If you’re just joining us, I’m talking with debut author Liz Michalski about her novel Evenfall, which falls in the category of magical realism. For more on developing character-driven fiction and a descriptive quality to your voice — my categorization of Liz’s writing — see Part 1 of our interview.
Jan: In your bio, you say you spend your days chasing after your two children and a medium-sized mutt. I have to ask about Harley, because he sounds like such a character. :)
Liz: Harley is the dog we almost didn’t get — he’s a 70 pound Tasmanian Devil who thinks he’s a lap dog.
When our last dog died, my husband was reluctant to get another dog for a bunch of reasons, all of which made sense, but he is very supportive. So when I said “How about if my book sells — would you agree to a dog then?” he said yes. I’d moaned so much about how tough the publishing industry was, and how the odds were against me that he felt pretty safe agreeing. Imagine his surprise when my agent sold my book in under a week….
He definitely is super smart, and the nice thing about him is, he rarely makes the same mistakes twice. (As my husband likes to point out, he just goes on to make new ones!) He absolutely adores the children, and has deliberately gone through our electric fence twice when he’s heard them yelling a few houses away. If the children are outside and he feels I’m not watching them closely enough through the window, he’ll come over and thwap me with his head or his paw, then lead me over so I can see what they are up to. He’s all muscle, so when he hits, it hurts!
A few months after we got him, Harley decided to wage war on the chipmunks that live in our yard. I was standing inside, looking out the window with a friend, when I heard this odd metallic noise. A few moments later, Harley went by carrying the entire drainpipe in his mouth. A chipmunk had run into it, and when Harley couldn’t reach it, he’d simply taken the pipe off the side of the house.
I stood there, contemplating how I was going to tell my husband, when my friend said “You know, I’ve known you a long time, and I feel I have to tell you: There are dogs out there that are easy to train. Some even come trained!”
And I thought, yeah, but where’s the fun in that?
Jan here: Peeps, there’s a more mature picture of Harley on Liz’s Amazon page that’s full of win.
Let’s talk a bit about setting. An ancestral home plays an important role in your book – so much so, that its name became that of your novel. Is Evenfall based on a real home in Connecticut?
Yes! One of my earliest freelance jobs was as a real estate writer — I went around and wrote up these fabulous houses that were for sale. Evenfall was based on an old farm that had been in the family for many years, and it had the most amazing attic. The realtor told me that it was not unheard of for shipwrights to build houses when they weren’t building boats, and this attic felt exactly like a ship, with a long beam that could have been a mast running down the middle. The rest of the house was quirky and old too, but it was the attic that really drew me in and captured my attention.
I can’t imagine this novel taking place in any environment other than pastoral United States. Did location inspire plot and characters, or vice versa?
I think a little bit of both. Gert and Frank are both Old Yankee New Englanders — they remind me of people I’ve actually met. There’s a reserve to New Englanders I don’t think you find in other parts of the country. And the land, the space around them, plays a huge part in their day-to-day identity — they wouldn’t be the same people in a city apartment. They wouldn’t have the same conflicts, the same problems.
Also, at time that I started Evenfall, I was very conscious of how the landscape around me was changing. At the time we lived in a very small rural community that was going through a transition. Houses were being built in fields that had always been used for grazing, there was more traffic, and the whole feel was different. I think writing Evenfall was my effort to hold on to that place and that time.
Frank’s first section of inner dialogue “It’s a warm summer day, the kind where, when I was alive, you’d have found me down the creek…” just appeared in my head when I was in the shower one morning. His voice was so distinctive, so true to my ear, that I had to keep it.
I knew Frank wasn’t omniscient, otherwise he’d have realized long ago how Gert felt about him. The challenge was finding the voice for the other characters. I finally settled on third person for Gert and Andie, because it allowed me to really pry around in their heads in a way that Frank didn’t seem to want me to do.
I also struggled with who to include — Clara was the hardest to leave out, because I felt she had such a story to tell. At the same time, her influence is felt in many of the chapters — to me, at least, she’s the real ghost. Her choices and influence shaped everyone’s lives, yet you never hear her voice.
I want to quote a passage which speaks about Aunt Gert, and then I have a related question:
“By twenty, she’d developed an immunity to wanting anything too much and contempt for those who did.”
Having just read Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I’m conscious of the divergent paths people take when wounded by others or life. Some choose to pre-emptively shut down and become guarded, like Gert. Others continue to risk vulnerability. Would you agree that choice is a central focus of your novel? Any philosophic thoughts you’d like to add around this theme?
Choice is very central to the book. It’s hard to stand up and choose to risk your heart or your home, but not taking that leap is a choice also. Living with regret every day is a choice, as is choosing not to recognize that you’ve been wounded. I think that is why Cort is so appealing to both Andie and Gert — he’s been hurt, but he’s brave enough to stand out there and try again.
What are you working on for your next project? Will themes about belonging and rootlessness be part of it?
My next book is about a family in which in every generation, one girl is born with the power to make things disappear. The story is set in a small coastal town and is very much about who belongs and who doesn’t, and how we decide such things. I’m getting ready to send the first section off to my agent, and I’m quite excited and nervous about his reaction!
Way back in the early days of html, I designed very basic websites for clients. They were all business-oriented, very simple and matter-of-fact. I knew from the beginning that I wanted my website to be different — I wanted it to be an experience as well as a way to convey information. I researched a bunch of web designers, and narrowed it down to two. I ultimately went with Sunni Chapman because she really got what I was trying to do. I wanted a site that people would want to come back to, because they would notice something different every time, and Sunni gave me that. I sent her a list of web sites that I loved, some ideas about the types of images I’d like included, and a draft of my book, and she just went from that.
There’s actually more to the web site than you can see. I wanted a way to thank readers, particularly those who come to my book signings, so I had Sunni create several ‘secret’ pages. I’m giving away stickers with special urls and bookmarks with secret codes. Combine the two, and you get access to ‘behind the scenes’ information about Evenfall!
That is so clever! I can’t wait to try out my code. :)
And now, peeps, after I issue a formal thanks to Liz for being here — thank you, Liz! — you have an opportunity to win a copy of Evenfall and your own secret code. To quality you will:
- Comment below or in Part 1 of this interview;
- Live in continental North America and;
- Have your name drawn by RNG.
To have your name entered twice, retweet this post, post a link on your Facebook page, or a link on your blog, then make note of the extra post in the comments below. Contest is open until midnight MST, Sunday, February 20, 2011.