Thursday, January 16, 2020

Q&A with Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the author of the new novel Big Lies in a Small Town. Her many other novels include The Dream Daughter and The Stolen Marriage. She worked as a psychotherapist before turning to writing full-time, and she lives in North Carolina.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Big Lies in a Small Town, and for your characters Morgan and Anna?

A: I stumbled across an article about the WPA-era murals somewhere and it reminded me of the murals in my New Jersey hometown post office.

I began digging into the creation of those murals and I loved learning that they were part of the government program to put people—even artists—back to work after the Great Depression.

Many of the murals are lost to time, but others are being restored, so I thought it would be fun to write about the mural during its creation and again during its restoration . . . when its secrets would be revealed.

I had Anna firmly in my mind from the beginning as the 1940 artist. Then I had to create Morgan—and her unique personality and set of problems—to bring the mural into the future.   

Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: I did a lot of book and online research at first, learning about the murals and the program that made them possible.

I was surprised and pleased to learn that the “48-State Mural Competition” that Anna wins was anonymous. Otherwise she probably wouldn’t have had a chance at winning the award to paint the mural, since most of the paintings were created by big-name artists.

My research also included a day spent with an art conservationist to help me understand Morgan’s work, as well as a couple of wonderful trips to Edenton to learn about its people and history.

Q: You note that after your first visit to Edenton, North Carolina, you decided to set a novel there someday. What about the town made it a good setting for a book?

A: First of all, it’s beautiful, charming, and filled with history.

Second, it’s a small town with a post office built around the time that the murals were created. (The Edenton post office doesn’t have a mural, however).

Third, the racial makeup of the town, then and now, fit my storyline well.

And finally, I could simply see my characters there, on the streets and in the buildings. It felt like a natural fit. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The working title for my next book is The Dark End of the Street and the story is set in a nameless North Carolina town, again with a dual timeline—today and the ‘60s.

It involves the 1965 program to bring college students into the South to help register African American voters and it’s the personal story of one of those students and her current-day counterpart. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m thrilled with the response of early readers to Big Lies in a Small Town and I look forward to hearing from more of them!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Diane Chamberlain.

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