Friday, July 18, 2014

Interview with Letitia Trent, author of Echo Lake - July 18, 2014

Please welcome Letitia Trent to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Echo Lake was published on July 15, 2014 by Dark House Press.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Letitia:  Thanks! I wrote sometimes as a kid, usually very derivative stories based on the books I was reading, often written right there in the blank pages before the title page and after the ending. I didn't start writing in earnest until I turned 18 and moved out of my house. By the time I was a senior in undergrad, I knew I wanted to write and applied to MFA programs.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Letitia:  A little bit of both. I like to jump into an atmosphere or character or setting and then, as I go, figure out what particular tensions I want to explore and how I want the story to progress. I usually make a rough, changeable outline after I've started writing and then, after the first draft is done, I outline what happens in each section or chapter and see if I have any "holes"--any places were I've dropped a plot element or have not followed through with something that was signaled as important early on the story.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? How does being a poet influence your prose writing (or not)?

Letitia:  I love writing: it's fun for me. But I often get frustrated when I can't translate the idea in my head to something on paper. Sometimes I just feel incredibly limited by words, sentences, paragraphs--the very structures of language. Which is probably where poetry comes in: when I feel frustrated by prose, I remember the freedom I feel in poetry. I think my poetry background allows me to not be afraid to play with sentence structure, to linger on an image, or to get "creative" with punctuation when it feels like this is what I need to get ideas from my brain to the page.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Letitia:  I have so many! In poetry, Wallace Stevens is my master. I also love Barbara Guest, a lesser-known New York School poet. I enjoy the verbal complexity and attention to sound of poets like Lucie Brock-Broido and Heidi Lynn Staples. I also like the dreamy, thinky work of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge and Arthur Sze. My first poetry love was Sylvia Plath, though.

In prose, my influences range from the Bronte sisters to Ramsey Campbell to Joan Didion to Patricia Highsmith. I tend towards horror, crime, weirdness, and darkness in my reading, whether it's genre or literary (though I don't really recognize the distinction there: good writing is good writing). Some of my favorite books are Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, In the Woods by Tana French, Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill, Tenth of December by George Saunders, and The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher.

TQ:  Describe Echo Lake in 140 characters or less.

Letitia:  I'm terrible at this kind of thing, but here I go:

Echo Lake is the story of a woman in search of a home that she's never had in a town that refuses to acknowledge its own past.

TQ:  Tell us something about Echo Lake that is not in the book description.

Letitia:  It takes place both in a contemporary setting and in the 1960's.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Echo Lake? Why did you set the novel in Oklahoma?

Letitia:  A couple of things inspired the book. First, I learned about the flooding of a man-made lake near where I spent my teenage years in Oklahoma that caused the uprooting of caskets in the graveyard by the lake. I loved the image of unearthed caskets, and how much that image made me think of the things that we bury coming up to the surface. Second, in the same town, there was a gruesome and still unsolved murder of an elderly woman in her home: she was found with her throat cut, no signs of burglary, no motive as far as anyone could tell. When I was reading about this murder, I saw several comments on message boards by people in town saying things like "somebody knows who did this: they need to talk" or "A lot of us know who done this and he will get his justice". It made me think of how "justice" in an isolated, rural place can be very different from justice in a suburb or city.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Echo Lake?

Letitia:  Not much: my own experience and a few Google searches about crimes in rural Oklahoma helped fill in some details. I also researched pop culture from the 60's for some sections of the book.

TQ:  The novel is described as a "...gothic neo-noir thriller..." (by your publisher). What is "neo-noir"?

Letitia:  Richard Thomas wrote an excellent essay in LitReactor ( explaining the term, but for me, it points to a kind of fiction that mixes noir conventions, specifically a focus on moral ambiguity and darkness, with elements of horror and the fantastic, all with a kind of "literary" sensibility.

TQ:  In Echo Lake, who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Letitia:  I really liked writing Levi, the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. Though I'm not a Southern Baptist or even a Christian, I liked getting into the head of a "believer" who genuinely wants to do good in the world, who feels a sincere calling, but also feels a conflict between his identity and the identity that his religion and culture asks of him. I wanted to make him human and relateable no matter your beliefs, and I hope I did.

I think Emily was probably the hardest to write. Unlike Levi, she doesn't have a clear sense of herself. It was a challenge to see how I could make a person who starts the story rather passive become somebody who takes charge of her life in a more active way.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Echo Lake.

Letitia:  I don't know if I have any favorite lines, as it's hard for me to think that way about my own writing, but here is one my husband likes:

"A woman from Vermont telling her about the evils of air conditioning was like a eunuch giving sex tips."

TQ:  What's next?

Letitia:  I have my second novel, Almost Dark, out from ChiZine Publications in 2015. Other than that, I'm taking care of a newborn right now, so I'm not doing much writing. When I can get back to work, I plan to finish up a novel and a short story collection.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Letitia:  Thank you!

Echo Lake: A Novel
Dark House Press, July 15, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 280 pages

30-something Emily Collins inherits her recently murdered Aunt's house, deciding to move to Heartshorne, Oklahoma, to claim it and confront her family's dark past after her dead mother begins speaking to her in dreams, propelling this gothic, neo-noir thriller toward terrifying revelations of murderous small-town justice when a horrible community secret is revealed through the supernatural pull of Echo Lake.

About Letitia

Photo by K Michelle Johnson
Letitia Trent's first novel, Echo Lake, is available from Dark House Press/Curbside Splendor in 2014. Trent's work has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, The Black Warrior Review, Fence, Folio, The Journal, Blazevox, and many others. Her first full-length poetry collection, One Perfect Bird, is available from Sundress Publications. Her chapbooks include You aren't in this movie (dancing girl press), Splice (Blue Hour Press) and The Medical Diaries (Scantily Clad Press). She was the 2010 winner of the Alumni Flash Writing Award from the Ohio State University's the Journal and has been awarded fellowships from The Vermont Studio Center and the MacDowell Colony. She lives in Colorado with her husband and son.

Website  ~ Twitter @letrent  ~  Goodreads  ~  tumblr


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