How odd it feels to sit in the Guest Author chair! Although I have to say, it is quite plush and the fabric matches my outfit, so I’m going to squish my butt into the cushion and dig in to my fellow Debs’ questions about THE LOST GIRLS:
After reading LOST GIRLS I found myself thinking about the complicated give and take that exists in most sibling relationships. Did you intend for sibling relationships to be a sub theme?
Yes. The book is very much about the complex dynamic than can inform sibling relationships. (Quick disclaimer: my own sister and I have a wonderful, decidedly un-fraught bond.) I’ve always been fascinated by how, in nature, babies compete fiercely for the nourishment their mother offers, and how their mother encourages this micro-Darwinism by favoring the stronger siblings. Human sibling relationships don’t have that aspect of competition for sheer survival, but there’s often a subtle jockeying for a parent’s favor that I think is rooted in our primal animal nature. Yet, unlike animal siblings, human siblings also love each other deeply, and share a bond born of common experiences no one else will ever understand. In my story, I created a fairly extreme situation in which three sisters compete for their parents’ love and attention, just so I could explore the rich emotional territory this opened up.
Did you set out to write a story that wove together the past and the present? Or did the two interlocking stories come to you over time? And what was your process writing–did you work linearly, scene by scene or did you focus on one time and then the other?
I didn’t intend to write a dual narrative at first. The original plan was to have Justine come to Minnesota to help the dying Lucy sort through her belongings. As they did this, they would form a tenuous, then strong, family bond, and the mystery of what happened to Emily would slowly come to light. (Sort of like what Christina Baker Kline did in ORPHAN TRAIN.) But that story was too static, and the revelation of Lucy’s past was too indirect to really resonate. (In short, I’m no Christina Baker Kline.) Having Lucy be dead at the beginning of the novel and telling her story essentially from the grave enabled me to write her story in a more visceral, melancholy first person voice and had the added benefit of creating conflict for Justine, who now had no one to rely on in the present. As for the process, once I figured out the structure, I generally switched back and forth scene by scene in narrative order, although sometimes I’d get on a “Lucy” or “Justine” roll and churn out a couple chapters in one burst.
Place in THE LOST GIRLS is critical to the story. How did you create this setting? Is it based on somewhere real? Did you actually work from a map/draw a map to keep the various places in order?
I love novels with a strong sense of place, so when I started THE LOST GIRLS I tried hard to evoke its very specific setting. The lake in the book is based on the lake where my family spent our Augusts each summer when I was a girl. It’s a place that resonates very deeply with me, and I remember it feeling large and mysterious, full of secrets, yet it was also a haven where children could just be children without the distractions of the modern world. My fictional lake is more remote than my actual lake, and yes, I did look at a map of Minnesota to place it. I wanted there to be a real town about an hour away, so I chose Bemidji, because it was in the right area and has a really cool name. The other towns, like WIlliamsburg, are not real places, but I did borrow the name Williamsburg from the small Iowa town where my mother grew up. (Note: making up fictional towns makes your life much easier, because you don’t have to do quite so much research!)
What was the inspiration for Patrick’s character? Was he always so vicious behind the nice guy pretense? Were there different abuser profiles in different drafts?
When I was a lawyer, I did a lot of work for an organization called the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison, representing battered women who were convicted of murder for killing their abusers in the years before evidence of Battered Women Syndrome was admissible in court. This experience taught me a lot about the many forms abuse can take. For Patrick, I wanted something other than the physically violent, controlling man most people think of when they think of partner abuse. I wanted his abuse to be of the more subtle, emotional sort, and I wanted it to be rooted in his neediness, narcissism, and lack of empathy, traits I tailored to prey on Justine’s vulnerabilities: her need to be needed, her longing for stability, and her inability to form a social support network, things she carries with her from her childhood with her mother. Basically, I wanted readers to see that every abusive relationship is as unique as the two people in it. And, just as I tried to make the habeas court understand all the complicated reasons why my client stayed with her abuser, I wanted my readers to understand why Justine loved and stayed with Patrick, despite his quietly menacing and ultimately very dangerous behavior, and to root for her to make her escape at last.
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