By Leslie Lindsay
Southern fiction has a way with me. Maybe it’s the humid air or the wind from mossy live oaks whispering hints of the paranormal. Perhaps it’s the way the words flow thick and honeyed from the gaping pages, transporting me to another world. When I came across THE GATES OF EVANGELINE, a gothic debut with romantic underpinnings, I knew it was a book I needed to explore.
Today, I am honored to have Hester Young with us to chat about her book.
Leslie Lindsay: Hester, thanks so much for joining us today. While I am typically intrigued to learn why an author has chosen her subject matter, this time I know exactly: in 1956, your grandmother Margaret began having a recurring nightmare in which she saw her four year-old son falling from a second-floor window. What a horrific image! What an inspiration for compelling fiction! Can you talk about that, please?
Hester Young: I’ve always been interested in premonitions, having had a few myself, but this family story from my grandmother was especially powerful. After weeks of dreaming about her son falling from a window, my grandmother left him in someone else’s care for a day. A window was left open, and her son suffered a fatal fall. Not long after his death, my grieving grandmother awoke in the night to see her son standing at the foot of her bed. He told her that he was okay now, that everything was okay, providing my grandmother with a tremendous sense of peace. That was the jumping off point for my novel.
My protagonist, Charlie, is definitely a nod to my grandmother. She’s grieving the loss of her four-year-old son and grappling with some dark premonitory dreams that challenge her skeptical nature. Like my grandmother, she’s a New Yorker with a dry sense of humor and a survivor’s spirit. My grandmother loved mysteries—she would’ve been thrilled to know that she inspired a strong female sleuth.
L.L.: Full-disclosure: I am a sucker for dreams. I find them absolutely fascinating, always have. What do you think makes us so intrigued by our nightly “movies?” Do you, like your protagonist Charlotte have vivid dreams?
Hester Young: I do have a lot of vivid dreams, although my actual premonitions are infrequent and not so detailed as Charlotte’s. I think in dreaming we have the ability to tap into parts of ourselves that we just can’t access while awake. It is fascinating to know what strange things you have skittering about your own subconscious. Inevitably, a lot of these things find their way into your writing, as well!
L.L.: I just love the setting of the Southern plantation, too. Everything really came alive for me, and I wanted to be Charlotte, sleuthing around Evangeline and living in that shabby former slave quarters-turned-cottage and writing. Can you share a bit of what your research was like for the book?
Hester Young: My husband had family living in Louisiana, so it was quite easy for us to justify several research trips. I really wanted to get a feel for the landscape, since it is so integral to the story. We went on swamp tours, enjoyed Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and visited some plantation homes. I chatted quite a bit with the housekeeper at a particular estate to get a sense of what it’s like to work for one of these wealthy families. We also spent some time hanging out in Cajun country, chatting with locals, and visiting parks, municipal buildings, and restaurants. I wanted the fictional town of Chicory to be very clear in my head.
Back at home, I spent a lot of time learning about different Louisiana accents. I’m very interested in linguistics, phonology, and dialects. Cajun French, in particular, was so much fun to delve into—lots of great words and colorful phrases.
L.L.: Let’s turn to your writing process. THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about that journey? How long did it take you, and what do you think you did “right?”
Hester Young: I started messing around a bit with the novel in 2008, but as an English teacher with an 80-hour work week, I didn’t have much time or energy to devote to it. In 2011, I made the choice to stay at home with my young son, and that is when I really began to write in earnest. The thing that I did “right” was simply to establish a writing routine. Every day my son napped for two to three hours, and that became my writing time. In the evenings, too, I often chose to work on my novel rather than watch TV, clean the house, or go to bed at a reasonable hour. Books don’t write themselves, sadly. You have to make writing a priority (and accept that your house might be a bit messy as a result!).
L.L.: What might be the most challenging aspect of writing a novel?
Hester Young: Writing a novel is very much like a marriage. It starts off all fun and games, but you’ll hit plenty of bumps along the way. Some novels just aren’t meant to be finished; their foundations are weak. Others possess real potential, but only if you put in the work. As with marriage, you go in with one set of expectations and you have to adjust accordingly. You must put aside your ego and make sacrifices for the good of the novel, whether that means cutting 28,000 words from your first draft (which I did!) or getting a lot less sleep than you’d like. Sometimes it’s just an endurance contest. Can you stay focused and slog on through the hard parts? Can you recognize your own mistakes and edit accordingly? Can you do these things while maintaining some semblance of balance in your everyday life? Simultaneously attending to the rest of my life was the hardest part for me.
L.L.: I’m hearing wonderful news that THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is the first in a trilogy. Congratulations! Can you give us a little glimpse of what’s to come?
Hester Young: The connecting thread in all three books will be Charlie and her premonitions of endangered children. Each book will have a distinctive setting, a location that is culturally and geographically unique in the United States, and that setting will function as an important character in the story.
“Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline is not just a riveting story about the search for a long missing child. It’s also a powerful and haunting examination of a mother’s grief and her long road to recovery. Hester Young’s protagonist, Charlotte “Charlie” Cates, is tough and vulnerable, wounded and fearless, and I simply could not stop reading this thrilling, beautifully written Southern Gothic mystery.
I can’t wait for the next entry in this captivating new series.”
—David Bell, author of Cemetery Girl and Somebody I Used to Know
L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Hester Young: While in Mississippi, I picked up the Tom Franklin literary suspense novel Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and gobbled it up within 24 hours. How did I miss this when it came out in 2010? I wish I had copies to distribute to everyone I meet.
L.L.: Thanks so much for popping by. It was so fun to chat with you, Hester!
Hester Young: So glad you could have me!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hester Young holds a Master’s degree in English with a Creative Writing concentration from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Hawai’i Review. Before turning to writing full time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. She lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of author. Photo credit: Francine Daveta Photography. Louisiana plantation home, “Oak Alley” retrieved from on 9.11.15 to add interest]