Thank you Miriam for answering our questions! Our discussion begins Weds under the Big Tent – I will post questions for us to discuss Wednesday morning. In talking with many of you offline, I expect we will have a lot to share/discuss. Check back tomorrow!
1.This is your first novel, can you share the experience since release date? The experience has been heady, surreal and exhilarating. I had a short book tour for about three weeks, first around the Pacific Northwest and then back in Michigan. Giving readings was more fun and energizing than I had imagined. I’ve even enjoyed reviews – to an extent; I know some authors avoid them completely, but I couldn’t resist them my first time out. For the first month, I read every review and was quite happy with how well-received the book was. Walking into bookstores and seeing the book on display still makes me giggle. The best part, though, has to be hearing from readers. Those are some of my favorite emails. For years, I have written authors when their books have touched or moved me, and to be on the other end of that is just plain wonderful.
2. I have a general question for the author, I hear many writers can not read while they are writing, does the author read fiction while writing fiction? Absolutely, I read. I also know of those writers who can’t read while writing. But I read voraciously, especially while writing. It’s constant inspiration. While writing The Local News, I read a lot of first novels. Jonathan Evison, Lauren Groff and Antoine Wilson all stand out as authors whose debut works particularly spurred me on.
3. I'm interested in is knowing if the initial idea for the story was Danny (as a missing person) or did the author know she wanted to write the story from the siblings point of view when she started writing the book? I always knew the book was Lydia’s. The very first scene that came to me was Lydia in the convenience store, arguing with Kito about hanging the Missing Persons poster. I came to care deeply about Danny by the end of the book, but Lydia was my first love. From the time I started the book, I was most interested in the question: What if someone went missing and the person left behind was secretly relieved?
4. After a school move and Danny no longer participating in a 'resource' program he seems to have become quite popular. As the book progresses we learn that Danny continued to struggle with his education. How did Danny's intelligence impact the story and him driving off with Elvin Tate? I'm wondering if the author has had experience with 'resource' and I'm also curious if parents reading this book have commented (would they make this decision, to let their child come out to resource at some point). My child uses 'resource' for learning and I'm not sure how I would make this decision. Very interesting question. I don’t have direct experience with a resource program, but I’ve been a college instructor for the past seven years, so I’m familiar with different learning styles. In regards to Danny’s decision to go with Elvin Tate, I never thought of that in terms of Danny being unintelligent. I thought about it in terms of the sometimes dumb decisions teenagers make without really thinking them through. Danny had learning disabilities, but I still think he was a smart, savvy kid in many ways. Part of why I first explored the idea of Danny as a person with learning disabilities is because I wanted to figure out the deeper vulnerabilities of his character. I didn’t want him to just be some big, brutish bully. I think it was some of those same vulnerabilities – he didn’t have the best impulse control, he was not the most critical thinker – that may have led him into Elvin Tate’s car.
5. Lydia is lost, her parents are grieving and disconnected. When Lydia is driving with her Dad (page 247) ..." I remembers a little bit that he loved me, so I loved him a little back." This was so touching and my heart ached for her and her family. Was it hard to write this book? I would like to know if the author is a parent. I’m not a parent yet. My husband and I are delightedly awaiting the arrival of our first child in August. As for difficulty writing the book, I have to admit, it wasn’t hard for me to write in the way people sometimes expect. It wasn’t a daily exercise in pain. I loved Lydia so much, especially her wry voice, her intelligence, and her unique take on the world, I most often just looked forward to returning to her each day, even when the subject matter was painful.
6. I know this is fiction and everyone reacts differently to situations and tragic instances (like this). How would this story be different if told from the parents view? Another interesting question. It would have been an entirely different book had it been told from the perspective of the parents. Like I said, I was initially most interested in Lydia’s mixed feelings about Danny’s disappearance. Lydia’s parents have no such mixed feelings. Their story would likely have been more of one of pure, naked grief. Also, I’m sure their perspective of their relationship with Lydia was more complex and nuanced than Lydia was able to see. Teenagers – especially independent, precocious ones like Lydia – often feel forgotten by their parents. And while Lydia’s parents definitely withdrew into their own grief due to these extraordinary circumstances, had this story been told from their point of view, I’m sure both parents would have noted their love for their daughter and likely perceived more of their small efforts to reach out to her.
7. I was happy to see the mom's character evolve at the end of the book. It was sad seeing Lydia's relationship with her family as an adult. How do you see their relationship 10 years after the last page of the book? If Lydia has children? I’m glad you said that about Lydia’s mom, as I wanted readers to find some solace in her evolution. In many ways, I don’t concretely envision Lydia ten years after the book ends. Part of being able to finish my journey with Lydia involved letting her go after the final page of the book. That said, I see the end of the book as the beginning of an evolution for Lydia, as well. I see her capable of one day having richer, deeper relationships with people, including with her parents. And as for Lydia as a mom? I wouldn’t rule that out. In fact, it warms me to think of that possibility.
8. Lydia's class reunion - is she happy as an adult? I’m going to leave this question up to reader interpretation. The idea of “happy” when it comes to the lives of my characters – or my own life, for that matter – is often a complicated proposition. I’m interested to hear what you think as readers about this. I will say this much -- in looking at Lydia’s interactions in Part IV with her mom, with David Nelson, with Lola Pepper, even with paunchy Ben who wants to reminisce about Danny, I certainly see Lydia as someone who wants to strive toward happiness as a 28-year-old more than she did as a 15 or 16-year-old.
9. The characters seem so genuine, has the author ever had a personal connection to a kidnapping case? If not, what was her motive to write the book? Thank you for saying that about the characters. I haven’t had a personal connection to a kidnapping. As I said, my initial motivation was to delve into the mind of a survivor who had ambivalent feelings about someone going missing. While this book is very clearly about a missing boy, I see it being even more about a young woman’s coming of age. I really wanted to explore how Lydia would come to terms with her own complicated mix of loss and grief, and how she would grow through and out of this experience.
10. Who was the author's favorite character to write? Honestly, I loved them all, except for Elvin Tate. Lola was probably the character who surprised me the most, in terms of running deeper than her bubbly exterior initially revealed. Bayard was a great deal of fun to write, if only for his complete, unflappable apathy. David Nelson has a special place in my heart. As does Tip Reynolds. But no one rivals Lydia for the character I just plain enjoyed being with and enjoyed exploring and enjoyed rooting for for 357 pages.
11. I read that you didn't do any research on child abductions for the book. Why did you choose not to do research? One part of it is that I like to make things up. That’s why I love writing fiction. I did do some necessary fact checking to make sure I got procedural issues and details right. Another part of the decision to eschew research had to do with how I viewed the book. All the way through, I saw it as Lydia’s journey. Danny’s disappearance is definitely a huge part of that journey, but Lydia’s emotional life and her progression through high school and adulthood, and her negotiation of her friends and family and community all interested me far more than nitty-gritty details about the disappearance. So I wasn’t particularly drawn to research in that realm. Had this book been a detective novel from, say, Denis’s point of view, I’m sure I would’ve delved into research about real life missing children cases.
12. I read that you like to write in the library. Do you do all of your writing there? I don’t. Most writing happens in my home office. However, the library is my second favorite venue. I use it when I need to get away from the distractions of home and give myself an intensive couple of hours with the work. At the library I have to be quiet and write – no trips to the fridge, no phone calls, no playing with my cat or going to the mailbox or unloading the dishwasher or any of the many tasks that I can preoccupy myself with at home.
Thanks for all of your questions. I’m delighted that you’ve read The Local News and appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts about it with you.