Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Donna Hemans

Jamaican-born Donna Hemans is the author of the novel River Woman, winner of the 2003-4 Towson University Prize for Literature. Tea by the Sea, for which she won the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature, is her second novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Tea By the Sea is a title I had in mind long before I developed the story. I don’t recall now how I came to find it but I jotted it down and knew that I would ultimately find a story that worked with it. In this novel, a young mother spends 17 years searching for her daughter taken from her at birth. That description doesn’t readily connect with the idea of having tea by the sea. But readers will discover that tea by the sea is the activity that connects the daughter, Opal, to a mother she doesn’t know. Built into that activity is the guilt Lenworth, Opal’s father, feels after having taken his baby daughter away from her mother.

What's in a name?

Part of Tea By the Sea takes place in Anchovy, a small town about eight miles outside of Montego Bay in Jamaica. It’s where my father grew up, and the house in Anchovy is my grandparents’ house. My grandparents are long gone and my father and his siblings have long talked about selling the property. I deliberately chose Anchovy as the setting because it was one way of preserving a piece of my heritage.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

When I first started writing Tea By the Sea, I had what I thought was a strong opening. I started with a mother getting her twin daughters ready for school, dropping the girls off, heading to the subway to go to work, but ultimately turning away from the train station and walking to a church. I knew then that she would refuse to leave the church until her demands were met.

At the time, I envisioned a story that took place over 24 hours, slowly unfolding how Plum came to lose her child. But it wasn’t until I sat down with an editor that I realized my story began in the wrong place. So I completely altered the beginning and the structure—shifting the timeline from 24 hours to 17 years. The beginning is now more direct.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters are a world apart from me. Perhaps an observer will say something different. But my characters and their circumstances don’t necessarily reflect my personal life.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Water. I love being by the water, listening to it trickle over rocks or dash against a shore. So I tend to center water in my books. Sometimes water is life-giving. Sometimes it takes life. Other times it’s purely there as a means of transportation, a barrier between two characters, or, in the case of Tea By the Sea, the thing that sustains Opal and Plum.
Visit Donna Hemans's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Diana Clarke

Diana Clarke is a writer and teacher from New Zealand. She received her MFA in fiction from Purdue University and is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Utah.

Her debut novel is Thin Girls.

My Q&A with Clarke:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I am a notoriously bad titler, so I didn’t actually come up with Thin Girls, although now I can’t imagine the book with any other name. I usually call a book some incomprehensible combination of letters (mcisnanxjcjw) until someone helps me out with a title. Titles give me stage fright; it’s terrifying, to name a book! A name, I think, should glance without pointing, suggest without winking, and I’m so unsubtle. I am also always wary of the dreaded aha (!) moment in which the reader comes across the book’s title in the book and is immediately ejected from the story’s world, so it was important to me that, if the title phrase did come up in the book, it wasn’t in a cheesy ‘big reveal’ way. The phrase “thin girls” is mentioned on the first page, and then regularly throughout the book. It’s a to-the-point title, an immediate declaration – this is a story about eating disorders, body image, the dieting industry. It’s a book about girls who are thin and girls who want to be and girls who can’t be and the fact that every girl is under the pressure to be exactly, and often only, just that.

What's in a name?

I really regret the twins’ (the book’s main characters) names, Rose and Lily, but by the time I realised they didn’t work, it was too late. The reason the names initially came about is because one of the book’s presiding images is the twinflower, a flower with two buds to each stem in which each bud simultaneously takes from the other while also keeping the other alive. So, the names make sense, but maybe a little too much sense. I tried changing them, but the girls seemed to want to keep them and it would have felt so invasive to take their names from them after writing the first draft. I wish I could let them choose their own names. What feels more comfortable, in terms of naming, is when the main character, Rose, gets involved with a pro-anorexia group and they nickname her Riz, because the name has a skinnier mouthfeel than Rose. They’ve all got thin nicknames too: Mim, Lin, Flee. I think the nicknaming process speaks to the power of names. A nickname is a name you choose for yourself, or your beloved people choose for you, and one that is adopted through unity and acceptance. It is because it fits. It’s often our first communication of the self to others and it allows us to retain some kind of authority over the self in a way that given names don’t. A nickname, a name taken on, is much more meaningful than a birth name, I think.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not. Not at all. She was a sad little thing. She might be surprised that I made it out of adolescence alive and healthy, happy, even! But she wouldn’t be surprised by this book. In a lot of ways, this book is for her. Here you go, little friend.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I can’t end a book. Beginnings are natural, for me. I write linearly and I start at the start and, usually, the first scene of the first draft remains the first scene in the published book. A miracle. The end, though? I must’ve changed Thin Girls’ ending a hundred times. One iteration was just me killing every single character in a big fire because I was so sick of writing endings. That was not a proud moment. I apologised in the next draft. The eventual ending is more hopeful than I ever imagined it to be, and I think that hope, that flicker of maybe, is so important, but it still makes me wince to read. Do other writers experience this? If anyone teaches a class on ending a book, sign me up.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Big time! I’m every character. I feel divided and multiple pretty much always, and so writing fiction is the perfect outlet for that strange crowded feeling. There are so many selves in this book, but the characters are also more than me; they usually have just an essence of my personality in them. Rose is an idiot, for example, and Lily is often self-destructive. That’s all me. But the twins are more than their respective idiocy and unawareness, too, and this is where the fiction comes in. I play “a person who does X would also probably do X” with myself while I write. For example: a person who does yoga would also probably enjoy eating salad. Or, a person who is as self-destructive as Lily would also probably get into a dangerous relationship. I find it to be a really helpful character-building tool – a way to distance my characters from myself.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My friends and family. I take so much from the people in my life. Anecdotes and traits and mannerisms and speech patterns. I’m also super into trashy television. I like “good” TV too, but there’s something about bad reality shows that make me think hard about narrative and the ways in which we construct stories and characters and plot out of thin air. Reality TV tries to turn life into something that can be consumed in a few hours, and that’s what a novel does too. At least, for me.
Visit Diana Clarke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Thin Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 29, 2020

Gennifer Choldenko

With more than 2 and a half million books sold, Gennifer Choldenko’s best known Tales from Alcatraz series, has been called “A cornerstone series in contemporary children’s literature.” Al Capone Does My Shirts—the first book in the series—was a Newbery Honor Book and the recipient of twenty other awards. All four books in the series were Junior Library Guild selections and garnered many starred reviews. Choldenko’s newest novel is Orphan Eleven. Publishers Weekly has said this about Orphan Eleven: “This uplifting tale of hope, survival and belonging has all the ingredients to become a beloved middle grade book.” Choldenko lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her loyal husband and naughty dog.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title Orphan Eleven is designed to work on two levels. The first level is to make a reader interested in opening the novel. Once you begin reading the book, the title operates like a puzzle. Orphan Eleven is not paid off until chapter 25 (of 36). But some readers may figure out why the book is named Orphan Eleven before this reveal. I like to think that both readers who guess and readers who don’t will feel an ah-hah moment once they understand the origin of the title.

My first draft of this novel was written in the voice of a secondary character named Nico. Then the book title was: The Con Man’s Apprentice. I love that title which made it into the final book as a chapter title. But when I changed viewpoint characters, it was no longer the right title for the book.

What's in a name?

Names are very important to me. I spent a really long time trying to figure out the name of the protagonist’s sister. But once I figured out her name was Dilly SauvĂ©, POW! she came into view with such clarity. A good name is like a good midwife bringing a character into the world for the author.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Of all of my books (16 published so far) I think my eleven-year-old self would be the least surprised by Orphan Eleven. That’s because so much of my eleven-year-old heart is in the main character: Lucy SauvĂ©. I just wish I could have read this book when I was a kid.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

That’s like asking which foot do you wash more the right or the left? I change everything over and over and over again until that cosmic click tells me I’ve got it right. My license plate is REWRITZ, which gives you some indication of my process. That said though, I think endings are more challenging. It is very difficult to get an ending that really really works. But so very gratifying when you do. My best endings are for Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone Throws Me a Curve and Orphan Eleven.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Every character I write -- antagonists, protagonists and walk-ons -- all share my DNA. They are created by my mind. My belief systems, imagination, experience, reading colors who they are. I’ve been married for many years, but my husband still can’t predict what I will say or do. That’s because there are so many different characters inside of me.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Because I’ve written one series: the Tales from Alcatraz, I do look closely at good series TV. The Sopranos, The Crown, Ozark, Breaking Bad all are terrific. And the growth and change of the characters is what makes them so good. For me, writing a series means managing the character arcs across all of the books. For Orphan Eleven which at this point is a stand alone, I made good use of cinematic cuts to make the ending more suspenseful.
Visit Gennifer Choldenko's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Gennifer Choldenko & Sasha.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Brianna Wolfson

Brianna Wolfson is the author of Rosie Colored Glasses and the newly released That Summer in Maine.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title, That Summer in Maine, sets the stage for where the majority our story will take place, and suggests that Maine is a destination, not a home. The characters that occupy the stage, and the drama that will unfold, is left more to the imagination.

What's in a name?

The character that the plot revolves around is Eve. She is, almost above all else, naive and her naivete that leads to the inciting incident of the story. I think you can see where we are going here! This is definitely a reference to Eve, the first woman, who succumbs to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In That Summer in Maine, Eve similarly succumbs to the temptation of knowledge; in her case, to explore her familiar roots by reuniting with her biological father.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not at all! Two of the four primary characters are in their teens. That Summer in Maine is very much a story of daugtherhood and motherhood, and I envision, and hope, that teenagers and adults alike can see themselves in and empathize with these characters.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings. All great characters start with great flaws and the story is built on how the characters address those flaws.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My first novel, Rosie Colored Glasses, drew a lot from my personal story. This isn't as much the case with That Summer in Maine, but I always feel like my characters reflect parts of me (even the villains). With this novel specifically I wanted to explore the relationships between non-blood relatives because that has been a really important part of my upbringing.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My family is always a source of inspiration and story telling. I come from a rambunctious, feelings-forward, bunch, which I think is what allows me to take so many different perspectives in my writing.
Visit Brianna Wolfson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Nicola Maye Goldberg

Nicola Maye Goldberg is the author of Other Women (Sad Spell Press, 2016) and The Doll Factory (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). She lives in New York City.

Her new literary thriller is Nothing Can Hurt You

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Quite a lot. It’s from Louise Gluck’s incredible poem “A Myth of Devotion” which I kept taped above my desk while I was writing the book. The phrase also appears in certain translations of Luke 10:19. It’s a promise many of the characters make to one another, which none of them are able to keep.

What's in a name?

For the name “Sara Morgan,” I wanted it to have the same number of syllables as “Laura Palmer,” who is sort of the dead white girl prototype in contemporary culture. But that’s more thought than typically goes into naming a character. Usually I just glance around at whatever books or magazines are on my desk and go from there.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Very! I was a scaredy-cat as a kid. I remember at a sleepover in high school, my friends and I watched Red Dragon, mistaking it for a Kung-Fu movie. I was miserable for a week. My interest in horror and mystery and true crime didn’t develop until college. I think if my teenage self read the description of Nothing Can Hurt You, she probably wouldn’t even want to read it.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are super easy to write, but I almost always end up deleting them. Endings are a little harder. The stuff in the middle, of course, is what I spend the most time on.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are so many characters in Nothing Can Hurt You, most of whom are demographically and psychologically very different from myself. That is partly a function of what I wanted to explore in the book – namely, the effect of violence on a community – and also a desire to experiment with throwing my voice, with writing authentically about people with whom I don’t have much in common. But of course no one see themselves clearly. It’s possible the characters I think have nothing to do with me are the ones I most resemble.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I watch a ton of television – I often have in on in the background while I’m writing – so that’s probably a big one, though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how it influences me. And I have a playlist of spooky songs I liked to listen to while writing Nothing Can Hurt You. Lots of PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Okkervil River, Tom Waits.
Visit Nicola Maye Goldberg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lesley Kara

Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy “Writing a Novel” course. She lives on the North Essex coast. She is the author of The Rumor, a Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller.

Her new novel is Who Did You Tell?

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Who Did You Tell? was one of the first titles I thought of and luckily, my agent and editor liked it too. Psychological thrillers nearly always have a question at their heart and this title hints at a secret - a secret that’s been shared. It ties in with one of the key themes in the book and that’s addiction. The main character, Astrid, is a recovering alcoholic, who is forced to move back home with her mother. She is reluctantly attending AA meetings which are, by their very nature, confessional, so the title plays on this. What happens if the thing you are most ashamed of has been shared with the wrong person?

What’s in a name?

I wanted a name that reflected the unconventional, spiky nature of my protagonist. It’s no spoiler to tell you that her real name is Hilary, but as a teenager she thought that was far too bland, so she renamed herself Astrid which is, as she’ll tell you in Chapter 2, ‘a rebellious, rock-and-roll kind of name that carries a hint of the stars, a wildness.’ I think names in fiction are incredibly important – names of characters and names of settings, too. Who Did You Tell? is set in a fictional seaside town called Flinstead, on the east coast of England. It’s loosely based on the very real town where I live, but I didn’t want to be constrained by the actual geography of the place. I wanted to be free to play around with the setting and make it work for the novel.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

As a teenager, I was a voracious reader. By the age of eleven, I’d already worked my way through the kind of books my parents kept on the top shelves. Didn’t they realise I could stand on a chair? Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Peter Benchley’s Jaws were two of my favourites, with certain chapters particularly well-thumbed, so as a teenager I was more or less reading anything and everything I could get my hands on, from literary classics to bonkbusters, and then I discovered crime (the genre, I mean). So I think my teenage self would be absolutely delighted to read about Astrid’s murky past!

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I always find it easier to write beginnings, and as soon as I discovered Astrid’s ‘voice’, the words just flowed. Astrid is a mass of contradictions: feisty and sarcastic on the one hand, but incredibly vulnerable on the other, and I hope the first chapter conveys that. I rewrote it countless times, because sometimes you have to find out what kind of story you’re writing before you know the exact place to start. The ending changed a few times as well, now I come to think of it.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Who Did You Tell? was loosely inspired by my experience of witnessing the effects of alcoholism in my own family, but as for writing in general, inspiration is everywhere. The germ for my first novel, The Rumor, was hearing a rumor myself. A notorious figure who’d committed a heinous crime as a young child was apparently living in my neighbourhood under a false identity. It probably wasn’t true, but it got me thinking about how rumors can escalate out of control and have all sorts of unintended consequences. The idea for my next novel, The Dare, which will be out next year, comes from a particular walk I used to go on with my best friend when were thirteen. In the novel, the walk ends badly, and one of the children dies. But thankfully, my friend and I are both still alive!
Visit Lesley Kara's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Kimberly Belle

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including her latest domestic suspense, Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Six books in, and not one of my titles has ever stuck, so I’ve stopped spending energy thinking about what to call it until the story is finished. When I turned this one in, it was called “Book #6,” though admittedly, Stranger in the Lake is a much catchier title. An accurate one, too, since that’s how the story begins, with an unnamed woman floating in the lake behind my main character Charlotte’s home, in the same exact spot where her brand new husband’s first wife drowned. A coincidence? Maybe, but what the title also does is suggest that the stranger may not be a stranger at all—something that turns out to be true. Charlotte saw the woman talking to her husband the day before, even though he tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, and it digs up dark secrets that have been simmering under the lake’s waters for years.

What’s in a name?

I have a running list of names that I pull from when naming a character, but it has to fit both the character and the story. I’ve been known to change a name halfway through because it didn’t feel right. Sometimes something as simple as a name change can really make a character come alive in my head.

In Stranger in the Lake, my main character’s name is actually a plot device. Charlotte is a woman who has married way, way up to a man much older and wealthier, and somewhere along the way, she traded in her given name—Charlie—for the more refined Charlotte. But the name change is not fooling anyone, and it makes the people in town think she’s uppity. In the end, Charlotte/Charlie will have to decide which person she wants to be.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I’m not sure she’d be surprised by the story as much as that I had written one. I’m not one of those writers who penned her first novel in crayon. I’ve always loved getting lost in a good book, but for the longest time it never occurred to me to actually write one. My first career was in nonprofit fundraising, and it definitely helped me hone my writing skills. Fundraising letters, website texts, scripts for meetings and events…I learned very quickly how to drill down to a powerful, poignant message that tugs at the heartstrings.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings and endings are the easy part for me, it’s the stuff in the middle that takes most of the time and effort. I write from an outline, but even the most detailed plans can go sideways once I get into the weeds of writing. Sometimes the pacing is off, or a character’s actions don’t fit their personality. Sometimes a character I didn’t plan for walks into a scene and has something essential to say. I always give myself room to rework the story as I’m writing, but my beginnings and endings rarely change.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I’d like to think I have Charlotte’s tough skin and that I share her sense of loyalty, but I’m not sure I could have survived everything she has. My research for this story taught me that far more people follow in their parents’ tragic footsteps than break the cycle like Charlotte did, and I can’t say for certain which side of the equation I would have fallen on. I do also share her architect husband’s drive, his innate desire to create beautiful things, but I think (hope?) that’s where the similarities between us end. I guess that’s the answer here, that like most authors I put little pieces of myself into every character—the good, the bad, the ugly. My characters are the best and the worst of me.
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Wife.

Writers Read: Kimberly Belle (July 2019).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Jennifer Ryan

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Ryan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing a book, she’s reading one. Her obsession with both is often revealed in the state of her home, and how late dinner is to the table. When she finally leaves those fictional worlds, you’ll find her in the garden, playing in the dirt and daydreaming about people who live only in her head, until she puts them on paper.

Ryan's new novel is Sisters and Secrets.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

A lot! It basically conveys the major plot and tells you exactly the kind of story you’re getting.

For me, titles are hard. You want the reader passing by the shelf to see the title and think, “I want to read that.” It’s not always easy to come up with something that goes with the story really well. In this case, it did. But Sisters and Secrets wasn’t the original title. When I turned in the book, the title was The Silva Sisters Secrets. The publisher and I loved it. But the book distributor thought it was too fussy with all the s sounds, so I simplified it. I like the new title a lot better. It felt like that should have been the title all along.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The beginning is always the hardest part for me. I don’t outline. I usually know how the book opens, who my characters are in a general way, and I go from there.

I like to write from beginning to end. I spend time revising the beginning because it’s the set up for everything that follows. Once I have the beginning the way I want, I write to the end with very little revision until it’s finished. Then I do several rounds of edits adding in details and making sure there’s continuity.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are pieces of me in every book. But I really relate to these sisters in different ways.

Sierra is the most like me. She’s the middle sister. So am I, though I have two brothers. She’s self-sufficient and very capable. Asking for help is not her way, because she feels like she can do it all. I’ve always been that way.

Amy is a bit neurotic and a perfectionist. I’m a little bit of this, but not as much as Amy. I get her desire to make her family happy by giving them a nice home life and being the best mom she can be. I don’t go overboard like Amy does, which actually makes her family resent her a bit. My kids would probably say I tend to get lost in books and ignore them – but they get that about me. And I make them brownies to make up for it.

Heather is a free spirit who leans toward being selfish. She’s more a combination of people I know, who justify their actions for lots of reasons even when they hurt others.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I find a lot of inspiration in country music, TV, and movies. People watching is a lot of fun for me. I like to make up stories about people I see doing things in real life.
Visit Jennifer Ryan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 22, 2020

Elle Cosimano

Elle Cosimano's debut thriller, Nearly Gone, was an Edgar Award finalist, won the International Thriller Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and was awarded the Mathical Book Award recognizing mathematics in children’s literature. Her novel Holding Smoke was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award and the International Thriller Award. Her books for young adults have appeared on several statewide school and library reading lists.

Cosimano's new novel is Seasons of the Storm.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The original working title for this book was When We Wake, but the entire team (myself, my agent, and my editor) felt this title was too soft for this story. This is a tale of adventure—a story of forbidden love and rebellion, featuring high-speed chases and high-stakes battles. We needed a title that hinted at the danger of the world and the urgency of the plot. My publisher came up with Seasons of the Storm, and we all immediately agreed the title was perfectly suited to its task.

What's in a name?

Names play a critical role in Seasons of the Storm. Each character’s name is self-chosen, reflecting their new identity once they are turned from humans into the immortal embodiments of their assigned season on earth. The Seasons each possess a specific elemental magic, and they are grouped by their creators to live with others of the same nature in order to foster competition between those that are different. My main character is a Winter named Jack Sommers. His chosen name not only hints at his elemental magic (a nod to Jack Frost), but also reveals a glimmer of his defiant personality—a character trait that drives him to rebel against his creators when he falls in love with a Spring he’s forbidden to be with.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

As much as I loved writing as a teen, I never imagined writing as a career. In my mind, novelists were celebrities, lumped together in the same box with actors and film producers and famous musicians. I never would have dreamed it could be possible to become published at all. So if anyone had told teen-me that Seasons of the Storm—the kind of high-stakes, magical urban fantasy I would have loved reading as a teen—would become my fifth published novel (with three more on the way), this would have been a mind-blowing revelation for me.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I struggle most often with beginnings. The perfect opening line, the gripping set up of an opening scene ... these are always the most challenging parts of any story for me. When revising, more often than not, I am rewriting entire chunks of the earlier chapters, making sure I’ve laid the groundwork for the rest of the story. On the other hand, endings have always come easily for me. Maybe it’s the mystery novelist in me, but there’s nothing I find more gratifying than braiding all the loose threads together into show-stopping reveals and a satisfying conclusion. My beginnings tend to be slower, taking time to build, the stories usually picking up speed as they race, tires squealing, toward nail-biting finishes.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are elements of my own self in every one of my characters—my heroes, my secondary characters, and even my villains. I have to feel some degree of connection with each of them in order to write them, to understand their motivations, needs, and goals. Sometimes, this means exploring parts of my own teen experiences—both joyful and painful. Often, it means tapping into the deepest, quirkiest parts of myself, and finding the universal truths in them so I can project those truths into my characters. We’ve all experienced loneliness, loss, love, betrayal, rejection, and desire. Hints of my own triumphs and scars are often written into the hearts of my characters.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I derive a lot of inspiration from music. Every book I’ve written has been created to a running playlist of songs that put me in a specific mood or headspace to create that singular story. The playlist for Seasons of the Storm was particularly special in that each character became a Season at a different point in time, and their musical tastes reflect their unique generation. For instance, Julio Verano was a surfer from southern California in the 1980s when he became a Summer. His counterpart, Amber Chase, became an Autumn in the wake of Woodstock in the late 1960s, and the songs that imprinted on her heart were very different from Julio’s or Jack’s. I found myself creating vastly different playlists for each Season, and those playlists kept me grounded in the heads and hearts of each character.
Visit Elle Cosimano's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Meghan Holloway

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.

She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway's new novel is Hunting Ground.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

At this point in my career, I still come up with my own titles, and I am very strategic about my choices. My titles convey a clue about the plot and the character’s position in the story with the title.

The three protagonists in this story find themselves ensnared in the same trap. Hunting Ground is a blunt introduction to the fact that my story centers around predator and prey, and how, at times, those roles can be fluid.

What's in a name?

Names are important, and when I’m coming up with characters, I often choose a name that reflects something about each individual, whether in relation to themselves or another character’s view of them.

Obsession is the driving motivation of all three characters, but I think you see that most clearly and in the most twisted sense with Jeff, the serial killer. He is the character who is most at home in his compulsion, the most self aware, and I went with a touch of irony, as the meaning of his name is “peaceful.”

The name Evelyn means “desired, wished for,” and the character herself represents an embodiment of perfection for Jeff. Just why and how she represents that, you’ll have to discover for yourself.

Justice has been far out of reach for Hector. With his character, I wanted to explore how prolonged grief and a lack of closure can warp a man’s psyche. Homer’s Hector is the classic hero of the Iliad, courageous and honorable. My Hector is the antithesis of that. He is bitter, manipulative, and driven by vengeance.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are more challenging for me, and I find they also change the most throughout the course of my revisions. I usually have the ending in mind when I start writing, but it takes me several drafts to find the perfect first chapter hook for the reader.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I do not think an author can ever write in a vacuum where their own personality, outlook, and experience does not influenced their stories. None of my characters are autobiographical. However, my experience from working in the records department of a police station for several years influenced how I portrayed the police and the justice system. My own work in a museum archive during grad school was the inspiration for Evelyn’s career in the story, and Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite places to visit in the states. So pieces of me do show up in the novel, but not a direct translation of me in any character.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

When I was writing this book and the two subsequent novels, I watched the ID channel most evenings. Investigation Discovery covers true crime stories in loose documentary style across the channel’s variety of shows. Writing a series that is so chilling and gritty, I needed to stay deep in the dark labyrinth of human nature. I found the best way to do that was to continually dose myself with stories of the appalling crimes humans commit against one another. A little grim, but effective.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

--Marshal Zeringue