One of Good Housekeeping’s “20 Best Books of 2020”
“For readers who are unafraid to be swept away.”—Starred review, Booklist
What is your novel about?
Glorious Boy (Red Hen Press) is a tale of family devotion, war, and survival. Set in India’s remote Andaman Islands before and during WWII, the story revolves around a mysteriously mute 4-year-old who vanishes on the eve of Japanese Occupation. Little Ty’s parents, Shep and Claire, will go to any lengths to rescue him, but neither is prepared for the brutal odyssey that awaits them.
What were your book launch plans pre-Covid?
I’ve been working with my publicist Megan Beatie since last September to set up readings, festival appearances, author luncheons, and online interviews, etc. The first event on the schedule was a featured presentation at the AWP conference in San Antonio, which was nearly canceled but went forward with one-third attendance. As the conference organizers scrambled to stream the major panels, they hit a snafu with ours, and we ended up giving our presentation to about 15 people in an auditorium that seated over a thousand. Whether anyone watched it live, I don’t know, and we have yet to receive a link to share the recording. That was our first signal that the book launch would be in serious trouble. The following week, while I was self-quarantining in case I’d been exposed to the virus at the conference, it became clear that at least the next eight events we’d set up through June would be canceled, and quite possibly those scheduled into the fall, as well. I had a cross-country tour set up that stretched from Seattle to Brooklyn, with events in LA, San Francisco, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and DC.
Where were you when you heard your book tour/ launch was cancelled?
Because my release date is May 12, I did not have a sudden shock, like authors publishing in March. But when I was at AWP in San Antonio, I could see what was coming. Presses pulled out at the last minute. Some of my fellow panelists decided not to come. Everyone who did come knew this was going to be a last gasp, and everyone with books coming out was bracing for the worst. Even though many of my events still have not officially been canceled, we’re scrambling to replace as many as possible with virtual events.
Are you and your publisher doing anything special/ different to promote your novel?
One of the great things about my publisher, Red Hen Press, is their proactive approach to connecting authors with books coming out around the same time. So we had several joint book events set up before the lockdown. Now we’re trying to work with booksellers to replicate those readings and conversations virtually. I’m also starting to do interviews with these authors for blogs and magazines. And we’re all fans of A Mighty Blaze and Dead Darlings and all of you who have stepped up to help us reach readers right now!
Can you tell us bit about the path to writing and selling your book?
Glorious Boy is a labor of love that began with a dream 17 years ago. The dream was one of those stories that wake you up and demand to be written. On a remote tropical island, in the middle of an emergency evacuation, a young local girl was hiding with the little white boy in her care. The girl knew the boy’s parents wouldn’t take her with them, and the little boy was mute and trusting, so easy to hide. But when they finally came out, the streets were empty, smoke was rising, and the parents had fled. The girl had a serious oh-shit moment, and I woke up. I knew right away that the story was set in the Andaman Islands, an absolutely fascinating location in the Bay of Bengal that I’d learned about years earlier, but I couldn’t figure out how my dream story fit in with the indigenous tribes and Indian freedom fighters and British colonial history of these islands. Only when I finally visited the Andamans in 2010 did I realize that there had been a desperate 11th-hour evacuation there in WWII, just before the Japanese invaded. And that’s when my dream became a WWII story about a family thrust into an agonizing situation, taking unimaginable risks to save the mysterious child they all love.
I’d known Kate Gale at Red Hen Press for years, but I’d never published with her before. She responded to the book with such immediate enthusiasm that we quickly reached an agreement, and Red Hen has been a fantastic partner in this roll-out ever since.
On a lighter note, do you have any quirky writing rituals?
I wouldn’t call them quirky or rituals, but I do find that I can’t produce much of any value until I’ve gotten some exercise. I often dance in my office – classic Jazzercise moves to classic rock. I also tend to mark up my day’s writing while riding my stationary bike. And if I hit a wall, I’ll take a long walk listening to an audiobook that inspires me. Unlike a lot of writers who do their best work in the morning, I often don’t get into flow until late afternoon.
What was the hardest cut you made from your book, your favorite Dead Darling?
I found it very difficult to find the right structure for this story, which straddles WWII. The location of the Andaman Islands is historically complex and rich and also unfamiliar to most Americans, so I needed a strong back story to acquaint the reader with this setting and introduce the characters, especially the young American anthropologist and her British doctor husband and the local girl, Naila, who competes with them for their son’s affection and trust. At the same time, the propulsion of the story depended on opening with the evacuation that rips the family apart and then maintaining that tension. So I had to radically condense the five years of the story that preceded the evacuation. That included cutting a lot of scenes that revolved around Indian festivals and the deep-seated conflicts between Indian rebels and the colonial officials – scenes that were influenced by E. M. Forster and Graham Greene but were ultimately secondary to my plot.
Where can we buy your novel?