The first featured debut author of 2018 is Anna Quinn.
Anna’s book, The Night Child, was released this week by Blackstone Publishing. The genre here is Psychological Literary Fiction.
The Night Child is the story of Nora Brown, a young mother and high-school English
teacher, whose unremembered childhood trauma returns to threaten her sanity in
the form of a child named Margaret. This exquisitely nuanced and profoundly
intimate novel examines the fragile line between past and present—it is a story of
resilience, hope, and the capacity of the mind, body, and spirit to save itself despite
Where did Anna get the idea for The Night Child?
The Night Child was born from my memoir. When I finished writing the memoir, deeply cathartic as it was, it still wasn’t the story I most wanted to write, but I wasn’t able to articulate why. Weeks later another story began to push up, a story with similar themes to the memoir (identity, power imbalance, betrayal, resilience, hope) a story that wanted to go beyond my singular experience—beyond the way I’d been telling it. I realized the problem was in the form—the memoir wanted to breathe, break free, it wanted to be a novel.
What’s the story behind the title?
The original title was SPLIT, but in 2016 a movie came out with the same title and similar themes to my book. And to make it worse, the film perpetuated
harmful stereotypes of mental illness instead of countering them. I was devastated. I
told my publisher I wanted to change the title and they agreed.
Tell us about your favorite character.
I love Margaret. She is a fierce six-year old who attempts to save the protagonist, Nora, and her daughter, Fiona, from a terrible danger. Margaret’s courageousness both gutted and inspired me beyond measure.
Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your
As with almost any work of fiction, the characters are composites of
people I’ve met in my life, deepened and expanded by my imagination.
How long did you take to write this book?
I wrote The Night Child in only a year, but that’s because I used a great deal of content from my previously written memoir. It took another year to edit.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I used notes from my own personal history of dissociation, and spent hundreds of hours reading about psychiatric therapies, and interviewing psychiatrists and people who had experienced, or were experiencing dissociation.
What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
I’m a fairly spare writer (my poet husband calls me a haikuist novelist) and I often need to elaborate rather than cut. However, the editing exercise that helps most regarding
cutting words is to read the entire manuscript aloud underlining all the places that
cause me to falter or lose attention. Later, I go back and either cut those sentences or
rewrite the passages. I also used Microsoft’s Word Usage and Frequency add-in, to
find repeated words. The words “actually”, “shrugged” and “sometimes” were my top
three most overused words.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
One of the most exhilarating things about writing is the mystery and complexity of it,
so while I have a sense of big what if questions when I begin, I allow my imagination
free rein during the first draft— I become a combination of interviewer, recorder and
witness. I observe my characters, follow them around, ask them things along the way
like: What do you want? Why does this matter so much to you? What are you looking
for? What’s standing in your way? What are you afraid of? and What next? Over time
they lead me into scenes, into answers, and a story emerges—the structure revealing
itself as I write.
What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
Revision thrills me.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
Finishing a piece. But really, is any story ever finished?
-Can you share your writing routine?
Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days and I sequester myself in my writing studio—a little tugboat with horrible internet access. I write from 7 a.m. until midnight each day, only stopping to take an occasional walk, eat something, or shoo away the gulls who like to crack clams open on the boat roof. The rest of the week I write at home for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.
Have you ever gotten writer’s block?
I decided long ago to reframe writer’s block. When the words don’t come I tell myself
I’m in a receptive phase. I’m not saying I don’t sometimes panic (I do!) but it
definitely takes the pressure off to trust that my words and ideas just need time to sort
themselves out. Taking long walks, taking photographs, practicing yoga, listening to
music or reading, eventually opens up spaces within me where words once again find
their way to the page.
Do you have any writing quirks?
I have to write the first draft of anything in long hand with a Uniball 207 pen.
Tell us about yourself.
Running a bookstore is like attending an all-day bookish cocktail party, and
though I love placing great books into new hands, I do limit my time at the desk. I
also teach workshops, so I pace myself there too, keeping my teaching time to a
couple of hours, a few days of the week. I’m married to a poet who understands me,
and gives me plenty of space and support. I also have three grown boys I love to hang
out with whenever I can.
How did you get into writing?
My mother taught me to write when I was four. She taught me words create worlds and that imagination is everything, and I believed her then, and still do today. I was fortunate also, to have teachers along the way who encouraged me to keep writing. One particular teacher taught me that if I didn’t like the story I was in, then I should write myself into a new one—her words pretty much saved my life.
Which book influenced you the most?
My top ten books of all time are:
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Look At Me by Anita Brookner
Autobiography of Red by Ann Carson
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Oranges are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
What’s your favourite writing advice?
Write what you want without apology.
Participate mightily in your writing community.
Be extraordinarily gentle with yourself, always.
The book you’re currently reading:
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tennant.
Achingly dark and beautiful.
Comments on The Night Child:
“A powerful, beautifully written, transformative novel…’Must-read’ is not a phrase I use often; I am using it now: you must read this book!” –Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
“Packed with riveting detail and radical emotional honesty, motored by a powerful (what I think of as a “life depends upon it”) authorial voice, this book does at least fifteen things novels are not supposed to be able to do. I won’t name them, but I will tell you that it will stand you up against yourself in all the best ways possible. You will love this night child, and she will remind you to love the night child inside you. I can’t remember a novel in which I have been more deeply emotionally invested.” – Pam Houston,
author of Cowboys Are My Weakness and Contents May Have Shifted
Anna is a writer, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in various literary journals and texts. Anna’s first novel, “The Night Child”, was acquired in a world right’s deal by Blackstone Publishing, and will be published Jan. 30th, 2018.