Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
In the Lonely Backwater. Fiction. Regal House/Fitzroy Books. May 10, 2022
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
A whip-smart outsider insecure in her sexual identity, a 17-year-old Maggie explores the North Carolina woods and avoids misery at home and school by communing with shadowy figures including a long-ago biologist. When her gorgeous cousin’s brutalized body is found at the marina where Maggie lives with her alcoholic father, a persistent detective intimates that she’s the prime suspect—and this backwater world, where people perpetually reinvent themselves to survive, suddenly becomes more complex and dangerous.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
“This novel is an intricate and intriguing work of art. Its intricacies are not mere twists of plotline; they are necessary and inevitable. They define, redefine, in a serious manner the term, mystery.” ~Fred Chappell, novelist, poet, Bollingen Prize winner, former North Carolina Poet Laureate (in StorySouth)
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
Wow. I don’t know where to begin. People have compared it with Where the Crawdads Sing and The Girl on the Train. I think it is its own beast, marked by the obsessions of its narrator and her need to categorize the world in order to live within it.
- Why this book? Why now?
I’ve never been able to choose a story—the story has chosen me. Threads that came together to launch the writing of In the Lonely Backwater included time sailing on a North Carolina lake, my lifelong predilection for solo wandering in the woods, and finding my senior yearbook with an enigmatic inscription about an argument I don’t recall.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Retirement. I ended a 20-year second career as a creative writing professor at North Carolina A&T State University last year— that would be my other best job!
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
I think in hindsight I’ve been struck with how the two young women reflect and refract ideas about what it means to be female and how those definitions can be a trap. Maggie isn’t sure about her sexuality and is not willing to compete in the accepted standards of beauty. Charisse is beautiful, by anyone’s gauge, but she’s torn between the fundamentalist purity demands of her family and her own sexuality. She’s been taught that she needs to please men, and that puts her in a hazardous place.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
As Maggie and her dad are reconciling, he brings home a special treat from the convenience store, sausage biscuits. “We tore into them like wolves, the biscuits thick and crumbly, the sausage a little on the hot side with red flecks of pepper showing in the meat. They were about the best things you could get, and I dabbed up the crumbs with my fingers and we didn’t leave anything when we were done but greasy papers.”
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
I’m reading books by other Regal House authors in preparation for podcasts and panels, including Judith Turner-Yamamoto, Michael Bourne, Karla Huebner, Frank Morelli, and Culley Holderfield. I read The Savage Ones by John Copenhaver and have just finished Georgann Eubanks’s wonderful book about rare plants, Saving the Wild South. I think Maggie would read that book til it fell apart, just like her Linnaeus volume.
Learn more about Val on her website.