Sunday, January 13, 2019

Q&A with Katrin Schumann

Katrin Schumann is the author of the new novel The Forgotten Hours, which focuses on a young woman whose father is accused of assaulting her friend. Schumann's other work includes the nonfiction books The Secret Power of Middle Children and Mothers Need Time Outs, Too. She lives in Boston and Key West.

Q: You've said that the idea for The Forgotten Hours was inspired by people you knew. How did the initial inspiration turn into the book, and how did you come up with your character Katie?

A: There was a dark moment in my life when I went through a couple of difficult experiences--through two close friends on opposite ends of the spectrum--involving consent and assault accusations. 

At the time, I was so involved emotionally that it took over my life. I felt protective and afraid, and my loyalty was badly shaken. I learned how incredibly hard it is to admit to yourself that your instincts might be off. I felt unmoored and lost.

I kept thinking, what am I supposed to be learning from this? In a way, I too was a casualty, and I realized that my experience was more universal than I'd initially thought--all those who are accused of crimes, whether they’re guilty or innocent, have loved ones who suffer along with them.

I think of them as peripheral victims, and I wanted to find a way to explore and explain that experience. I chose a narrow lens through which to look: the daughter of the accused, because I wanted to show how much we’re impacted by our limited perspectives, and I wanted the stakes to be high--will the accused man’s daughter, Katie, be able to build a healthy and happy life?

I was trying to create a character who is smart and strong and has a good heart, who is capable of great things, but has been damaged by circumstances beyond her control. I liked the idea that Katie forges ahead valiantly, and that from the outside her life looks pretty damn good, but on the inside it’s a different story: she’s lost her sense of safety and her belief in herself.

Q: What resonance do you see the story having during the current #MeToo era?

A: These are issues we've been struggling with for a long time, and it's an incredible coincidence that my novel happens to be coming out when the #MeToo conversation has been amplified around the world.

One of my goals was to get people thinking about the nuances, the gray areas. It's in our natures to want to point fingers, and my book looks at how it can be dangerous to jump to conclusions.

We have biases, expectations, selective memories, strong loyalties--all this information is competing with itself. I wanted to examine this, and let the reader see how complex navigating truth and reality can be.

But, ultimately, I believe that love wins; in these sobering times, I wanted to show that we—empathic, thoughtful humans—can indeed face our own weaknesses and those of the people we love, and heal. 

Q: The story jumps back and forth in time. Did you write the chapters in the order in which they appear, or did you move things around as you wrote?

A: I did move smaller memories around a lot, because memories are often nonlinear and random, and I wanted to explore that.

I knew where the longer chapters set at the lake that summer night should go--I knew that they provided the all-important spine to the story. They complement and contrast and play off the present day chapters in a sort of dance, both emotionally and in terms of plot.

It was challenging to write this way, but once I found the “voice” of each era, each timeline, the story really seemed to take off. 

Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: Originally, I had a very different working title that I loved, but it ultimately didn't set quite the right tone. The novel ended up being more of a dreamy pastiche of overlapping memories, butting up against reality, and I needed to find a way to convey that in the title.

I spent weeks brainstorming--listening to my favorite songs and jotting down ideas, thinking in terms of theme, picking important words and playing around with them.

And then one day, “The Forgotten Hours” popped into my head and I knew I had it. It captures what I was trying to convey so well--the idea of being imperfect, out of control, overlooking or assuming things, of looking backwards for answers.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a novel coming out next year that's also about a young woman dealing with circumstances beyond her control--in this case, the aftermath of a war.

It's set in East Germany and Chicago at the beginning of the Cold War, and it's the story of a young photographer forced to choose between her freedom and her child when her husband, a member of the newly-formed Secret Police, discovers she's having an affair.

It also explores this idea that people are not easy to define and label; they’re rarely all good or all bad. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I wrote this book to challenge readers to think deeply about an uncomfortable issue, but I also wanted to point out the beauty of our world—the beauty of our never-ending search for love and connection, of our ability to be resilient and hopeful in spite of our pain and uncertainty.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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