My new friend Meg ( because I seriously hunted her down on facebook immediately after turning the last page-- such a kindred spirit she is ) was kind enough to answer a few questions:
1.)Your book is expertly executed. The scenes (from the earliest in Michigan to Tish’s settling into Noble) transition so seamlessly. Do you write an outline? What does your process look like?
Thanks! If there’s anything “expert” about it, I owe it to my critique partners and my editors, who do their valiant best to rescue me from plot problems. Yes, I write an outline but it defeats me every time. I always get sidetracked by unrelated ideas that don’t even belong in that particular story, or by basic questions like “What the heck is this story about, anyway?” Finally I wind up with a solid premise, but the midpoint of my process looks like what would happen if you turned a toddler loose with scissors, paper, hot dogs, glue, paints, used tea bags, and glitter. It gets ugly.
2.)I was very, very impressed by the point of view characters: George, Tish and Mel. Did they instantly start speaking to you and hinting for their voices to be heard? If you were to choose another character to give more “page time”, as it were, who would you choose?
Thanks, Rachel. Tish’s voice came easily, maybe because it was fun to revisit living in Michigan and the differences between Northerners and Southerners. I really enjoyed getting into George’s head too, especially with anything related to his love for old cars or to his love-hate relationship with his mother’s Maltese. But Mel’s voice came most naturally, and I wish I’d had more “page time” for her. On the other hand, I’m glad that her part in the ending of the story comes as a jolt, because that’s how grace often works—suddenly, from an unexpected direction—and you know everything is about to change even if it can’t all change overnight.
3.)I was enamoured by Tish’s immediate connection to the McComb ancestral house—especially as a reader and lover of LM Montgomery’s work. Montgomery so believed in attachment to place and how it nurtures one’s soul and creativity and how it springs into a life of its own. Is Tish’s new house in Noble inspired by a house from your past or present?
It’s not inspired by a particular house, but I love old houses in general. My favorites are from the Craftsman era, maybe because I grew up in a little California bungalow that was built around 1920. I can’t look at an old house without wondering who lived there through the years, its successive residents looking out the same windows on an ever-changing world. It’s easy to forget that the world was “modern” to our ancestors, and that our descendants will one day think how quaint and old-fashioned we were. But no matter how much life changes, people will always need a place to call home.
4.)You kind of take the idea of the Prodigal Son story from the Bible and turn it on its ear---meaning that while Mel is indeed a prodigal --- the home she returns to is not her original home, the fatted calf slaughtered is not done so by her family, rather her new family of George, Calv and Tish. Did you always know that Mel’s path would take a slightly different turn?
As soon as Mel showed up in my head, I knew she didn’t belong in a cliché-ridden prodigal story. I studied the parable’s concrete details (garments, sandals, jewelry, a hated job) and I tried to flip everything in new directions. Most of all, I wanted to show the sad reality that many prodigals can’t relate to the lucky boy in the parable because they don’t have a good father-figure to come home to. For instance, Mel’s father doesn’t give her a robe and a ring; he orders her to return the items she “borrowed” from him. She won’t find a welcome under his roof, but that’s where grace comes into the picture.
5.)Mel, Tish and George are so different in many ways; but so similar in others. Each has such an attachment to the past: Mel to her family (and even to GWTW!), George to the Antiques, Tish to the story of her ancestors and their beautiful letters. Why do you think the past ---the exploration of the past--- and the excavation of its wrongs and rights—so greatly informs who we are.
The more we know about the past, the more we know about the present and about ourselves. Recently someone asked me why someone would bother to film a documentary about a little-known episode of strange times within a particular church, and my answer was that the filmmaker is a historian who wants to know not just what happened but alsowhy it happened so we can learn from it. I think we’re all amateur historians when we delve into our family histories. If we can understand how and why the choices of previous generations still affect us today, we just might make better choices in our own lives.
6.) Who are some of your favourite authors? Books?
Prepare to be yanked around through a bunch of different genres. Frederick Buechner’s Godric is one of my all-time favorite novels, and his nonfiction is wonderful too. I also love Catherine Marshall’s Christy and Siri Mitchell’s Kissing Adrien, two of the best clean romances ever. I love James Lee Burke, Dorothy L. Sayers, and P.G. Wodehouse. To Kill a Mockingbird is also on my keeper shelf. So is I Conquer the Castle by Dodie Smith. If these books have anything in common, it might be that their writers have distinctive and authentic voices that draw me into their worlds and make me want to stay.
Meg, I don’t think I will be able to get the lovely after-taste of this book out of my mouth for a long time. I will keep wanting to sink back into the pages again and again. Please tell me what is next. And please, please, PLEASE confirm that you will sprinkle a gentle amount of romance in the same way you did in Gone South
Thank you! A Stillness of Chimes is coming out in February. It will include a fair sprinkling of romance, plus some family drama, music, and a mystery, all against the backdrop of the Southern Appalachians.
see guys? Meg's a kindred spirit! just look at that reading list :-)