By Leslie Lindsay
Impressive literary debut from Raymond Fleischmann centered on a lonely mother in the Alaskan wilderness.
~WEDNESDAY’S With Writers|Always with a Book~
I was immediately intrigued in the premise of HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS (Jan 14, Berkley) by Raymond Fleischmann. It’s been twenty years since Elisabeth watched her twin sister, Jacqueline disappear without a trace. Now, in 1941 and Elisabeth Pfautz is living temporarily in Alaska with her husband John, and their twelve-year old daughter, Margaret. The marriage is stale, the environment dark and gray, along with it being so remote, we truly feel the isolation. Elisabeth clings to the idea that her sister is still alive—but where? And will they ever be reunited?
A German bush pilot—Alfred—lands unexpectedly on Tanacross’s tiny gravel airstrip. After befriending Elisabeth, he commits an inexplicable act of violence, followed by a startling revelation: he knows what happened to Elisabeth’s sister. But he will tell her only if she fulfills three requests.
I found the prose gorgeous and intriguing, but HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS is a a slow burn. Still, I was dying to know the mystery of where the missing girl was—and if there would ever be a reunion. I fell into the rhythm of the Alaskan wilderness and Fleischmann’s graceful prose.
HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS is a literary thriller at its heart, more about atmosphere and character than plot.
HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS will speak to a variety of readers—those with an interest in aviation, wilderness, missing girls, mother-daughter relationships, obsession, twins, small towns, murder, prison, and more. It’s about intelligent characters doing reckless, neurotic things, with an emphasis on isolation, loneliness, displacement/uprooted-ness, paranoia, and grief.
Please join me in welcoming Raymond Fleischman to the author interview series:
Wow—the book! The writing! I am always interested in what propels a writer to put pen to paper. What was it for you in HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS? Was there a theme, a character, or situation you wanted to explore? Something else?
Well, first off, thanks so much for having me, and thank you for all the kind words about HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS. I’m glad that you enjoyed it, and I think that’s a lovely, flattering summary. As far as your question goes, I think that the setting’s isolation was the first thing that drew me to the story. This is my first novel, and writing a first novel can feel pretty daunting, so I was drawn the setting’s physical environment largely because I knew it would propel so much of the story. The Alaskan bush is a kind of character in itself, and I knew that there were aspects about that physical setting that would give the story a natural sense of urgency and conflict.
I was so impressed and intrigued with your depiction of Alaska in the 1940s. I have never been, but the setting was so palpable. I understand your grandparents lived there during the time this novel was set—you were raised on stories of the wilderness. Can you talk a little about that and also any additional research?
You’re right, yeah. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, my paternal grandparents lived in Alaska, having moved there from southeastern Pennsylvania. Beyond those broad biographical details, my characters are entirely fictional; both of my grandparents were wonderful people, and they were happily married for more than sixty years, so that alone sets them quite far apart from John and Elisabeth. But many of my earliest memories are of my grandfather’s stories about Alaska: the isolation, the cold, the long nights, the long days. I still did tons of research, of course — I wanted to present this time period and these characters as respectfully and accurately as possible — but my first awareness of this setting certainly came from my grandparents.
I read with a careful eye to being a parent and wondered what would I do if I were in a situation like Elisabeth—a disturbed—incarcerated—man wants my daughter to visit in exchange for information. And then I scrambled to the back of the book where you have written your acknowledgements, and saw that you have three daughters yourself. Oh gosh! How did being a parent shape the narrative? Or did it?
Being a parent definitely played a huge part in shaping this narrative. I didn’t set out to necessarily write a book about parent-child relationships, but in being a father, that dynamic is always on my mind and one that inevitably creeps into, well, pretty much all of my writing. There’s a nightmarish quality to many of the novel’s circumstances, and I don’t think that would have been present if I didn’t have children of my own.
“A novel paced like a thriller but written with the aching grace of literary fiction. A gorgeously dark, harrowing debut.”
–Riley Sager, New York Times bestselling author of Lock Every Door
For a while, I was getting a strong mental illness vibe—not just from Alfred—but Jacqueline, too. What might you be able to tell us about her character?
That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about Jacqueline from that perspective, but I see what you mean. To me, at the time of her disappearance, Jacqueline is a lonely, somewhat stunted child having difficulty navigating the transition from adolescent to adult, as so many of us do. Elisabeth is like that, too, though she’s certainly more cautious and skeptical than her sister. In any case, after Jacqueline disappears, Elisabeth is left with a tremendous void in her life, one that deeply traumatizes her and shapes who she is to her core. As an adult, whether she’s conscious of it or not, Elisabeth feels profoundly alone without her sister, and, yes, seems to suffer in many dysfunctional ways. Don’t we all?
Did you have a character you especially enjoyed ‘being in the head of?’ Was there a character you struggled with? How about a section of the story you enjoyed writing more?
Well, I suppose I enjoyed being in the head of Elisabeth, which was good, because the whole novel is told essentially from her perspective. But for whatever reason, I think that I most enjoyed writing the chapters set during Elisabeth’s childhood. These chapters form a kind of miniature narrative that fits within the rest of the novel, and they’re narrated in the second-person perspective as if Elisabeth is talking to herself or recalling these events from many years later. I really enjoy writing in the second-person, and somehow it feels very natural to me, so those chapters still stand out in my mind.
This is your debut—and the prose is just gorgeous. What do you think you did ‘right’ and what do you wish you could have done better? Also, can you give us a brief timeline of your journey to publication?
Thank you! I really appreciate the kind words, and again I’m flattered that you enjoyed the book. Even now, years after finishing the narrative, it’s a bit difficult for me to have the kind of perspective to tell what I did “right” or “wrong,” though I’m certain I’ll have a better sense of that with more distance. All in all, it took me about six years to write this novel, and it went through at least five major drafts. So, the whole process still seems pretty recent to me, all things considered.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my second novel, which Penguin Random House bought along with my first. It’s a book that explores many of the same themes as HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS: trauma, isolation, grief, loneliness, a character’s attempt to come to terms with a devastating loss from years earlier. The novel is set on a fictional island off the coast of Seattle, and it’s about a young woman who moves back home to renovate and eventually sell the home where her father was killed ten years before the dramatic present. Unbeknownst to her, however, she befriends her father’s murderer, and the story goes from there. Think House of Sand and Fog meets The Stranger Beside Me.
Raymond, this has been so interesting. Thank you for taking the time. What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
I thought that your questions were great! And, again, thank you so much for the kind words and the beautiful reflections on my novel!
For more information, to connect with Raymond Fleischmann via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOW QUICKLY SHE DISAPPEARS, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Raymond Fleischmann received his MFA from Ohio State University, and he’s earned scholarships and fellowships from Richard Hugo House, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and others. He lives in Indiana with his wife and three daughters. How Quickly She Disappears is his first novel.
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SECOND EDITION OF SPEAKING OF APRAXIA COMING SPRING 2020 FROM WOODBINE HOUSE!
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and others. She has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Author photo cred: Madeline R. Fleischmann. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Gimme a follow on Instagram @leslielindsay for more like this]