Rene Denfeld is the author of the new novel The Child Finder. Her other books include the novel The Enchanted, and her work has appeared in The New York Times and various other publications. She is a licensed investigator, and she lives in Portland, Oregon.
Q: You've said that your new book was inspired by a missing-child case in Oregon. What made you decide to write this book, and how did you come up with your characters?
A: It was during an epic snowstorm here in Portland several years back. I had gone out to walk the dog late at night. You know how bright the night becomes when it is filled with snow, how silent? That was how it was.
I hiked down to the bluff and to overlook the cold river, and that's when I heard the voice that first inspired the novel. She said, "I am the snow girl." I literally ran home, whooping with joy, I was so happy to start writing again.
Once I got started I could see it was inspired by a case here of a child who went missing in the woods. As a parent it is hard to imagine anything worse than a missing or kidnapped child.
But it was also inspired by my work, because like the main character Naomi I am a licensed investigator. It's been my day job for over 10 years. So I was able to take the reader into the steps of a real life investigation. Naomi specializes in finding missing children. I've worked similar cases so I know a lot about the work.
In this novel, Naomi has been asked to find this missing girl who went lost in the forest three years before. As she delves into the case it becomes clear she has her own issues to deal with.
The characters in the novel all flow from the story. There is Naomi, the child finder, there is the snow girl, who is a little girl being held in a terrible place. There are other characters. It's important to me the characters feel real to me. So they are all people I might know in real life, from my work or family or friends.
Q: You write, "Fairy tales and fables had a deep influence in my life." What role did they play for you, and what role do you see them playing in the book?
A: I grew up with a lot of poverty and abuse. My sanctuary was the local library, and the books I found there. I escaped into a world of imagination. Some of my favorites were fairy tales and fables. I loved the themes of survival.
As Naomi says in The Child Finder, in fairy tales even those who need to be rescued can be saved, and even those poisoned by abuse can be reborn.
That love of fairy tales greatly influenced this novel. I think fairy tales are immensely powerful. They remind us of a time we knew we could survive the worst harms. They are stories of hope and magic.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I had an idea, though when I am writing I am caught up in wanting to find out just like anyone else! It felt like a real page-turner to me. The story just poured out. At times it felt like poetry, and it has been reviewed as a "thriller told like a poem." It's very fast-paced but lyrical.
Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?
A: I am a voracious reader. I believe the secret to good writing is good reading. When I teach writing I prescribe as many books a week that a person can read. I read everything from fiction to memoirs to journals. I just love the printed word.
Some of my favorite writers include Margaret Atwood, Ali Land, Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley, Roxane Gay, Kia Corthron, Josh Weil...I better stop now, I could go on forever.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I don't want to jinx it...but another novel.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Writers are nothing without readers. I think we are all part of the same wonderful connection, linked by stories. Our lives are our stories, and I am honored to have shared mine. Thank you so much for talking to me!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb