indeed left in Mississippi to be raised by my grandparents when her mother migrated to Chicago (the true story is VERY different, by the way).

Of course, children being left behind during this period was quite common, so Rose could have been any young girl who was raised in the South while her parents sought job opportunities up north.

Q: The book includes the story of Emmett Till. What did you see as the right blend of history and fiction as you were writing your novel?

A: I tried to make the story as historically accurate as possible. So for the tie-in, I fictionalized Rose’s grandfather as an “old friend” of Emmett Till’s great-uncle Mose Wright. Since Mose Wright was a tenant farmer in the Mississippi Delta, it is not too far-fetched to blend that fiction with fact.

What I did not want to do, however, is bring a “living” Emmett Till into the story and attempt to fictionalize his life in any shape, form, or fashion. I wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: Most of my research was done on the Internet. I read tons of articles, including archived copies of Jet magazine (which was quite fun actually). I did have to buy a few books, but most of what I needed was on the World Wide Web. I watched YouTube videos in addition to reading articles.

The thing that surprised me was how little I actually knew about the history of the Mississippi Delta and about my own African-American history.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I hope readers will grasp an understanding of what type of environment Emmett Till stepped into when he got off that train and traveled to Money, MS.

Emmett Till’s death wasn’t just about a wolf whistle. It was about Brown versus Board of Education. It was about voting rights. It was about Jim Crow. It was about the White Citizens’ Council.

All of those things encompass “keeping people in their proper place,” and that is what the Emmett Till murder was all about—not a wolf whistle.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Truthfully, I’m not working like I should be. But when I do, I will find myself telling the rest of Rose’s story, plus telling a story of about happenings in the Mississippi Delta during the ‘70s.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Hmmm. Nothing that I can think of except, thanks for the interview!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 17

Jan. 17, 1706: Benjamin Franklin born.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Q&A with Allegra Huston

Allegra Huston is the author of the new novel Say My Name. She also has written the book Love Child, written and produced the film Good Luck, Mr. Gorski, and is on the staff of the magazine Garage. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Newsweek and Vogue. She lives in Taos, New Mexico.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Say My Name, and for your main character, Eve?

A: I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to base it on my fantasy—that one of the great songs would have been written for me. It’s my first novel, and I wanted Eve to be somewhat similar to me, so I made her 48. I didn’t want an old rock-and-roller, but a guy on the verge of making it big. That led into the story of an older woman and a younger man.

Q: Do you think attitudes have changed over the years regarding relationships between older women and younger men?

A: I think they’ve changed to some extent, though not enough. It’s still, "Ooh, an older woman"--a programmed-in response that older women are more knowing and experienced. There’s something predatory, lubricious, forbidden, edgy about the whole deal, though certainly as you look around, there are more relationships between older women and younger men.

The cougar thing drives me mad. What is a cougar? A beast. There’s a sense of desperation…It’s extremely demeaning. It’s annoyed me that women have bought into this. It’s another way to demean women.

I know a lot of people in relationships of that kind, and virtually without exception, it was the man who did the chasing. The idea of a predatory cougar chasing down a boy, or a man, helpless in her wiles is so offensive.

Q: How did you think of the unusual musical instrument that you feature in the novel?

A: I can’t remember how I cane up with the idea of an instrument bringing them together. They are hard people to bring together! I came up with the idea of her doing antique hunting.

I wanted him to be a reluctant rock star, with a close and authentic relationship to a kind of primal music. The music Micajah plays when he’s not being a rock star is the kind friends of mine play—Andalusian, Middle Eastern.

His journey at the end is a reverse of [the film] Latcho Drom…he’s following the evolution of music from the far desert to Europe. Micajah does it in reverse.

Q: Is it a real instrument?

A: It’s based on a viola da gamba, but it’s smaller. The viola da gamba, you play like a cello, but you hold it between your knees. I kind of made it up, but then I researched the viola d’amore, and I imagined something that [already] existed!

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The original title for the book was "Night Blooming Jasmine"; that was going to be the name of the song. But the publisher felt it sounded like an epic set in the Far East.

We moved on to "For Eve" as the title…but we tried to come up with a name that would convey romance. "Say My Name" is not as accurate a title, but I hope it conveys the flavor of being intimate and close.

The relationship between the two of them is based on being seen. It’s wonderful when you have a relationship with someone who sees you for who you are. That’s what draws Micajah and Eve together…

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The screenplay of this. And my next book, which is going to be fairly different. It’s a psychological thriller.

I hope it will hit the same thing—what I wanted to do with Say My Name was to write a novel that has a popular storyline but is well written, thoughtful, and authentic: the thinking woman’s sexy novel. Maybe the next one will be the thinking woman’s psychological thriller!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: For me, it is a love story, but it’s really the story of a woman’s self-empowerment through the medium of a love story. I didn’t want it to have a regular happy ending, “happily ever after” updated, because that didn’t feel real to me…

What is a happy ending for a 48-year-old woman whose marriage has ended isn’t finding a younger guy. That’s great, but the idea is to feel confident. She, having felt seen, can see herself…

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 16

Jan. 16, 1933: Susan Sontag born.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Q&A with Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy, photo by Ken Browar
Simon Van Booy is the author of Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things, his first novel for kids. His other books include Father's Day and The Illusion of Separateness, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and the Financial Times. He lives in Brooklyn and Miami.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things?

A: It evolved over about eight years...sketching out characters and scenes. I've never felt completely at home anywhere in the world--so I created the mythical island of Skuldark.

Q: Why did you decide to write a children’s book this time?

A: I love Roald Dahl, and wanted to write books for children that were adventurous, but funny and scary too...

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: That fear brings out the worst in people. Strength is not power, but the absence of fear.

Q: Is this the beginning of a series?

A: Yes! Book Two is out in plans for Book Three yet though...

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A novel about five rabbits that live in a dusty old shop in New York City.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Although stories are made-up, to me they feel true. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Simon Van Booy.