Valerie Geary is the author of the new novel Everything We Lost. She also has written the novel Crooked River, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Weekly Rumpus and Day One. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Everything We Lost, and why did you decide to make UFOs a part of the story?
A: There wasn’t one thing that sparked this book, rather assorted bits and pieces coming together at the same time. I was on five weeks of bed rest after breaking a bone in my back and was watching a lot of X-Files. I loved the dynamic between Scully and Mulder, the skeptic and the believer.
I was also thinking a lot about memories, how quickly they change, and about the experiences we have as children, how challenging it can be to interpret those memories many years later. Finally, I wanted to write a book exploring big mysteries and those life questions that don’t always have answers.
I wanted UFOs to play a role in this book from the start, but it wasn’t until I started doing research that I understood what exactly this would look like.
As I dove deeper into the history and the beliefs surrounding ufology, I began to see a lot of similarities between ufology and other more mainstream religions. Having been raised in a fundamentalist religion, and having since left that religion, this intrigued me.
As a child, I had my own set of extraordinary beliefs that I clung to, beliefs that set me apart from my peers and friends. Viewing the UFOs in this way, I was better able to connect with Nolan and who he was as a character.
The UFO aspect became a way for me to explore the idea of belief, of how and why we believe the things we do, and the lengths we’re willing to go to protect those beliefs.
Q: You tell the story from both Lucy's and Nolan's perspectives. Did you write the novel in the order it appears, or did you focus on one and then the other?
A: In order for me to understand Lucy’s present-day story, I needed to know what happened 10 years earlier, in Nolan’s timeline. So I wrote Nolan’s chapters first, then Lucy’s. I did this through every revision. First writing and rewriting Nolan’s story, then going back to the beginning and writing Lucy’s.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: Yes, I had a very clear picture of where this book would end, how I wanted it to look and feel. That never changed. I suppose this might be a spoiler, so if you haven’t read the book maybe skip this next part. I’ll keep this as vague as possible, but from the start, I was working toward an ambiguity, an ending that would let readers decide for themselves what to believe.
And because someone will probably ask—no, I am not planning a sequel for this book.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: I actually turned the book into my editor with a different title, The Dark Beyond, but we decided to change it to Everything We Lost to better reflect some of the more human themes of the book.
When asked to brainstorm new titles, I went through the manuscript again and there is a moment when Lucy is driving through the desert where she grew up and reflecting on how strange it feels to be back. The exact quote is “Now this place only served as a reminder of everything she’d lost.”
For me, that reflects a lot of what happens in this book. All the characters in this book lose something or someone, and the things that get lost aren’t always found again.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A new book, but it’s still too early to really give many details. I’ll say this, it’s a story of survival and of wilderness, of a young woman with a terrible secret and a mother who must make a very difficult decision.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I have never been abducted by aliens nor have I seen a flying saucer…not that I can remember anyway.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb