I've been on a bit of a historical fiction kick this year and as I've said before, I really enjoy learning through reading. The Quickening was a book that was educational about farm life during The Great Depression, but it was also an emotional character study with a look at the perspectives of two very different women living in the same time and place. To offer a little more insight into this well-drawn book, I'm thrilled to present my interview with Michelle Hoover.
With so many places and time periods to choose from, how did you choose the setting of The Quickening?
Though I don’t name the actual location, in my mind the book takes place in central Iowa. It’s a setting I grew up in, and it’s so much a part of me that, even though I now live in the northeast, it carries a great deal of emotional and thematic resonance. But for some reason I’ve had trouble writing more contemporary stories about the place. I suppose I sense such a deep history there, even if only a geographical one, that it feels old to me. The novel was inspired in part by the few remaining pages of my great-grandmother’s journal, and so the time period in the book is her own, or at least the years among her own that had the most dramatic possibility for me.
I've heard writers say that a key to good plot is to essentially torture your main characters. Both Mary and Eddie suffer great hardships in the story, was it challenging for you to write these difficulties for them?
Novelists may appear to “torture” their characters, but what they’re really doing is forcing their characters to confront the wounds, flaws, or desires that have shaped the core of their personalities. Stories focus on characters at a time in their lives that best defines them, that reveals to the reader the “mystery” of who they are and what they promise to be. That’s why we’re watching that particular character at that particular moment. Of course, you must have compassion for your characters, but not so much that you don’t allow them to make the mistakes that their personalities are driving them toward.
But my answer to this question is still yes. Writing is always challenging, and paying enough attention to your characters to follow the truth of a situation takes an extremely concentrated mindset. And I did find one scene very emotionally difficult to write because I was empathizing with my character so heavily. The scene simply broke my heart. I tried to write around it for months, tried to avoid it and take the novel to a different place, but I couldn’t ignore the inevitable result that my earlier scenes had given me.
Which character do you think is most (and which is least) like you?
I think they both have parts of me, though I admire Enidina far more. I was actually surprised at an Amazon review in which the reader considered neither woman admirable. For me, Enidina has the strength, perseverance, tact, honesty, sense of goodness, and love for her family that the women I have always known, that I grew up around, have. These are traits that I try to foster in myself every day.
What projects are you currently working on?
Another family story. A couple summers ago I discovered that two of my teenaged great aunts disappeared together from their family farm. I have a photograph of their whole family shortly before the girls went “missing” and am fascinated by the faces there.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Go to http://www.michellehoover.net/ for news about events and the story of the book’s inspiration. Thanks!
For those interested, also, Michelle is currently on tour to promote The Quickening! Her schedule includes a stop in Chicago, as well as several other cities, so check out her website to see if she will be visiting a bookstore near you!