I am delighted to welcome Elizabeth Brundage to my blog today. Elizabeth’s latest novel, All Things Cease to Appear was released last month and is receiving rave reviews. I was absolutely fascinated by the story behind this book and I couldn’t wait to quiz Elizabeth on where she gets her inspiration, why she dislikes the word genres and she shares her essential tips for aspiring writers…
Hi Elizabeth, welcome to Bookaholic Confessions! Thank you so much for participating in this interview. Would you like to start by introducing yourself…?
Thank you for having me to your wonderful site. I’m thrilled to be here to talk about my new novel All Things Cease to Appear. I’m the author of three previous novels, A Stranger Like You, Somebody Else’s Daughter, and The Doctor’s Wife. I live with my family in a small town in the Hudson River Valley of upstate New York that is much like the setting of the fictional town of Chosen in the novel.
Can you tell us a bit about your new novel, All Things Cease to Appear? (Released on the 5th May 2016)
The novel investigates a murder that occurs in a small town in Upstate New York in the late 70’s that remains an open case for over twenty years. However, it’s not a police procedural or a typical murder mystery. I see it as a literary exploration of an unravelling marriage that leads to a horrible crime. I was much less interested in the murder and solving it than I was in exploring the lives of the people who were somehow involved or affected by it.
The story begins when George Clare, an art historian from New York City, moves with his wife, Catherine, and young daughter, Franny, to an isolated farm they buy in foreclosure, unaware that its previous owners died in the house of tragic circumstances, orphaning and displacing their three teenage sons – and leaving behind a ghost. When Catherine ends up murdered, George becomes the immediate suspect, but he cleverly and successfully eludes the police. Decades will pass before a hard kind of justice if finally served.
I am completely intrigued by the storyline for All Things Cease to Appear; it sounds amazing. What was your inspiration behind the book?
My initial inspiration was the actual true story of the murder, which is still an open case. A woman was killed with an axe while her husband was at work and her 3 year old daughter was home in the house. It took me many years to get to a place where I could write the novel. We had moved around a lot for my husband’s training – he’s a physician. Years after first hearing the story, we moved to Columbia County, a beautiful area of New York state in the countryside. My husband had just joined a practice in Albany. We rented a house in an historic hamlet that looked inviting and harmless from the outside, a little white Cape with a Dutch door. Immediately upon moving in strange things began to happen. Our daughters were 3 and 6 at the time and began to tell us stories about three little girl ghosts who had lived in the house long ago and had died in a fire. I might have thought it was a made up story if I hadn’t experienced the sensation late one night of an invisible “child” jumping up and down on the foot of our bed, or door knobs twisting off on their own, or my printer turning itself on and printing out a picture of a skeleton head – before the internet even existed out there. I began to think about the idea of ghosts and what they mean to us, the living, the possibilities that are often entertained, and I thought it would fit in well with a story about a murder. In the novel, the ghost and the troubled young wife strike up a kind of friendship…. I had never given much thought to ghosts before living in that house – they were the stuff of horror films – but when I began to write this novel a ghost found its way into the story. Further research on the painter George Inness, of whom the young art historian, George Clare, is an expert, revealed a devotion to Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth century philosopher who believed he could communicate with “the spirit world.” This allowed me to consider some of the bigger questions many of us have about life and death, ghosts, and the so called after life, within the context of a story about loss and murder.
Reading some of the early reviews for your novel I noticed that Publisher’s Weekly described it as ‘part murder mystery, ghost tale, family drama and love story’. Was it your intention to create a novel that covered so many genres? Was this difficult to do or was it just something that happened when you were crafting the story?
I dislike the word genre. I think it’s a useful word for publishers when they’re trying to market a book, but it serves little purpose for writers. I just want to tell a good story. I don’t necessarily think about what kind of story I’m writing. Yes, there’s a crime here, a very serious crime. Yes, there happens to be a cop and a young husband who may also be a serial killer. But those descriptions only make the book seem common, and I hope it’s anything but that. I try very hard to write characters that seem real on the page, and have depth, and are struggling as we all struggle with one thing or another. The architecture – the plot – is where those broad strokes of story strategy belong and they are really important. I think it’s the characters who truly generate the tension and pace of a novel and the more intense, authentic and original they are, the better the book.
Talking of cracking reviews, the ones that I have seen for All Things Cease to Appear have been fantastic. How does it feel to know that a reader has enjoyed your book?
There is nothing better in the world. A novel is a shared partnership between the writer and the reader. It’s kind of an intimate relationship, I think. For me, it’s incredibly gratifying when a reader finds enjoyment and some sort of meaning in the work.
Are the characters in your novels always entirely fictional or are they ever based on anyone in real life?
My characters are sometimes composites of various people I may have met only once or know very well – but fully formed they are complete inventions. The joy of writing, for me, is in making everything up.
Have you ever experienced writers block? If so, what did you do to overcome it?
I don’t think writers block is necessarily a bad thing. I see it as a holding pattern when you’re not sure where you’re going. It’s an important part of the journey, though. It’s like that feeling you get on a very long flight to a destination you’ve never been to. Kind of nerve-wracking, kind of uncomfortable, but really excited. It’s the highway rest stop that accommodates your fragile needs, a place you’re grateful to rest for a while before getting back on the road. You can’t worry over it. The work eventually comes. It has to.
Do you have any tips for all of the aspiring authors out there?
Be patient and trust yourself. Write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. Don’t write to sell, that is always a mistake. Write what scares you. Always write the truth. Never share your work with your family until it is in print. Be careful who you study with, who you show your work to; it’s important to find just the right sort of guidance that can nurture you, push you, and inspire you to make the work that much better. Remember this: nobody cares about it as much as you do. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide, finally, what works and what doesn’t. Trust your instincts. Most important: finish.
Who are your favourite authors and which type of books do you enjoy reading?
I read a lot of books of all kinds and a lot of poetry and plays and screenplays. There are a great many talented writers out there. I admire so many and celebrate them all.
And finally – can you tell us a bit about what you’re up to at the moment?
I’m working on a new novel. I’m in the very early stages so it’s very hard to talk about it. You just never know. You hope it all works out.
A huge thank you to Elizabeth and to Lizzie at Quercus.
You can find out more about Elizabeth Brundage on her official website.