Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 1 year ago

S1E9: Kristy Woodson Harvey, with Anna North

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Kristy Woodson Harvey talks to Anna North about her blockbuster novel OUTLAWED, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club PIck

Welcome to Friends and Fiction. Five best selling authors and the stories Novelist Mary Kay Andrews, Christine Harmel, Christie Woodson, Harvey Patty Callahan, Henry & Mary, Alice Munro are five longtime friends with more than 80 published books to their credit In 2020 they created friends and fiction to provide author interviews and fascinating insider, talk about publishing and writing and to highlight independent bookstores. These friends discuss the books, they've written the books they're reading now and the art of storytelling. If you love books and you're curious about the writing world, you're in the right place France and fiction is sponsored by Mama Geraldine's bodacious Foods, the company that makes Mama Geraldine's cheese straws which come in six varieties and are the best selling cheese straws in the United States. Founded by former radio executive Cathy Cunningham and named for her mother. They have melt in your mouth cookies to delicious treats and a woman owned empire. Now that is something that Friends and fiction can really get behind Try them, you'll be so glad you did get 20 off on your online order at Mama Geraldine's dot com with the code Fab five snack on y'all. We'd also like to thank our other sponsor. Page one books who offer a book subscription package that we love the hand select books for you each month based on your preferences in their book knowledge and because the reeds are being chosen by actual independent booksellers, you know, you're more than just an algorithm. The subscription package, which can run 36 or 12 months is a perfect gift for a book lover, even if that book lover is you. Page one books, the personal touch of an indie bookstore with the delight and surprise of an online subscription service curated just for you. First time subscribers get 10% off with the Code Fab five at page one books dot com. Welcome to the friends and fiction podcast. This is the podcast of our friends and fiction live program. Every Wednesday night on facebook, you can also catch the show live on our Youtube channel. I'm Christie Woodson harvey and I am so thrilled to welcome new york times best selling author and the North. You probably know anna from her runaway bestseller and Reese Witherspoon Pig Outlawed. She is also the author of America Pacifica and the life and Death of Sophie Stark and a senior reporter at Vox. So thank you anna for coming on today. Thanks so much for having me. Okay, so we have a lot to cover. But the very first thing that I have to know is the moment when you found out that you were the Reese Witherspoon pick what was that like, what were you doing? What will you be telling your grandchildren one? Um I mean I think the moment that I found out I was just in my house and my agent called me but like a more fun moment in some ways is the moment that she announced it on instagram because she, you know, I mean you can still see this on on her instagram in the recent Book Club instagram but she like dressed up, you know, in honor of the book, like dressed up in like Western where I know yeah, my friends were texting me like Reese Witherspoon dressed up in a costume because of your book. I was like I know, I kind of can't believe it. So try to like save that in some sort of time capsule. Yeah, that's a pretty that's a pretty awesome moment. And this is a really spectacular cover to was this, I mean did you go round and round about this cover, did you have a vision for it or was it just like something that your publisher did and it was perfect. We went through a couple rounds on it. Yeah, I mean I...

...think first of all they did such an amazing job, it's so beautiful. I think the designer deserves a huge shout out. I also feel like it's really like, you know, this book came out in january and it came out in january in the middle of the pandemic and like a really like bleak time and it's actually been really nice to have this cover in the house because it's like bright and like pretty and arresting and I think like yeah, just so many props to the designer, I feel like it's like a real like mood lifter of a cover in some ways, but we did go through a couple rounds. The initial version of the cover didn't actually have the face on it and it was way more sort of like austere. It was really beautiful. Like it was like a cliff. It looks really cool. But I was like, you know, there's no people in this. Um they were like, no, no, no, I think that's fine. And then the sales team was like, no, no, no, like this is this is too like bleak and like weird, like, no, no, no. So they went back and came up with this and then the only note I had is the original version. The face was a little more conventionally feminine looking. And my only note was like, I think this looks amazing. Can we maybe like tone down the lips a little bit? So it's like a little bit less clear that this is a woman's face or like a face that looks like it would be a woman's face and then from there we're ready to go And they were totally cool with that. So yeah it was basically a really good process and I'm super happy with where it turned out. Well it's beautiful and yeah I mean I think we'll all remember that moment of Reese and her in her cowboy hat on instagram. It was incredible. Okay so for the few people in the world who have not yet read outlawed, Can you tell us a little bit about it? Sure. So I one way to think of outlawed as as a revisionist Western. It's set in 1894 but not the real life 1894. It's an alternate history. Um and this is an 1894 where um the United States has actually been devastated by a flu pandemic. So In 1830 this flu epidemic sweeps the country so devastating and actually destroys the U. S. Government. People, descendants of former americans live in these independent towns dotted across the country and they're really obsessed with reproduction. They really want to kind of replace those who have been lost and have a sense of hope that could come from having new Children around. So it becomes this cultural obsession to the point where fertility is so prized above everything else and infertility is deeply stigmatized and people, especially women who are infertile, can even be hanged as witches. So the book follows ada she is an apprentice midwife. She gets married at the age of 17, but when she's not pregnant after a year of marriage, um she ends up having to flee because otherwise she'll be persecuted for her infertility. She meets the mysterious hole in the wall gang led by the kid there, uh, based in some ways on the real life Hole in the wall gang of outlaws. But in other ways kind of a departure. I mean, she has to decide if she's going to join up with them and this sort of um, potentially really dangerous plan they have. Um, and you know, kind of decide what course her life is going to take and how she's going to both stay safe. But also kind of realized her own potential as a person. Well, this was a fascinating story on so many levels and I have to think just looking at, you know, what you do and what you write about that there are so many points in which the story and your journalism career, you know, have to kind of tie into each other. And so I want to make sure I'm getting this right. You cover gender and reproductive issues for for box. That's right. Okay. Um, and so outlawed. Certainly as you mentioned, explores those topics. So what came first for you, was it the story or did you have these issues in mind that you really wanted to bring to light or how was that process? Yeah, I mean this, this story kind of came in little snippets over time. I first sort of had the germ of an idea. I was actually, I was traveling in new Hampshire and I visited a shaker dwelling. The shakers were kind of a separatist religious sect. They built these beautiful buildings and were known for their sort...

...of architecture and furniture, but they lived celibate lives. They didn't have Children, they didn't marry, they would live sort of community together separately from society. And I got really interested in them. And just in this idea of a group of people living separately and also kind of taking themselves out of this sort of, you know, the all the cultural messages around having Children or not having Children. This is also a time in my life when my husband and I were thinking about whether we would have a child, now we have a toddler, it's obviously been a while since then. So this was all in my mind and I wanted to write about these ideas of family, what makes a family, these ideas of fertility and infertility, and also sort of the idea of people who live apart. And what then really made the story take off for me is when I realized it could be a western. So it was kind of having trouble writing this. Set in New Hampshire, I hadn't spent a lot of time there, it wasn't really coming together and I thought like, well who else lives like a part, you know, who lives like out in the woods? And I thought outlaws and yeah, and then from there I started doing a lot of research on the american west and it kind of then jelled from there into kind of what you see now. It's fascinating, especially for me. I my next book actually hits on a lot of these issues, although in very, very different ways. But I do feel like writing about infertility and those types of things have been really interesting right now. And I actually had a friend come to me a few years ago and she and her husband had been doing IVF and they had all these leftover embryos and had sort of had their family and she said, I don't know what to do with them and no one ever told me about this, and now we have to figure out all these big things that we're going to do and you should write a book about this. And so the story ends up being very different than just that. But I guess the reason that I say that is that I felt like the way you approach the story was so fascinating, because you could have set this story any time, any place that you wanted to. And I am certain that in many, many ways, you know, setting this, making this book of Western and setting it in 18 94 I gave you it was I'm sure a ton of research, a lot of work for you. So what made you you sort of touched on this a little bit, but it's just in case there's anything you want to add, you know, was there anything specific about 1894 and about the western that were just like, yes, this is the story. Yeah. I mean, I actually played around with the time period a little bit. I knew that I wanted it to be kind of an alternate history. I knew I didn't pretty early on. I knew I didn't want it to be set in the future. So, you know, I thought like, there's obviously, like, I think some people have said there's some dystopian elements of the book and I think that's true, but I also really didn't want to write a straight up dystopia. My first novel is a dystopian, it said in the future. And, you know, I don't know, things are really bad in the real world right now. I like and were when I started this book too, I feel like my appetite for writing dystopia is less than it used to be. And so I wanted to do something different as soon as I thought, like, oh, it's a western than I thought, like, well, you know, I certainly thought about the past, but you know, in the traditional sort of like the outlaw era, the era when the actual real Hole in the Wall gang active, that was the 18 nineties. But I did play around with the alternate history aspect. Like initially when I wrote my first draft, it was like, I still, I always had this flu pandemic happened in 18 30. Um that's that's real. There was a flu pandemic that swept the world in 18 30. It didn't obviously like take down the United States government, but it was a real serious epidemic. Some of this stuff I learned about when I was researching for the book, and some of it I learned about now that we're in a pandemic. Like I've like there were lots and lots of flu pandemics in the 19th century, which is something I wasn't fully aware of anyway. So I always knew I wanted that that 18 30 moment to be the moment when our real life history splits from the alternate history that I was writing. And then the question was like, so how how does the alternate history proceed and like what year am I going to visit this alternate history? And initially I thought, well, maybe I'll set it like in 1950 but everything will look like...

...it's 18 90 like this, you know, this horrible pandemic will just kind of like slow down technological progress. So 1950 looks like 18 90 Which was kind of interesting. But then my agent and she's like, this is actually just really confusing. She's like, if you just changed it to be 1895 or something, you actually wouldn't have to make any changes. And that was true. Like, I just changed the date and then I think there were like two little details somewhere in the book where I had like maybe had like some photography or something. Um, You know, some things that were more like technologically later and I just took those out. But once I sort of brought it back to 1894, I didn't notice like that, like that fall right to me. Hmm. That's really interesting. And so along those lines, what was the research like for this book? Yeah. Because I know you're kind of walking that line between, you know, what's real and what's what's part of the story, what's fiction, totally. I did a lot of research for this thing more than for my other two books, definitely. Um yeah, and even though it's an alternate history, like I wanted, I mean frankly, I was scared of writing like straight up historical fiction. I have so much respect for people that do historical fiction because it requires this level of attention to detail and I just was worried I want to be able to do it, but I did want to have a baseline understanding of real history so that I could kind of depart from that. So, and I also wanted to understand like the west, like, so I'm from California, but this book is set in Wyoming and the Dakotas um and a little bit in colorado and I had spent time in Wyoming colorado but not a ton. So one of the first things they did is I took a trip out there. Um I was lucky, I it was a time in my life when I was like between jobs I had like three weeks between the end of one job and the start of another. And so my husband and I went out to Wyoming. We spent a week there. There's a working ranch on the site of the hole in the wall gang hideout in the hole in the wall Valley. Yeah. Yeah it's called the Willow Creek Ranch. And it's like, you know, it's right where like it's in the place that the book is that you can go there and you can stay there. So um, we didn't actually stay overnight, but they were really helpful. They left us like all these directions to get to the actual hole in the wall. So there's a real, you know geographical feature that's called the hole in the wall. It's this like notch in this red, you know, wall of rock and their directions were really funny. They were like go left. Like if you go right, disaster will result like don't do it. Um, and that turned out to be apt like it was actually pretty, like there aren't really good roads. Like it was actually really difficult, but it was really cool and beautiful. And I took a ton of photos and I took video just to get a sense of like the sounds of the place and the way it looked. So that was kind of step one. And then I also did a ton of reading. I tried to kind of give myself like a little bit of remedial history class. So I feel like I didn't learn a ton about american history period in like high school and even more. So I didn't learn like for example, the history of black americans in the west or the history of native american nations in Wyoming colorado. Like just didn't learn much about that. Also doing a lot of reading on those subjects and also just about outlaws. I definitely read. Um, in particular, I didn't really know things like, well what kind of crimes did outlaws actually do? What does it mean to like who were they robbing? Where like where were they doing there, robberies? Like so learning about like stagecoach robberies and stuff. That was part of my research also. Yeah. I mean I wouldn't have known about any of that. You have this vague idea of what that was, but what were the actual details of it? It's sort of like pirates or you know, what exactly are they doing? What exactly are they taking? So I'm interested. You know, you're, you obviously have this journalism side to you and you have you know your fiction side. So growing up did you know you wanted to be a writer and if so you know you visualizing yourself being a journalist. Were you visualizing being an author? Like what did your journey to this look like? Yeah. I definitely wanted to be a writer from a really early age and I definitely you know wanted to be a fiction writer and I actually wrote a lot of fiction growing...

...up like even as a really little kid and then in high school I spent a lot of time like working on fiction like pretty seriously like in the summers I would like write a lot of short stories and I cared about a lot. Um And in college I studied creative writing and I actually in college I met um my some friends I'm still friends with now we still have a writing group together, so we were pretty serious. Um Yeah even then about about creative writing and then I kind of got into journalism a little bit later, I was writing for my college paper and after college I freelance a little bit and then I went to grad school for creative writing, but while I was in grad school I also in turn to jezebel. And so that yeah, so while I was there um that was sort of my like beginning of entering into journalism and then I got a job there and ended up working there for a while and that was kind of how my journalism career started. I love that you're still with your same writing group. I mean that's really incredible. Are you all geographically in the same place? Are you meeting resume or how does that work? I mean now we have to meet over soon even though we're geographically place? That was a stupid no, no, I mean it's interesting because it means like, you know, so I mean like we have friends, like we have one friend who used to sometimes fly in because like she would come to new york anyway, but like now we could always zoom with her and it will be interesting to see how these things change like once the pandemic is better, but a lot of us are in new york now like me, um we kind of have like two chapters, there's like the new york chapter and there's also like a California chapter and so we meet separately, but like we're friends with each other and like back when we used to like see people and travel we would see them, so hopefully again one day. But yeah, no, it's really been like one of the best things about like my writing life is like being friends with these friends since, you know, for now more than a decade. And really all of us watching each other's career and watching each others are kind of developed has been super rewarding. It's amazing. Are you all published? Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, I think so. It's different genres. Like some of our friends do more screen writing, a lot of like in my writing group, a lot of folks do more to the genre side. So we have friends who do more sci fi writing, which like has also been a big influence on me. Like certainly on my first book, that's a dystopia, but also on this just in terms of like playing with the genre, you know? But yeah, most of us have been published in different ways. That's really cool. I love that. Okay, so I know this is sometimes a really annoying question, like, this book just came out a minute ago, you're on this really, I'm sure crazy for a wind virtual tour. But have you started working on something new? And if so, can you tell us anything about it? So I've been thinking about something new? I mean, it's it's actually like a really interesting question for me because in the last year, so like, I like I probably was working on copy edits for this book when the pandemic kind of hit new york city, like, so when we shut down here, I was just finishing up the copy edits and like, you know, like there's still a lot that happens with the book, like after that there's still, you know, second past, like all that stuff. So I had a lot of like book business to finish with this book, all of last year, while we were, you know, in lockdown, and then in partial lockdown and all the things recently, I've, you know, had a little bit more time to think about like what's going to be the next thing. But it has been it has been interesting because, you know, before the pandemic started, I sort of had an idea of what the next thing maybe. But then once the pandemic hit, it was like, okay, well now, what year is this set in? Because I wanted it to be, you know, like a realist novel set in the present. But then I was like, okay, well, is it set during the pandemic? Is it set in some like, mythic time after the pandemic? Like 2025? Is it set right before the pandemic? Or people wearing masks? Like what, you know, suddenly, like, setting a novel in the present becomes super complicated and I haven't fully figured that out, but I'm just like recently, kind of starting to, you know, get back into it a little bit and write a tiny bit, you know, now that this book is out. I mean, it's also like for any...

...writer, like with Children, it's been a crazy year. Like, as you know, like childcare has been very uncertain. So that's one aspect to their hasn't always been a lot of time to do, you know, anything necessarily creative Now. Yeah, it's it's been it's been such a crazy time and I completely understand that and I was in a similar situation and that, you know, I had written a book and it was 7.2020. It was actually it's actually a historical contemporary that comes out in 2022. But I thought, oh well, you know, obviously the historical part is in the past. But I sent the book in and got edits back on it and I was like, oh my gosh, like I can't, this book is set in 2020. Like, I can't do that. So then I I was like, okay, so do I just make it like 2018? Do I go back a few years and then I ended up going back several years for like a plot reason in the book? But it is, it's gonna be a crazy time. And I'm like, are we Are we ever gonna write about 2020? Are we gonna write about 2020? In retrospect? Because I don't want to write about it now. I mean, just I don't want to write about masks and social distancing and Weird stuff on airplanes. I don't feel ready to like process any of this infection. Like I feel like it wouldn't be any good maybe in like 10 years or something. But I feel like even like stuff from my own life for things I've read or learned like all that takes a while to percolate and kind of at least for me to feel like you can kind of react to it creatively and have it be part of your fiction and like I'm not anywhere near there with like the events of the last year, like not by any stretch. I totally great. And I feel like I can only write about something that's happened once I can like pull out the lesson that was learned, even if I'm not saying here's the lesson we learned from the year, but it's like, I need to be able to sort of like look back and have it processed and like I think we're a long way from that. Um Okay, so I'm sure you could ask this all the time, any thoughts about a prequel or a sequel or anything else in the outlawed family? Um Yeah, a friend of mine was like I want an outlawed expanded universe which I thought was really sweet. So I think like for now, I feel like in terms of the universe my biggest focus is like on the tv rights, so that recently sold to a 24 and AMY Adams is also involved and you know, obviously it's still, you know, tv and everything is very strange right now, so it's hard to know like what exactly what the next steps will be, but I'm excited to see what happens with that because I think it could be a cool way. Like I'd love to see what a group of writers who aren't me like brings to the story and I'd love to see them kind of expanded. I mean one thing as I was writing this like I was very conscious of wanting to create a diverse american west like that it resembles the actual american west um even though it's an alternate history but I'm also white writer. And so I would just be really excited to see like a diverse group of writers and their take on the story and bringing their own perspectives to it. So you know knock on wood if something happens with with the T. V. Project like I feel like that could be sort of a you know whether they do prequel or sequel material like that could be a way of expanding the universe a little bit. Absolutely yeah that would be so interesting to see come to life and I do feel like it's the perfect story for right now because it is so diverse and you are you do have such a wide range of characters in this story and so many stories to tell. I mean, it could just go on and on and on and on. So it would be really fascinating for sure. Okay, last thing and then I'm gonna let you go. Um we have this question that we love to ask our guests, some friends in fiction. What were the values in your house around reading and writing when you were growing up? And do you think that they helped shape you into the writer that you've become? This is such a great question. Yeah, so we definitely placed my parents' place to really high value on reading. You know, my parents were actually professors, so they cared a lot about it. And I remember telling my dad at some point um you know, I must have been like, I don't know, eight or nine or something and like I probably had to read a book for school and I was like this book is boring and he was like, I don't want you to ever tell me that a book is...

...boring. Like every book has something interesting about it, even if you decide it's bad, like that's okay, but like everything has something, you know, some interesting aspect or something you can learn from it. So yeah, I thought that was a really good lesson from my dad and now, you know, especially going into graduate school, I think it helped me because it sort of helped me to um you know, bring a generous I to all of my classmates work and try to like, you know, be as helpful as they could be a, not necessarily putting on them. You know, these are my values. This is what I think your book should it be about. But trying to say like, well, what's interesting here, how can we expand on that? And I think it helps me with my or two, trying to think about just like what's the core of this? Like what do I want people to take away or find interesting? Like even if they hate the book or even if they, you know, it's just not really for them. So it's, I think it's a really good lesson and you know, maybe I'll pass it on to my kid to, if if you listen or pay attention, I might have to pass it on to mine as well. I'm like, wow, what a standard piece of wisdom. And it just goes to show that you never know what your kids are listening to and what they're going to be talking about. You know, and probably not a podcast, whatever it is that they're doing like in space. I always imagine him in space when he's growing up. So I assume it's me some space thing if somebody asked me the other day, like, what is, what is your son what to do when he grows up? And I was like, I have no idea, but I'm certain it's not invented yet, so it doesn't really matter. Yeah. Okay, well this has been so fun. Anna thank you so much for being here and for sharing your time with me. Been telling us all about this incredible book. Um, I know that so many of the friends and fiction listeners have already read it and for the ones that have not, please make sure that you do because you are in for a treat. Can you tell us where we can follow you online and where we can find you? Yes, I'm on twitter at Anna North tweets. I'm on instagram at ANna North books. Um, and my website is just anna north dot net. Awesome. Well thank you so much anna. We really appreciate your time and I'll look forward to hopefully a tv show tv show and then whatever comes next. Thanks so much. Thanks again for having me. Thank you so much for joining me today. Um, we hope you'll join us for all of our podcast and our weekly friends and fiction live facebook shows an additional fascinating interviews about the world of flux. Happy reading. Thank you for tuning in, Join us every week on Facebook or YouTube where our live show airs every Wednesday night at seven p.m. eastern time and please subscribe to our podcast and follow us on instagram. We're so glad you're here.

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