Monday, February 22, 2016

Q&A with Sara Taylor

Sara Taylor is the author of the novel The Shore, which takes place around the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Fog Horn and The Blue Route. She grew up in Virginia and now is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book, and for the family you write about?

A: It began with “Target Practice.” I’d tried since I moved there as a teenager to write stories about the Eastern Shore.

It’s the kind of strange, half-wild, frozen-in-time place that makes you understand how people have believed in magic for so long, and I’d wanted to capture it on paper so that I could take it with me when I left, but the stories I wrote never worked as stories because I was coming at them with the landscape in the foreground.

Then I found myself alone in a tiny house on the edge of the marsh, with no Internet connection and an immovable deadline. I couldn’t write anything that would require outside research, so I began a story about two sisters alone in a tiny house on the edge of the marsh.

And when it was finished I realized that, even though I hadn’t been thinking about it, the landscape was there in the way that I’d wanted it to be when I’d first tried to write about the Shore.

From there it was a matter of asking the right questions: Who was Chloe’s mother? Who owned the land where they lived? What happened to the rest of their family? Every question I answered led to three or four more, until the stories began to connect back to each other.

Q: Each chapter tells a different story, over hundreds of years. How did you decide on the order in which the stories are told? Did you stick to an outline, or change things as you went along?

A: I don’t think I’ve ever managed to stick to an outline in my life, though I did from the beginning have an idea of the limits of the book.

The stories were written mostly out of order: I started with “Target Practice,” “Skirt,” and “Tears of the Gods,” and used them as fixed points in the family’s timeline, then filled in the spaces between them.

When I thought that everything was down on paper I played with the order – there are diagrams stashed away somewhere. The final order was hit upon because it controlled when the reader learned things about the characters at the time that I wanted them to.

Q: The stories range from the 19th century to the 22nd century. Why did you decide to include two chapters that take place in the future?

A: It’s probably too simple to say “because it felt right,” but it is what felt right. Without the stretch into the future, the book would end with “Missing Pieces,” and while it would be wonderfully symmetrical to begin and end with Chloe, it would make the book as a whole be too much about her. Also, I think it would leave too much unanswered.

Q: The book is set on several islands off the Virginia coast. Can you say more about the importance of setting to you, and do you feel this story could have been told in a different location?

A: The setting, I think, is the core of the book, and while it might have worked in a different location – Knockemstiff and Crimes in Southern Indiana are two books off the top of my head that also take place in rural environments with recurrent characters – it would have been very different.

A lot of the stories are based on the history and geography of the Shore itself, and the fact that it is physically removed from the rest of the country adds to the inescapability of the place.

Q: Some of the chapters are told in first person, others in second or third person. How did you decide on which viewpoint to use for each chapter?

A: Mostly through trial and error. With some stories I felt it was essential to have the limited viewpoint of a specific character – “Skirt,” for instance – while in other places it was more important to have some distance between the reader and the character.

Q: What are you working on now? Do you think you'll return to this family again in your future work?  

A: At the moment I have a novel going through the furnace of final edits.

The Lauras is about a woman who abruptly abandons her life to travel across the United States settling business left unfinished when she was a teenager in foster care and a young adult on the run; it’s narrated by Alex, her only child with the man she leaves behind, who is dragged along unwillingly at first.

It should be published in early 2017 in the U.S., and August 2016 in the UK.

I’d like to return both to the shore and to the family some day. Since finishing I’ve run across several little bits of history from that part of the country that are fairly begging to be made into fiction, and there were a few chapters that didn’t make it into the final draft that I don’t want to give up on entirely. And I’m still wondering what happened to Renee.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Since the chapters that were cut, either for length or because the characters weren’t close enough to Chloe’s family, can all stand alone as independent stories, I haven’t thrown them away, and occasionally I pitch them to literary magazines.

NASA has a facility just off Chincoteague, and a chapter about the rockets launched from there in the 1960s, called “Flight,” is published in the current issue of The Fiddlehead.  

The rest I’m hoping to eventually find homes for, but if that doesn’t happen I might break down and write another book about the Shore. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

1 comment:

  1. This was an interesting interview and brought back memories of my childhood on the shore in southern New Jersey. Loving the shore is one thing, but capturing it on paper is another. Sara's approach is intriguing.