SS: Today I’m interviewing Anna Quinn, author of The Night Child due out January 30, 2018.
A writer and teacher, Anna owns The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in various literary journals and texts, including Literature Circles and Response, Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment, Instructor, Tidepools, IS Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, Lit-Fest Anthology, 2016, and Washington 129 Anthology. Anna’s first novel, The Night Child, was acquired in a world rights deal by Blackstone Publishing, and will be published Jan. 30th, 2018. Please tell use what this book is about.
AQ: The Night Child is the story of Nora Brown, a young mother and high-school English teacher, whose unremembered childhood trauma threatens her sanity in the form of a child named Margaret. This exquisitely nuanced and profoundly intimate novel examines the fragile line between past and present—it is a story of resilience, hope, and the capacity of the mind, body, and spirit to save itself despite all odds.
SS: Where did you get the idea?
AQ: The Night Child was born from my memoir. When I finished writing the memoir, deeply cathartic as it was, it still wasn’t the story I most wanted to write, but I wasn’t able to articulate why. Weeks later another story began to push up, a story with similar themes to the memoir (identity, power imbalance, betrayal, resilience, hope) a story that wanted to go beyond my singular experience—beyond the way I’d been telling it. I realized the problem was in the form—the memoir wanted to breathe, break free, it wanted to be a novel.
SS: What’s the story behind the title?
The original title was Split, but in 2016 a movie came out with the same title and similar themes to my book. And to make it worse, the film perpetuated harmful stereotypes of mental illness instead of countering them. I was devastated. I told my publisher I wanted to change the title and they agreed. The new title, The Night Child, came to me in a dream soon after, and it encapsulates one of the primary characters, a child named Margaret—who only appeared at night. The good news is I love the new title even more than the old one.
SS: Which of your characters is your favorite? And, if you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
AQ: I love Margaret. She is a fierce six-year old who attempts to save the protagonist, Nora, and her daughter, Fiona, from a terrible danger. Margaret’s courageousness both gutted and inspired me beyond measure. I’d spend time with Margaret—I’d take her out for strawberry ice cream, the local bookstore, buy her a beautiful red coat and maybe the kid version of Doc Martens.
SS: Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
AQ: As with almost any work of fiction, the characters are composites of people I’ve met in my life, deepened and expanded by my imagination.
SS: What was the timeline from drafting to publication?
AQ: I wrote The Night Child in only a year, but that’s because I used a great deal of content from my previously written memoir. It took another year to edit The Night Child, and yet another year to call up the courage to submit it. I queried twenty-four agents and within a month, received nine requests for partial manuscripts and three requests for full manuscripts. Soon after, two agents expressed interest in representation—one NY agent, and Gordon Warnock from Fuse Literary in San Francisco. The NY agent wanted significant developmental changes that involved sensationalizing certain scenes for commercial purposes, and Gordon loved the book enthusiastically as it was, so I accepted his offer. Nine months later he called to say Blackstone Publishing had offered a fabulous contract. After an additional three months of editing with Blackstone, my book was ready for publication and will be released Jan. 30, 2018.
What research did you do for this book?
AQ: I used notes from my own personal history of dissociation, and spent hundreds of hours reading about psychiatric therapies, and interviewing psychiatrists and people who had experienced, or were experiencing dissociation.
What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
AQ: I’m a fairly spare writer (my poet husband calls me a haikuist novelist) and I often need to elaborate rather than cut. However, the editing exercise that helps most regarding cutting words is to read the entire manuscript aloud underlining all the places that cause me to falter or lose attention. Later, I go back and either cut those sentences or rewrite the passages. I also used Microsoft’s Word Usage and Frequency add-in, to find repeated words. The words “actually”, “shrugged” and “sometimes” were my top three most overused words. I also removed an excerpt of Hemingway’s, Clean Well-Lighted place because my publisher and I agreed it would be too much effort to secure the copyright from Hemingway Estates as they are known to be a pretty tough crowd.
SS: What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
AQ: Revision thrills me—re-visioning a draft from a critical perspective, listening to the sounds of language, playing with rhythm sentence by sentence, magnifying the abstract for an unambiguous detail, cutting irrelevancies (even if it means pages and pages) adding complications, and creating metaphor completely absorbs me. The first few drafts allow me to discover the story—what it’s really about, where the vulnerability of being human lives. Revision allows me to clarify and deepen the emotional truth of it.
SS: Can you share your writing routine? (e.g. How do you carve out your writing time? Where do you normally write?)
AQ: Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days, and I sequester myself in my writing studio—a little tugboat with horrible internet access. I write from 7 a.m. until midnight each day, only stopping to take an occasional walk, eat something, or shoo away the gulls who like to crack clams open on the boat roof. The rest of the week I write at home for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.
SS: Do you have any writing quirks?
AQ: I have to write the first draft of anything in long hand with a Uniball 207 pen.SS: How did you get into writing? My mother taught me to write when I was four. She taught me words create worlds and that imagination is everything, and I believed her then, and still do today. I was fortunate also, to have teachers along the way who encouraged me to keep writing. One particular teacher, Sister Rosa, taught me that if I didn’t like the story I was in, then I should write myself into a new one—her words pretty much saved my life.
SS: What are you working on right now?
AQ: I’m working on a novel set in the Pacific Northwest, but that’s all I can say for now.
SS: What book are you currently reading?
AQ: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tennant. Achingly dark and beautiful.
SS: How do you feel about The Night Child being compared to The Bell Jar?
AQ: Completely honored. Both stories are about a woman’s descent into mental illness, her breakdown, and attempts toward recovery. Both protagonists, Esther in The Bell Jar, and Nora in The Night Child, had achieved academic success and were raised in a typical middle-class family, and yet things weren’t as they seemed—both have a disordered identity. Both Esther and Nora offer raw perspectives about the experience of a breakdown. The Bell Jar opened up conversations about mental illness and I hope my book does the same.
“Her past—a malevolent undertow she cannot escape from simply by swimming parallel to and waiting for release; no, this is a force demanding a surrender she cannot allow.”
”A powerful, beautifully written, transformative novel…’Must-read’ is not a phrase I use often; I am using it now: you must read this book!” –Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
“Packed with riveting detail and radical emotional honesty, motored by a powerful (what I think of as a “life depends upon it”) authorial voice, this book does at least fifteen things novels are not supposed to be able to do. I won’t name them, but I will tell you that it will stand you up against yourself in all the best ways possible. You will love this night child, and she will remind you to love the night child inside you. I can’t remember a novel in which I have been more deeply emotionally invested. “-Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness and Contents May Have Shifted
The Night Child is available from
Find Anna Online / Social Media Here:
Goodreads: Anna Quinn