Saturday, June 22, 2024

Q&A with Susan Coll




Susan Coll is the author of the new novel Real Life and Other Fictions. Her other novels include Bookish People. She is the events advisor for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.


Q: What inspired you to write Real Life and Other Fictions, and how did you create your character Cassie?


A: The novel was inspired by events surrounding the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1967, which resulted in 46 fatalities.


Prior to the disaster, there were multiple sightings in the area of a gigantic creature said to be part man, part moth: The Mothman. The creature was thought to be a harbinger of disaster – not the cause itself.


There were said to be similar sightings of the Mothman prior to the explosion of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in 1986, as well as the apartment bombings in Moscow in 1999.


A 2002 movie starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney took the Mothman story it in the direction of horror and suspense.


I wanted to try to capture the same narrative from the point of view of a survivor, which is where my protagonist, Cassie, comes in. She was orphaned at the age of 2 and has always wondered why her parents were in West Virginia at the time of the accident.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what do you think the novel says about storytelling?


A: I struggled with this title more than most. The Wonder was my working title, but Real Life and Other Fictions fits in nicely with theme of storytelling, which is at the heart of the novel.


Cassie is a writing instructor who is haunted by the stories her students write. Her aunt is the host of a hugely successful podcast called The Storyteller. And Cassie’s life has been shaped by a story that no one in her family will talk about.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything about the Mothman that especially surprised you?


A: I made two trips to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and attended The Mothman Festival. I watched the movie The Mothman Prophecies countless times and read anything I could find about the bridge collapse, including newspaper clips at The Mothman Museum.


And yes, I was definitely surprised by some of what I learned about The Mothman – there are lots of internet rabbit holes one can go down on the subject, and theories to do with aliens, with government conspiracies, and with a curse. There are also some who think The Mothman was simply an owl or a crane.


Q: The Washington Post review of the book said, “Real Life and Other Fictions is quirky without being saccharine. It effortlessly mixes a journey around grief, reinvention and romance in midlife with the myth of a moth and the supernatural.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love this description. It’s always a surprise to learn how other people read and interpret a novel, and in some ways it helps me to better understand my own book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a comedy set at a literary nonprofit in DC. It features one of the characters from my previous novel, Bookish People. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It also involves a cat, which is entirely new territory for me.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Susan Coll.

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