“The Girl From Blind River is a part coming-of-age, part redemption story with a razor sharp edge... The plot is twisted and the prose nuanced and graceful, but it's the characters that stick with you... Stellar debut!"
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I heard Michael Koryta say, “Keep your head down and keep moving forward.” This bit of wisdom helped me get through the first draft. It’s easy to get distracted by craft books, writing conferences and classes. Those things serve an important purpose but eventually you have to put all that aside, assume you’ve learned enough to get through a rough draft, and get down to business. Of course, there has to be a story in there, a plot with twists, characters that possess depth, a setting that is fully realized. But none of that can happen if you don’t put your head down and write.
How important is the setting in your novel?
Well, it’s crucial really. In Blind River there are broken sidewalks, freezing rain, a diner, a pawn shop. There’s a river that smells of runoff from the town’s only manufacturing plant. Then there’s the Walmart on the highway just outside of town. I love using weather to intensify a scene. Snow and ice, rain, leads to runny noses, freezing fingertips. These things create a scene and an atmosphere for the reader to experience. Jamie feels ensnared by her family and Blind River, I want the reader to feel what she feels, so they’ll root for her to get the hell out of there.
Are there any symbols running throughout your novel?
I use poker and gambling to symbolize some aspects of American culture. Children in this country are sold a dream they can rise from the circumstance they are born into, that the American Dream will come true for anyone willing to work hard enough, that pulling one’s self up from the bootstraps is actually possible. But many people are born into circumstance they will never find their way out of and the dream of making a better life for themselves and their children really isn’t viable. That’s why the lottery system has seen such a crazy boom in the last three or four decades. People living in poverty, such as the kind I grew up in, know deep down that education alone isn’t going to pull them out of their circumstances, that dream jobs have vanished in the tumultuous economy – and matching five random numbers on a ticket bought at the 7-Eleven might be their only solution. Jamie sees poker as her only real avenue to get out of Blind River but the odds are definitely not in her favor.
What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
I have to mention two. Connie May Fowler’s Before Women Had Wings and Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. I saw myself and my roots reflected in both those books and came to see that stories about girls were important to both our culture and also spoke to some deep yearning inside of me. I read a lot of books in between those two and eventually began to believe I had something to add to the discussion.
What do you wish more readers would ask you about?
Once the book gets out into the world (July10th!) I hope readers will notice and want to discuss the subtle degrees of sexual orientation experienced by a couple characters, and how that plays into the family dynamics. I’d love to discuss that more.