Tag Archives: domestic fiction

WeekEND Reading: How quickly life can spin out of control…Jennifer Kitses talks about this, how she is constantly buying books, her literary inspirations, time loops, and more in this stunning look at 24-hours in a suburban marriage SMALL HOURS

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By Leslie Lindsay

A tipping point of a novel with tense domestic vignettes leading each character deeper and deeper into destructive behavior. 

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SMALL HOURS is a slow-burn, ‘tinderbox’ of a debut novel (Matthew Thomas, WE ARE NOT OURSELVES) in which we are just waiting for the inevitable to explode. We follow the lives of a married couple, Tom and Helen for 24-hours. Told in alternating POVs (Helen and Tom), we dive into a myriad of secrets, promises, deadlines, children, neighbors, etc. It’s one small step into the danger zone with each paragraph read, with each flip of the page, each turn of the hour.

I kind of wanted to shake these people.

Perhaps that is what makes Jennifer Kitses’s debut so palpable. We can *feel* the tensions arising, see the outcome before her characters and we just want to thrust an arm out and say, ‘Stop!’ But the reading is propulsive; I wanted to keep reading. It was like a bad accident on the side of the road: you don’t want to look, but you do.

Tom and Helen have left NYC for a life in a former mill town to raise their twin daughters. Helen is juggling work, kids, the home and none of it is coming together. There are teenagers from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ who torment her and her young daughters at a local park, deadlines and more. Meanwhile, Tom is struggling to keep afloat at his newspaper job in the city, 90-minute train commutes, and a big secret.

What SMALL HOURS does so well is capture the mundane in a universal look at parenting, suburbia, the workforce, marriage, secrets, and so much more. I couldn’t stop reading; I so wanted to see what kind of train wreck they were going to walk into.

I’m honored to welcome Jennifer to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Jennifer, when I first learned of SMALL HOURS, I knew I had to read it. Number one, I was taken with the cover. It gives this torn and mangled look at a domestic setting, much like the story within those pages. Was this your intention all along? Did the design team nail your overall look and feel for the story?

Jennifer Kitses: Thank you so much, Leslie! I love the cover, too and I had no idea what the publisher was planning until I saw the first version. I remember being so happy and excited when I first opened the file, because I loved everything about it: the torn-page illusion, the colors (especially the green, which gets mentioned a lot throughout the book; in my head, that was the color of the novel), and the photo itself, which to me looks just like my fictionalized Hudson Valley town.

The cover designer, Brian Lemus, surprised me by coming to my launch at the Astoria Bookshop in Queens. It was great to meet and thank him in person!storefront cropped

L.L.: I kind of feel like SMALL HOURS is about how little time it takes for our lives to spin out of control. While the premise of the story is to be set within a strict 24-hour time frame, it doesn’t, not exactly. There are some lingering decisions, instances that have occurred in the past (maybe up to three years earlier than the ‘present’ story), yet it all seems to come to a head on this particular day. Can you talk about the structure of the novel?

Jennifer Kitses: Very early on, and to me, this seemed like one of those rare good-luck moments that sometimes happen when you’re writing, I realized I wanted the story to unfold over one day. Back then, when I was starting on my first draft, my own twin daughters were three years old. I was freelancing as a writer and editor, and trying to take care of them at the same time. It wasn’t that unusual for both my husband and me to have work emergencies on the same day, and meanwhile one of our daughters was sick and the other was about to catch it, and then one of us would have a near-explosive encounter with a stranger on the subway or on the street. In those early years, every day felt like a marathon. That was one of the things I wanted to capture with this story, the feeling of how much could happen in a single day.

But I did allow myself a little leeway with the structure. There’s the backstory to get in, how they wound up in these situations, and what they’re already feeling as this day begins, and that’s woven through the early chapters. And even though the clock is pretty much always moving forward, there are a couple of small zigzags in the middle. But I felt that loosening the constraints of the structure made it stronger. At least, that was my hope!

L.L.: I couldn’t stop reading. Your prose is sharp and well-tuned, but it was more of the comedy of errors, the way my eyes would bulge as I read sentence after sentence of what these people were doing (or not).  Were they based on anyone in particular? Inspired by any real stories or people you know?

Jennifer Kitses: A lot of the smaller images and details were borrowed from my own life or moments I’d witnessed, but those details and moments have weird ways of recombining in your head. One of my daughters once spilled Cheerios in a playground and was immediately surrounded by pigeons, and that became part of the story. But the rest of what happens in that scene was drawn from different moments, and also from wondering about what could have happened next.

In her debut novel, Jennifer Kitses spins an intriguing tale about this couple in particular, but also about the choices people make, and what happens when plans go bad… Kitses skillfully builds the tension as our protagonists slide from one crisis to the next. As in a thriller, the reader wants to yell, ‘No! Don’t do that!’
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L.L.: There were some instances that I sort of had the sense SMALL HOURS was a collection of short stories, or even a linked novel. Is this a form you’d be willing to try?

Jennifer Kitses: That’s a really interesting question, and reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten. I did write, or tried to write, a short story that focused on the major problem faced by Tom. At that point, the main character wasn’t Tom, and the other characters weren’t there. Instead of filing the story away, I decided to expand the idea and go bigger.

I don’t know if I’d ever try to do a collection of short stories or a linked novel, because it’s pretty rare that I’ll work on something short. When I do, I think it’s my way of testing an idea. But Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t love OLIVE KITTERIDGE more. And her recent book, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, would be a close second for a favorite linked novel.

L.L.: I want to talk about the ending a bit—but I don’t want to give away too much! There’s a bit ambiguity and can be interpreted in many different ways. My take: there is no ‘re-setting;’ the concept of sleep is elusive; a perpetual time loop. Can you speak to this, please?  timeloop1

Jennifer Kitses: I did want to leave the ending ambiguous, though I think there are hints about how Tom and Helen might move forward, though readers are free to interpret those hints however they’d like. (I can think of a few very different next days or even years in their lives.) But I think it’s fair to say that Tom and Helen aren’t the same people at the end of this day; what they’ve gone through has changed the way they see each other, and also how they see themselves. To me, that’s a big part of the story: the difference between how we see ourselves and who we really are.

You mentioned a perpetual time loop, and I think feeling like you’re stuck in one is also part of the story: you might experience a life-changing day, but it’s not like you can stop the clock and fix all your problems. Now there’s a new day to face, with all of its usual tasks and problems that you have to deal with in addition to whatever you’re facing below the surface.

L.L.: What from you real-life might be a big secret or mystery that would make a good plot for a novel?

Jennifer Kitses: I’ve thought a lot about this, and I am truly stumped! Maybe that’s because I have trouble facing my biggest secrets and mysteries. Actually, this relates to some of the questions I had in mind when I was writing. How are we able to fool ourselves, even for years, about essential problems in our lives? I’m fascinated by self-delusion, and also by an almost optimistic lack of self-perception: how we sometimes tell ourselves that everything is going to be fine, even when we know it won’t.

L.L.: You’re a fabulous, no frills writer with an ear for dialogue, human behavior, and I’d compare your storytelling style to that of Lauren Acampora (See summer 2015 interview: THE WONDER GARDEN), Tom Perrotta (especially LITTLE CHILDREN), and Catherine McKenzie ( See fall 2016 interview: FRACTURED). Others have compared your writing to Richard Russo. What do you think about the comparisons and who/what do you read to keep inspired?

Jennifer Kitses: Thank you very much for those comparisons! Tom Perrotta is definitely an influence, I’m a big fan of writers I consider storytellers, the ones who pull you into a story so completely that you forget you’re reading, and he’s a master of that. I’m also very influenced by writers I discovered relatively recently (in the last 10 years), like Elizabeth Strout and Kate Atkinson. And I’m a huge fan of crime novels, especially those by Richard Price, and I think that genre has influenced how I handle tension, pacing, and suspense.

As this book was going through copyediting and production, I went on an Elena Ferrante tear. I find her books not only addictive, from a reading perspective, but also inspiring, because Ferrante is not afraid of anger. I love the angry women in her books.

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L.L.: Jennifer, it’s been such a pleasure and I am so, so glad we had the opportunity to chat. Is there anything else you’d like add—like  your summer plans or what your working on next, or something I completely forgot about?

Jennifer Kitses: I wish I had elaborate summer plans, but I think Im going to take it somewhat easy. With kids, summer seems to be about family trips (though there’s plenty of opportunity for drama there). I am working on something, but it’s in early stages. What I’m really looking forward to is getting back to reading. I have an enormous stack of books that I’ve been waiting to read, I buy books constantly, whether I have time to read them immediately or no, and among the ones I’m most excited about are Liz Moore’s THE UNSEEN WORLD, Hope Jahren’s LAB GIRL, and Roxane Gay’s HUNGER.

Thanks so much for these compelling questions, Leslie! It’s been a pleasure.

To connect with Jennifer via social media, or to learn more about SMALL HOURS, or purchase a copy, please visit: 

Jennifer Kitses_credit Timothy KuratekABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Kitses grew up in Philadelphia. She received an MLitt in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and has worked for Bloomberg News, Condé Nast Portfolio, and Columbia Business School. She lives with her family in New York. Small Hours is her first novel.

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing and used with permission. Image of bookstore front from Astoria Bookshop website, image of Hudson Valley stone house via NYTimes ‘great houses’ section, all on 6.26.17 twisty clock from,] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Can Someone Really Reinvent Oneself? Kate Moretti talks about that; her latest obsession with serial killers, secret passages, being a ‘mix’ of plotter vs. pantser, her newest novel THE VANISHING YEAR & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

THE VANISHING YEAR (Atria Books, September 2016) is a stunning domestic psych suspense by Kate Moretti, one that delivers a modern, urgent, cutting-edge slightly different than her contemporaries.

How is it different? Well, for one it’s a bit rags-to-riches where other, comparative titles are not. Zoe Whitaker is living a charmed life in NYC. She has a ‘golden boy’ wealthy husband, a marble penthouse, all the fancy clothing and jewels a girl could want…but she’s not superficial; her character comes across as very personable, yet flawed–you know the girl has secrets, but what are they?

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No one knows, but five years ago Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all.

Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

The beginning pages read beautifully, I was enthralled with the world Zoe resides, her ‘secret,’ and the words Moretti strings together.

Join me as I sit down with New York Times bestselling author of four books, Kate Moretti.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, thanks so much for taking the time to chat about your latest book, THE VANISHING YEAR. I’m always intrigued by what sparked an idea into a full-fledged book. What was haunting you when you sat down to write Zoe’s story?

Kate Moretti: The ending came to me first. Without spoilers, I wanted to write a story that centered around this idea that in a whirlwind marriage, both people come into it with a whole backstory that neither of them knows. That you can’t reinvent yourself and your past will always come back for you. Most of my books have centered around this theme, so you might say I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m hoping to move on, one day.what-dissociative-fugue-definition-healthyplace

L.L.: I want to talk about the title for a moment. My first thought was, ‘woman leaves for a year; a fugue state.’ But that’s not exactly the case. She spends a year as Henry Whittaker’s wife—(I hope I’m not giving too much away!)—but then she sort of finds herself. Did you start out with a title and build a story around it, or did the title come after?  

Kate Moretti: I usually come up with my titles around the halfway point. THE VANISHING YEAR means a few things to me. The year she was married to Henry, she slipped into being this person he wanted her to be, and she says it happened so slowly she hardly noticed it. More directly, it relates to the year she literally did vanish – from Hilary Lawlor to Zoe Whittaker nee Swanson. I liked this concept so much, that the events of one year can completely alter who you are. I played with it a little bit in the idea that Tara (Henry’s deceased wife) vanishes a bit, too. She goes from having friends, a life, a job, to being almost sequestered. It worked on a few levels for the book. Titles are tough!

L.L.: There’s so much of this story that is about finding oneself, about coming to terms with the ghosts that haunt our own pasts. Can you talk about that, please?

Kate Moretti: I think everyone, even regular, average, boring people like me, who don’t have these turbulent past lives still have regrets and mistakes and things they’ve done that they partly wish they could undo. I say partly because I’ve learned so much from my slip-ups that even though they’re painful to think about, they become such a big chunk of who I am today. I think, on some level, this theme is hugely relatable, which is why there are so many books like this! Without the confines of reality, you can expand on these mistakes and make them larger than life. I love diving into that place, where moral people do amoral things: where is that line and how hard do you have to push for your character to cross it? The best part is, all my characters are different, so I can explore this in every book, until I’ve exhausted myself.

L.L.: Some reviewers have compared THE VANISHING YEAR to a modern-day REBECCA (Daphne Du Maurier). I see that…rich husband one barely knows…phantoms of a time long forgotten (we hope), but yet there are some key differences. Was REBECCA in any way an inspiration for you?

Kate Moretti: THE VANISHING YEAR was my love letter to REBECCA. Rebecca was the first adult mystery novel I ever read and I read it pretty young, maybe 14? There was a lot I didn’t understand and re-reading as an adult, I couldn’t remember what my young self thought. daphnedumaurier_rebecca_firstBut I fell in love with the atmosphere, the slow unwinding of the plot, the reveal of Mrs. Danvers, and the final plot twist. I’d read Nancy Drew and Christopher Pike and RL Stine but nothing got me the way REBECCA did. THE VANISHING YEAR is my first real attempt at a woman-in-peril mystery. I wanted my character to be a bit sassier than the new Mrs. De Winter, I wanted my Mrs. Danvers to be unexpected, I wanted Henry to be a slight echo of Maximilian. Even the opening line was a hat tip: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again vs. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of my mother.  The plot is, of course, all very different. A few early readers caught the resonance pretty clearly and that made me happy.

L.L.: There’s a strong element of one’s family of origin in THE VANISHING YEAR, a bit about adoption, as Zoe is on a quest to find her birth mother. I think this is an important piece to discovering who we are. Yet, in the end, we’re just floating…could it be that sometimes ‘our family’ becomes not who we expect?

Kate Moretti: I think family is whatever you make it. Your family, simply put, is your people. The people you surround yourself with, not always just the people who are blood related. Growing up with a large extended family, we called second cousins aunts and uncles, we called friends of the family cousins, there was a great deal of fluidity around familial vernacular. We have good friends that my kids call their cousins, so I’m happy to see that be passed on. In VANISHING, Zoe is propelled by this idea of having a tether to the world. Henry feels very free-floating to her, she’s semi-isolated in his life, her only good friend is tired of her flightiness. She seeks out her birth mother, hoping this can bring her some much needed grounding. I couldn’t even imagine this kind of isolation.

L.L.: There are a good deal of twists and turns in THE VANISHING YEAR, plenty of seedy secrets, and a darkness that pervades. Was this intentional, or did it transpire more organically? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Kate Moretti:  I’m a mix of both. For VANISHING, I did plot pretty heavily, with spreadsheets. I think for a suspense novel, to wind all the pieces together, you either do an enormous amount of rewriting or you plot heavily and braid the plot together before you start. I do a mix. I plot, then write, then re-outline (because I always veer off), then write, then plot, then write. Repeat as necessary.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? Any chance it’s an old house with a secret 511tho7i9il-_sx332_bo1204203200_passageway?!

Kate Moretti: My current obsession is serial killers. I’m such a pleasant addition to holiday dinner parties these days! The book I’m drafting, called THE REMAINDERS, is about a woman whose mother was famed serial killer. I have to learn how serial killers work. I’m reading Confessions of a Serial Killer by Katherine Ramsland, which is the untold story of BTK [bind, torture, kill; a.k.a. Dennis Lynn Rader].

I’d would really love to find that house. I live in a 150 year old farmhouse now, but through the years and various remodels (before we bought it), it’s been fairly gutted so I’m not sure there is a secret passageway. There is, however a little room. Our house has a turret, and from my attic office, you can go inside. It’s dark in there, I’ve only ever 19cov-infogallery-pix-custom6-v2looked in it. It could be haunted! [image to left retrieved from this NYTimes article on secret passages in NYC]

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Kate Moretti: I’m always happy to talk about what’s next! My next novel, THE BLACKBIRD SEASON is out September 2017. It’s about a teacher accused of an affair with a student, who then goes missing. It’s very different from VANISHING because it’s multi-POV, more character driven, less plot heavy. To me, there are books that are building to a big surprise and then there are books that are about the journey of the story. VANISHING was building, BLACKBIRD is about the story. I love both, but Blackbird was much harder to write. I think it’s a bit more nuanced, a bit deeper in terms of relationships.

L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting and getting to know THE VANISHING YEAR. Thanks for popping over. And have a restful holiday season.

Kate Moretti: Thanks for having me!

For more information, to connect on social media, or to snag a copy of THE VANISHING YEAR, please see:

Kate Moretti_Please Credit Pooja Dhar at PR Photography.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at katemoretti.com, or follow her on Twitter (@KateMoretti1) or Facebook (KateMorettiWriter).

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Atria Books and used with permission. Image of REBECCA retrieved from Wikipedia. Image of Confessions of a Serial Killer retrieved from Amazon, both on 12.2.16]