Wait ’til you hear about Kristina McMorris’s new book! I was so excited to interview Kristina because my questions about her book, her process, and what she thinks about writing and publishing were flowing! I had trouble keeping it to just a few. I always ask questions I want to know the answers to, figuring you might want to know too! Today, Kristina and I chat about hives, prison, and running out of ideas for books. I promise, you’ll love it!
Please welcome Kristina to WFW—and don’t forget to watch the trailer (amazing) and consider adding THE EDGE OF LOST to your Christmas or Hanukkah—oh heck—just add it to your reading list!
Author Kristina McMorris Talks About THE EDGE OF LOST
Amy: The Edge of Lost is a complex novel covering decades, going forward and then back in time. As someone who is a linear thinker and writer, I’m curious how planned and processed the timeline for this novel? How did you know which part of the story went where (how’s that for good English)? I’m using flashbacks for the first time in the novel I’m writing now, and I sort of break out in hives. Does this come naturally to you? (Not the hives.)
Kristina: For anyone who survives this crazy business, hive outbreaks are entirely justified! Thankfully, on this occasion, the timeline issue didn’t release an onslaught of anxiety for me, as was the case with my last novel. In The Pieces We Keep, I was constantly juggling a dual timeline with mystery threads that gradually wove together, making me feel like I was writing two books at once. Add in a pressing deadline, and it was enough to drive a writer to loads of wine, or chocolate. Or both.
When it came to writing The Edge of Lost, I knew from the start what the first chapter would entail. Like a movie playing in my mind, I saw a search taking place on a foggy night on Alcatraz Island, not for a prisoner on the run, but for the young missing daughter of a guard, whose whereabouts were known only by an inmate. Then the questions began: what events led to this scene? Who was the girl? How was the prisoner involved? With these thoughts swirling in my head, I pondered their backstories, and what came to me was the unexpected visual of an Irish immigrant ship headed for Ellis Island.
In short, what landed on the page is largely a reflection of how the story actually developed for me—beginning with a major turning point, then backing up to what led there, and continuing beyond that moment. As a movie buff, I personally love films structured this way (think Swordfish or Goodfellas) because they pull me in from the start and make it almost impossible to walk away.
Amy: I love that the spark for this novel came from a documentary. Did you jump on the idea right away or was it something you allowed to simmer for a while before you started writing?
Kristina: I wrote the opening scene soon after watching the documentary, “Children of Alcatraz.” But then I jumped into research for several months (interrupted by major house renovations that all began with a simple, “Let’s replace the countertops…”) before I actually sat down to write the dreaded synopsis. But all along, the story and characters had been evolving in my mind. So even though I finally wrote a long, detailed summary—my editor’s personal preference—I never looked at it again. In no small part, I admit, because I’m always certain it will read like a poorly translated foreign soap opera!
Amy: You’re the author of four novels and have contributed to two anthologies. Are you ever afraid you’re going to run out of ideas—or repeat something from another book—something as simple as a character name or something as complex as a plot line? I ask because there are things we are consistently fascinated with so therefore those drive our imagination.
Kristina: Well, I wasn’t afraid of it until NOW… thanks for that, Amy! Ha. (Oops, Kristina! I must stop thinking “out loud” when I type!!) You definitely bring up a great point. For character names, I’ve learned to keep a spreadsheet to avoid just that kind of problem. Each of my novels usually consists of about seventy characters—including bit parts and people merely mentioned by name—plus I often feature surprise cameos of a few characters from one novel in another book that shares the same time period and setting. (I cite these among the many reasons my brain is deteriorating at a rapid pace. In addition to my kids. I blame them too.)
As for plot lines in fiction, when it comes down to it, I think most are driven by a limited number of basic elements, such as love, guilt, survival, or estrangement. Not to mention secrets of a dark, hidden past. It’s the details and surrounding circumstances, along with fresh twists and an author’s unique voice, that make one story different from the last. Or at least I like to think so…
Amy: What was the most difficult or troubling thing you learned while writing The Edge of Lost? What was the most surprising or pleasing thing you learned?
Kristina: My research for this novel covered more topics than my usual WWII stories, including immigrant life in Brooklyn, mobsters during Prohibition, vaudeville and burlesque circuits, and of course the notorious prison years on “The Rock.” Therefore, I was surprised on a daily basis by various true accounts.
The ones I found most troubling would have to be the horrific conditions of the underground solitary confinement cells at Alcatraz, aptly dubbed the “dungeons,” as well as the “Rule of Silence,” which limited inmates to speak during very specified times—and even then in near whispers.
In contrast, the most amusing tidbits I gathered involved creative ways performers in American burlesque would evade stripping laws. For example, on many occasions the girls would briefly step behind the curtain every time they removed an article of clothing, so that technically they never stripped while on stage.
Amy: What’s your take on a happily ever after? Yes, no, maybe so?
Kristina: I would have to say that my favorite endings are “satisfying conclusions.”
Given the typical settings of my books, the characters who survive until the final page have experienced quite a bit of tragedy, so finding hope at the end is even more important than a happily ever after—especially since Ilike to think their imaginary lives would continue past the last page.
Amy: What’s your best advice, right now, in this publishing climate, for aspiring authors of women’s fiction or historical fiction?
Kristina: Remember that there’s no finish line in this business, so don’t lose sight of the joy found in simply writing a story you’re passionate about, regardless of trends or reviews or advice from others. When I first wrote my debut novel, inspired by my grandparents’ courtship letters, I was told repeatedly that WWII would never sell. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t listen.
Kristina McMorris is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and the recipient of more than twenty national literary awards, as well as a nomination for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, RWA’s RITA® Award, and a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her works of fiction have been published by Kensington Books, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins.
The Edge of Lost is her fourth novel, following the widely praised Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and The Pieces We Keep, as well as the anthologies A Winter Wonderland and Grand Central. Prior to her writing career, Kristina hosted weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy®Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. For more, visit: www.KristinaMcMorris.com