I’ve been a fan of Lorna’s since I first discovered her blog, Lorna’s Voice, years ago. Yesterday, I reviewed her latest novel, Never Turn Back, and today, she’s taking time out from packing for her upcoming cross-country move, to answer a few of my questions.
Readers of Lorna’s Voice and your debut novel How Was I Supposed to Know? love you for your madcap sense of humor. You have the ability to point out the absurdities in life and make us laugh. But your newest novel Never Turn Back takes us down a much darker path. How did you manage to pull off such a drastic change of style and genre?
As you know, this novel is based on a true story. My grandmother, “Meri,” was not jovial and she saw herself as a victim. As I began writing her story, I felt as if I was channeling her spirit. The images and “voice” that I received and put into words were very different from the zany or silly voice most people have come to expect from me as a writer or blogger. I couldn’t have made this book humorous—that’s not what came out of me as the story unfolded. As for switching genres, her story took place in the past and mostly in a different county, so it had to be historical. Because she revealed precious few details of her life in Finland and France, I couldn’t make the book non-fiction—there were too many holes that couldn’t be filled with facts. I was left with only one option: fiction.
You did an amazing job of combining fact and fiction. Any advice for writers hoping to do the same?
Thank you for saying that. My goal was to have readers unable to tell which events really happened to “Meri” and which ones didn’t. Also, I wanted to create characters so three-dimensional that readers wouldn’t be able to tell who was real and who I made up for the purposes of the narrative. How did I do it? I did a great deal of research about Finland in the 1920s and about France before, during and after World War II. I researched Hitler and his rise to power so that dates would be accurate. Google Maps was invaluable to me as I familiarized myself first with Finland, then with France. I had to choose towns and addresses that would be within reasonable walking distances for Meri or homes for the rich employers she worked for. I Googled fashions for the era and the kinds of transportation technologies available in Europe during that time frame. I watched documentaries on France and the war. Lastly, I spoke at length with my 81-year-old mother, “Jeannine,” who told me what she could remember of her childhood in France and her experiences coming to America. The fictional elements (characters and events) came to me as if I was watching a movie. It’s quite weird and wonderful, really. I knew I had to get “Meri” from one real situation to the next and my mind’s eye just laid out the fictional path perfectly, complete with scenes, dialogue and actors. I don’t know how else to explain it. I really enjoyed that part of the process. Writing fiction is so creative and freeing. I wasn’t bound by facts (except for a general timeline and certain truths my grandmother told me throughout her life).
Were you ever conflicted on what you thought your grandmother would want you to tell?
No. Although she was a private and very proud woman, she is long dead. I told this story for two reasons. The first and most important reason is that everyone in my family begged me to write it. You see, no one in my family knew that my mom was half Jewish until about 25 years ago—including my mother. My grandmother kept this a secret until she thought she was dying. “Meri” made a death-bed confession to my mother and told her that her real father was a Jewish merchant. Up until then, my mother always believed her real father was a Parisian soldier who died in the war. Fortunately or unfortunately, “Meri” didn’t die but her secret was out. She lived another 15 years, but wouldn’t say another word about my grandfather regardless of how many times I asked her.
The second reason I wrote the book is that I’ve told her story many times in various social gatherings. Without fail, people were fascinated and told me that her story could be a movie. They found it that intriguing.
I have to agree with them. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to talk to us. If you would like to learn more about Lorna, pop over to Lorna’s Voice. Her life has been one zany adventure after another and I know she’d love to hear from you.
DRIVE SAFE AND HAVE A HAPPY HOLIDAY!