Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 1 year ago

WB S1E3: Ron Block and Patti Callahan- Origin Stories with Chris Whitaker and Amy Jo Burns

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITER'S BLOCK: Origin Stories- Chris Whitaker (We Begin at the End) and Amy Jo Burns (Shiner) join hosts Patti Callahan and Ron Block to discuss the ideas that sparked their most recent novels.

Welcome to the Friends and Fiction Writer's Block podcast. Five new york times, bestselling novelists, endless stories joined mary Kay andrews, Christine Harmel, Christie Woodson, harvey paddy, Callaghan, Henry and mary Alice Munro along with librarian Ron Block As novelists were five longtime friends with more than 80 published books between us and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. Yeah, Friends and fiction is sponsored by Mama Geraldine's bodacious food. Cathy Cunningham was a successful but unfulfilled radio executive in Atlanta one night while sipping wine and snacking on expensive cheese straws, she realized her mama Geraldine's own cheese straw recipe was far superior. The idea for Cathy's company was born Mama Geraldine's cheese straws now come in six varieties and they are the best selling cheese straw in the United States plus the cookies are melt in your mouth, delicious yummy snacks and a woman owned empire. Now that is something that we here at Friends and fiction can get behind try them, you'll be so glad that you did get 20% off on your online order at Mama Geraldine's dot com with the Code Fab five snack on Y'all. Welcome to the Friends and Fiction Writer's block. Today we begin an ongoing series called Origin Stories, in which we will talk with amazing guests dig deep to learn the kernels of their stories and their ideas for their latest work and learn how those blossomed into some of our favorite reads on today's episode. We are thrilled to welcome Chris Whitaker, author of the phenomenal. We begin at the end of which Kristin Hannah wrote a vibrant, engrossing, unP put down double thriller that packs a serious emotional punch. One of those rare books that surprise you along the way and then linger in your mind long after you have finished it. We are also lucky enough to be talking with Amy Jo Burns, the author of Shiner which Booklist awarded a starred review and which I gave 1000 stars. And booklist said no and booklist said this gorgeously written plot rich novel examines the complex lives of five beautifully realized characters being set in Appalachia. It is no surprise that the novel is also about story and its gradual morphing into legend. This memorable first novel is exceptional in its power and imagination. It's clearly a must read, I am paddy, Callaghan Henry and I am Ron block. First up, we welcome Chris Whitaker who is the award winning author of Tall Oak, All the Wicked Girls. And we begin at the end, All three books were published to widespread critical acclaim, with Tall Oaks going on to win the C W A john creasy new blood dagger award, which is a mouthful of an award, instant new york times bestseller and the number one indie. Next pick, we begin at the end was also a Waterstones thriller of the month. A Barnes and Noble Book Club Pick a Good Morning America Buzz Pick and now an amazon editors Best book of 2021 so far so far. It is long listed for both the gold and the Steel Dagger awards when not writing chris works at his local library where he gets to surround himself with books just like our Ron block. Yeah, we'll have that in common. Welcome chris. We're so glad you're here. Thank you for having me and thank you for the lovely introduction. Thanks chris for being here. We are so thrilled because we're both such huge fans of the book. But let's just start a little bit with you telling us about this novel. We begin at the end and a little bit about the thought provoking title. Okay, so, the story follows a year in the life of the 13 year old girl named Duchess stay radley. And um and the Chief of police of the local town that she lives in in in California, they probably sound like they don't have that much in common, but they're both they're both struggling to outrun the shadow of the death of a child that occurs in the very beginning of this story. And the book kind of follows them after this, this event 30 years later, and we find out, you know, duchess wasn't born then, but she's very much struggling with her mother, who is an alcoholic and a drug...

...user, and walk is the policeman that kind of kind of cares for her and takes care of her and she would struggle to admit that, you know, she claims that she doesn't need anyone and a convicted killer returns to their town and This guy used to date her mother 30 years ago and duchesses worried about him and the impact he's going to have on their fault on their small family because she's kind of the carer to her younger brother as well. So she takes action, kind of preemptive action. And we get to witness the fallout of this, of this this act that she commits and everything kind of goes wrong for her and and she has an eventful year and we we come along for the right. It is quite the year for a 13 year old girl and you bring it alive in. It leaps off the page. But before we get about talking about some of the other things in the book, I want to talk about your path to becoming a writer. I know you were a stock trader, which does not seem the normal path to writer. And you revealed some very personal things in a Guardian article late last year. And I've listened to your talk with tim at Nantucket Books. We had our own book group about Duchess where you revealed some of these same things. So as I told Ron your origin story for this book is one of the most touching and extraordinary I've ever heard. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Of course, yeah. I can tell you the story, the story behind the story. I guess I go all the way back to the beginning when I was at school. I was not academic, shall we say? I didn't apply myself. I didn't um I just didn't enjoy it that much, you know, I like going to school. I like seeing my friends, I didn't like the work, so I used to kind of, I used to cut school a lot and mess around and and I went out and got really drunk just the night before my economics exam and I I was so hungover, I missed the exam the next day, so I failed. So that that kind of put paid to university, I mean, I could I could have resat but to be honest, nothing appealed enough, you know, I was one of those people that was eager to get out there into the world um what I perceived to be the real world, you know, and and start living and, and I soon found out that, you know, it's um, it's a struggle, isn't it? I was just bouncing around from job to job. I was I did some bar work which I loved worked in a bakery, which I also loved sold electrical cabling. I didn't like that so much and but nothing really grabbed me. You know, I expected to kind of fall into something. I don't know did you? You know, just do what you you wanted to do? No, straight off. No. And I think that that's why your journey is so fascinating. Because rarely do we find we do interview people and I do talk to authors who say I knew from the moment I was seven years old and I picked up charlotte's web that I wanted to be a writer and I took a convoluted path. I worked at a bakery chris so that's fantastic. I ate all the, I ate all the frosting. I worked at drive throughs. But yes, I mean my education is as a pediatric nurse. So when I hear how you you went from all that and then suddenly you ended up in stock trader. Yeah. Yes. But yeah, it was a strange route into that. It gets stranger still. So I was I was working as a real estate agent and kind of like a junior, yeah, kind of like an office junior and I was out dropping flyers and leaflets through people's doors. And it was early one morning in London in North London probably about nine o'clock in the morning. And and someone came up to me just a random man and asked to borrow my cellphone and I knew I was going to get mugged because you know being a londoner, you know what's coming. You know my friends have been a few of my friends have been mugged so it was You know, I wasn't that surprised really, and and it was I was 19, you know when you're 19 and full of bravado. And so I just said no, I flat out said no, because he wasn't very big. I just thought I just I'm not giving you my cell phone. And and we we had a bit of a fight and then he pulled out a kitchen knife and I thought it was to scare me because it was a big, it was too big. The knife. You know, that's what I thought at the time, this is to this is not going to happen. And then he stabbed me repeatedly in the side. And I didn't know because I had the adrenaline going. So I thought I was being punched um and didn't really feel much. I didn't feel any pain really. And then I looked down and saw just blood everywhere. And so I dropped my my cell phone and my wallet and he picked them both up and kind of made some threats as well at the time that he now knew where I lived and things like that and and ran off with them. And so I was standing there on this empty street in London, bleeding and my car was nearby and the hospital was...

...quite nearby. So I managed to get back to my car and drove myself to hospital and just about made it there as I was beginning, you know, as the world was starting to go black, just as terrifying. Yes, it is, isn't it? And as we as readers of crime fiction and things and what we watch television, don't we? With violence and it's just it's so different in real life, you know, it's so personal. If that's the right word, you know, and the life in the balance, it's not on the page right, it's not maybe it's coming to me that maybe that's why so much of this novel felt so alive. You have been in that place where you're on the balance of the world is fading, it's getting smaller, it could have been you. Yeah, I just didn't, you know, obviously nothing was going through my mind other than get to the hospital, get some help. So I did and they did help me. And I just I had some stitches and I had three scars on my side and which I kind of hate. You know, I wish they were just they faded a lot, but they're they're like a constant reminder of a bad time. But but the consensus was that I was lucky. You know, and I've had this lucky escape and you just, you know, when people say, you know what they mean, but you don't feel lucky at all, you just feel really unlucky. I was just going about my business, you know, and and it happened, so I was I was kind of expected to just dust myself off and get on with it, you know, in a kind of teenage male way, you know, your friends kind of slapping on the back that it was like, yeah, it was, it didn't work out like that tall and and I now know it was PTSD but I didn't know anything at the time, I didn't know it was the lack of sleep, get lying down at night and just running it over and over, you know, could I have done something different, why did this happen? What if this had happened? You know, and it's just mentally exhausting and it just really took a toll and it went on and on and I had, my older brother went to a really good university and and has always been kind of a together person and so my parents never had to worry about him and so I didn't want to be the one that they had to worry about, so I didn't say anything. I know, but but my family are a bit like that, you know, my parents split when I was quite young and my mom worked in a bakery in the day and worked in a liquor store in the evening, like most days of the week and then some weekends and she just never moaned, you know, you were just, there's, there's an element, you know that tough single mother thing going on and so I didn't want to burden anyone so I just kept my mouth shut about it. I just smiled and got on with it and had a girlfriend at the time and just didn't tell her anything either. But you know inside I was in a real bad place and I was not sleeping, not reading, not watching tv, I couldn't do anything like that, anything normal. And then I I made a decision just to I was going to take a load of painkillers and that was my way out of that situation. So I couldn't think of another one. But at that time I had been to the library and I got a book. It was kind of a self help book and it talked about a technique where you you take the the incident the trauma and you change it, you change the character involves, you change the location and you change the outcome if you want. You know you can write it in any way you want. And I think it's a way of taking control of something that you had no control of. And, and so I sat down and wrote, Duchess probably at like one o'clock in the morning. I wrote the scene, she appeared on the page close to fully formed. You know, I had a strong vision of this girl wearing a Stetson carrying a gun, very much a victim, but still strong enough to get through all the kind of crap that's thrown at her. And so I started writing and I wrote the bar scene, there's a scene where Duchess's mother star is playing the guitar and she's being heckled heckled by the drunks. And Duchess breaks a bottle and holds the glass up in the air, you know, as you know in that way that she does, you know, she she deals with her problems head on kind of I was kind of so I wrote this scene and I went to bed and I slept for about six hours and I woke with that, you know, that kind of shock that I had been to sleep, you know, and I got some sleep because it had been so long and I carried on writing. I wrote it wasn't a book at all, it wasn't I didn't even want it to be a book, I didn't want to be a writer. I just knew that there was something that was helping me In this exercise. So I carried on writing random scenes involving this girl that was struggling far more than I was, you know. So if I was and I projected onto the page, so if I was angry she was 10 times angrier. You know, if I was feeling lost, she just had no hope at all. And it made me feel better that she could get through these things then I should be able to. That's kind of how I felt. Then I went out and got really drunk and was taking drugs at the time because I was struggling and I drove my car off the side of the road and flipped it over and went, went back to the hospital again to be stitched back together as a scar down my cheek and didn't tell my family like this was a good chance to come clean to my mum.

She was so disappointed in me. Remember that conversation, you know about drink driving and it was just, it was a bad time. But But I went back to Montana to Duchess where I was setting it, you know, travel mentally, traveled to 4000 miles and and again got through that difficult time and then we come to the stockbroking part of the story. So it was probably a year later that I began to think that I need to do something, you know, it was in my early twenties and kind of directionless. And just by chance I picked up a newspaper and read an article about this. It was kind of this guy splashed across two pages and it was his life and it was his Ferrari in his yacht and his mansion and, and he was a stockbroker and I did some research online and paid for my stockbroking exams and just got qualified. You know, I worked really hard and studied for them and then went into the city and that was all I had on my CV. You know, there was nothing I could write on it other than this, you know, I've got this qualification and and one company out of the probably dozen that I went and sat in the waiting room of took pity on me. I assume it was pity. They gave me a job as a trainee stockbroker and, and so my life changed again, you know, all of a sudden I was out five nights a week until the early hours client entertaining and things like that. It suited me quite well because I'm still a bad sleeper. But with that life, you know, it kind of goes hand in hand with drink and drugs and And I was a bit of an 80s cliche, you know, like I want to be Gordon get out. So I was like, yeah, I did that for a few years and loved it and kind of didn't write anything because I didn't feel I needed to and started to feel like I had left that old version of me behind. And then I I asked my boss if I could work on the trading desk which was my dream job. I wanted to be a trader because they were kind of at the sharp end of the business. You know they take the money the company makes and they reinvest it straight into the stock market. There's no clients, you make your own decisions and he was kind enough to give me a sharp With them with a warning that if I lost $20,000 that's it, you stop trading And we talk about what went wrong. And then the next day I lost $2 million dollars on my first day and obviously me being an idiot, decided to keep it quiet and try and make it back, which is illegal, I should add. And so I did. I kept it quiet and I lost a bit more money and then I came in one day and it was this nice office and there was like a glass boardroom, you know with glass windows all around it. And I saw everyone in there, the bosses and lawyers and and and an empty spot at the end of the table for me. So I came in and I am, I sat down and obviously they knew everything at this point. But they I had also started to make money. You know, it started to to work out, you know, the kind of trader I wanted to be and and and things were changing slowly so they gave me the option to pay back half the money or they would go to the police, you know, and and it was a really, it was a kind thing of them to do because you know, um, they could have And my life would be very different now I mentioned, but I signed a contract there and then and went home in $1 million 24 and it's a lot to take all of a sudden and we were getting married, you know, my wife was Planning a big wedding because on the surface I was a successful stockbroker, not a person in $1 million fine, as is my custom, that's my party line. I'm fine. You don't need to worry about me. Um, I put everything on the credit card, racked up even more debt. You know, we just carried on. I was writing, I went back to duchess because I needed her again. You know, I was right back taking drugs, drinking too much because I couldn't, I, I worked so hard to get past the stabbing and now I'd messed up like spectacularly, you know, I just felt like the biggest screw up and went back to Duchess and she got me through it, you know, just sitting down writing those scenes helped me and I worked really hard and I paid the money back and it took years to pay off the debt. But I did um, I still have the bit of paper that tells me that I'm debt free. I think I'll keep that forever. And then I read a book called The Last Child by John Hart. I don't know if you've read some john harper. Yeah, so I read The Last Child and it was just, it was brilliant. It was an eye opening Kind of emotional, just he's such a good writer, he's so talented. And then I read an interview with John Hart where he was a lawyer, a successful lawyer, he wanted to be a writer because because it made him happy, he quit his job and just decided to write. And so I was nearing 30 years...

...old, my wife was pregnant and a student and so we were kind of vulnerable, but okay, because, you know, we were on the path we wanted to be on, I was making good money and I quit my job there and then after reading that interview and I read it at my desk. Yeah, and so I came home and told my wife that I was going to be a writer, which was, you know, you can imagine the reaction, I'm sure, yeah, not knowing that I'd ever written anything before, you know, to suddenly say I'm a writer now, you know, it was mad, it's as mad as it sounds, but I think she knew that I hadn't been happy and she was okay, you know, she's brilliant, she's very supportive and she said to me, you know, let's do it, let's, the next day we put our apartment on the market and sold it and we got rid of our car and we just changed our lives to give me the shot of them being happy and doing something that I wanted to do. And so we moved to Spain for a while where I got writing tool oaks, my debut and then we came back and that's when the book got, you know, I discovered that you needed an agent and a publishing deal. Who knew that, you know, surprise Yeah, I know, and getting an agent is a difficult thing to do. It's quite competitive. I didn't know any of this had I known it, I might not have done it. You know, I just went into it blind just because writing was the only constant in my life and the only thing that kind of made sense and made me feel better. So I thought there must be something in it. So we you mentioned at the start of book one a dagger, which is like your Edgar's. So we flew back and I signed with an agency, got a publishing deal and one The Dagger. And then took a job in the library alongside writing and wrote another book before I got back to duchess till we begin at the end. And interestingly, so I wrote, we begin at the end. And then I was working at the library when I got an email from john Hart telling me that he had read the book and I really loved it. And my instinct was to email him back and tell him that he'd saved my life. And I stopped, I stopped myself because he would have thought I was insane. But I have since done an event with john Hart and told john harper john Hart story, which was which was a really nice moment. And I sent it to him because I think it's a nice thing to tell someone that they've had such an impact on, on you just through their words. And that is the story that pretty much brings us up today. I think we can say that john Hart might have saved your career, but I feel that duchess Day radley saved your life. I think so. I am. Yeah, I think so. I don't know if I would have had the courage to quit my job, had I not read the inspiring john Hart interview, but I like to think I would have found my way back to duchess. I didn't even want it to be published. You know, I didn't, it felt It's so weird to say that it's a story about a 13 year old girl. But it feels so personal to me because I remember mentally where I was when I wrote every scene in that book. So so I said that I would write it because it was kind of calling out to me. There was a file on my computer, Mark Duchess and every time I log in I just saw it and I felt like there was unfinished business. So I got to work on it and just spent years probably five years or something like that, working on Dutchess and turning it into a book before Amy Einhorn got her hands on it and properly turned it into a book because you know, at that point I was still wobbling. I didn't really want it published. I didn't, no, you know, I didn't want to put it out there and she made everything better her and the team at hope, they kind of helped my hand through it and guided me and and now we have a finished book that you've read and it's you know, I'm lucky, I feel really lucky and I walk around saying I am an outlaw whenever something is, whenever something comes at me, I'm like, I am an outlaw duchess stay radley. That is amazing. And it adds so much more depth to the story. Now, I want to go back and read it all over again with a new, with a new kernel of knowledge in my head. It's such a rich, rich book. So I agree with patty, I think the duchess has basically saved her life. What a way out of trauma to um did she change over time or did she just reflect what you were going through? Um she probably just reflected it. I mean, even the writing stayed fairly true to it, you know, some of it is written in quite a blunt style and and that is true of, you know, when I picked it back up, I I looked at some, some bits of writing, you know, that we're almost 20 years old. And I'd written obviously without quite un emotionally, I just wrote about this girl. Matter of fact, we this is what happened, this is what she...

...did and I kind of stuck to that and it felt right duchess evolved in a way that took years, you know, she, she she struggled so much, doesn't she? And she has such a tough time and and you kind of, you know, if I've done my job right then then read as a kind of willing her to do the right thing and make the right decisions and just sometimes bite her tongue and toe the line and and she's 13 and though she is precocious, she's still 13, she's a child and and and just messes up quite a bit and it can be quite difficult to read sometimes, but I I kind of stayed true to that that character that I had written, you know, all those years ago and and just just built out around her really kind of, you know, I spent I spent a solid year writing her dialogue and nothing else rewriting, you know? Yeah, it was just it was listening to transcripts of have people talking and people duchesses age talking and picking up on speech patterns and things like that and and yeah, I just I just knew that it actually had to be right, otherwise the story just wouldn't work. She's such a key part of that story and I hope I managed it so well. We were saying that she is probably among our very favorite literary characters ever ever. That's that's the ultimate compliment. Absolutely. We agree, thank you very much that it does make it feel worth it. You know, just I've wondered, you know, if the hard work, it's that kind of, you know, all consuming, don't have much time for anything else. And if the book is not going well, I'm kind of I go quiet and my kids sometimes worry about me and I do wonder sometimes if it's been worth it. And I think it has for the most part, I agree. I think that people when they read this will see their own way out of trauma, especially when they hear the backstory. It's so generous and open hearted of you to share the back story because it's just as powerful as the book itself. Well, I kind of I discussed it with Amy going into it, you know how honest I'm going to be about it and to to tell it any other way just wouldn't be the truth. You know? And when people ask where duchess came from, where the story came from, I just I have faith in people understanding and being kind and everyone has been. But on the flip side I worry about my Children one day, you know, picking up this story and or googling me and finding interviews and and because I told them it's a shark bite on the side of the car. Daddy got bitten by a shark. Yeah. Yeah, I'll have some explaining to do. But the Guardian article you spoke of is the first time my dad ever found out that story. So you're kidding? No. My wife didn't even really know it. So you know, I might I might do it differently. I tell him because he phoned me and he said there's an article about you in The Guardian, is it true? Um and I said yes and then he had to go at me to taking drugs, wow. I guess there's a there's a cost to truth. But the flip side of it is how much it's going to help heal. Yeah, I think so. And I think we live in an age where you know, the stigma about mental health and it is going away slowly. You know, it's easier for people to talk about their feelings and their and their mistakes more importantly, you know, because I'm not proud of a lot of the stuff I've done, but you know, would I be, would I have written this book, you know, without those experiences without doubt, I wouldn't have, I might not have been a writer. Yeah, so you have to believe sometimes that you know, you're a product of all the things you've done, both, good and bad, the astounding. I'm just blown away by this. Thank you so much for sharing such personal stuff. Cool idea. Thank you for joining us today. This has been the most fascinating glimpse into an origin story and process and we're going to have to have you back because I have a whole bunch more questions about Montana and working in libraries and one of your books was set in Alabama where I live. So yeah, so, but this was so generous of you and of course, beautiful story. Thank you. I talk a lot. You know, we were along for the ride you. It's always such a joy when the personality of warmth and open heartedness matches the book. It's as if the book and you have melded together and I bow to that so perfectly...

...put patty, I couldn't thank you. That's that's a lovely thing. Society here. I also like the way you say patty, Yeah, everything's better in everything. You could say something really horrible to us and we'll be like yeah, awesome, thank you, thank you chris thank you for having me. Mhm Yeah, now let's welcome Amy Jo Burns, author of Shiner, Just out in paperback. Amy jo Burns is the author of the memoir Sunderland. Her writing has appeared in the paris review Daily Tin House Plowshares, Gay magazine, Electric literature literary hub and the anthology. Not that bad, I love this book. Welcome Amy. Thank you so much for having me. This is so great Amy. Let's start out by having you tell us about Shiner. What do readers need to know to get them excited to read this book? That Patty and I both adored your opening line. Making Good Moonshine isn't that different from telling a good story and no one tells a story like a woman just grabs you right from the get go tell us about ran and her father and also the meaning of the title, Well what you need to know about the book is you know ren is a 15 year old girl who's living a very secluded life in the mountains of West Virginia with her parents and her father became this local legend when he got struck by lightning when he was 18 years old and he becomes a snake handling preacher and one summer ren witnesses him perform a miracle that goes horribly wrong. And then all of these family secrets start to unravel. So the story is told from three perspectives. One is Riends of course, another is a lovelorn moonshiner and then the last is a reclusive house white. And those three voices work together to tell the true story that's hiding behind this mountain legend. It's stunning. So you know, this book blew me away as a preacher's kid. Yeah, we're both preachers kids and I think I felt this story all the way to my bones, I kept putting it down and then picking it back up and the need to believe everything a charismatic preacher father believes is so real and yet and yet So tell me the origin story of this. Where did the original member of this story come from? How did you possibly come to write about a one eyed snake handler preacher and his 15 year old daughter named ren? Yeah, you know, I think there's a few different answers to this question, but the truth is this story I think has lived inside me since I was young and I attended a faith healing church, you know, where people spoke in tongues and prophecy and all those things and there was something very beautiful and sacred about it and yet something very hard to understand and almost violent in its intensity. But when I actually started putting pen to paper, my first book as you mentioned, was a memoir and that book is about what it's like to be a young woman who needs to keep a secret and how that secret reverberate through a life and through a community and what that experience taught me is what it means to be a woman who has a story that hasn't been heard. You know, it's such a great act of compassion to bear witness to someone's story. So when I turned to fiction, I started thinking about, what does it mean to be written out of your own story? What is it? Oh wow. To choose a life where you are misunderstood and forgotten? And how does that change the trajectory of a life? Because, you know, we have this preacher who is so set in his ways and all the characters are trying to find because he is who he is. All the other characters are trying to find a way to outlive these labels that have been put on them. Like what does it mean if I'm not the preacher's daughter, what does it mean if I'm not the snake handlers wife? What does it mean if I'm not struck by lightning? And I think for the women in the novel, it encourages them to think about what life means beyond the mountain. What what might it look like to see something they've never seen before, but prior, it makes him bet on himself, right. He has no humility. And every other plot point that happens in the novel is because he thinks every story revolves around him and there's something I think very real about that and my growing up, it just felt like every single story was centered around a man. And I really wanted to tell the story when when it...

...centers around the women instead, but also to talk about the fallout when every story is about a man and what that what that does to women. I love what you just said. What does it mean if I'm not and then just fill in the blank. Right, What does it mean if I'm not this or that? And then the the word that kept coming through my head when you were talking about the preacher is the word humorous and this belief that everybody else needed to fall in line to this solid core belief of who he was. I mean all those are our deep things that have been in use since since you were a child. What was the ember that started the fire of writing the story? The first thing that I thought of was that I wanted to open the book with somebody on fire. I don't know where it came from. I don't know why, but I was so captured by the idea of a woman catching fire. And I think it has to do with all these things that we've been saying, you know, women constantly written out of their own stories. And I wanted to just have a very tangible example that I had nothing else to go on. I just saw this woman catching fire and then I wanted there to be something that looked like a miracle. But it turned out it really wasn't. And there was all this fallout from that. And it was interesting because when I started to write, I tried to keep going forward from that moment. Like what happens next to this woman who catches fire and their best friend's husband put the fire out, Is that the opening scene of the book? But what I found that was so interesting was that the story was pulling me back, right, pulling me back in time. I couldn't go forward without going back. And I realized that that is because I think that the way women tell stories works backwards, you know, we think back through our mothers and all these things that aren't said and all these secrets that were kept. So even I when I started writing this book, I wanted to write about what it felt like to be the daughter of a man like this, that sort of sucks the air out of any room that he's in. But then I realized as I was writing it that the real power and the real miracle comes from these women who aren't showing right, they have a really real faith, but it doesn't have to have all these bells and whistles on it. Breyer is somebody who thinks the miracle has to look like a lightning strike, right? Has to come with this capital M God stamp on it and ren then it's looking for miracles that are all in the wrong places. You know? So part of her growing up in her coming of age is realizing she does believe in miracles. They just don't have to look like what her dad told her. They have to look like they are there at her fingertips when she sees these women in her life continuing to sacrifice themselves for each other. And I didn't know that when I started writing the book, it was something that I feel the book gave me that I wasn't expecting, I was sort of thinking I'm going to take down, you know, this patriarchal society, but what it gave me was that women are building themselves up. I didn't I couldn't see the story behind the story, even though when I started I said, I'm going to tell the story behind the story, but I didn't know what it was. You know, I had to find it and that was so meaningful for me. And I think that is what this book will always give me and why I hold it so close in my heart is that there is just this ever last thing Love and gift of women doesn't matter if they're seeing or if they're not, it's there, you know? And so that's I think when I think about the book, what resonates with me, Whoa, whoa, fascinating, whoa. I mean, we talk a lot about between us at friends in fiction and with run about how books give to us as much as we give to them. And that sounds like that's what this book did to you. It really did. And that's something else that this book taught me to and you probably feel this way to patty. I mean when I start writing I'm usually writing about something that I'm grieving or something that I don't understand because so much of a good book is asking the right question. Right? It's not it's not about finding the right answer, you know? And I think the question I was asking myself in this book is if you can't change your circumstances, where do you find your strength? And every character in the book answers that question in a different way? And I realized for me in answering that question is when I can't change my circumstances, I find joy in telling stories. And so any time I can sit down and pinpoint where the joy is coming from, because I'll always be able to put my finger on where the grief is, that sort of, you know, I think what I'm naturally wired, but for me it becomes a real story when I say I'm getting joy from this, you know, and that was what happened with Moonshine. I mean, that came out of...

...nowhere. The book is you know, about miracles, certainly, but it's also about The Miracle of Moonshine. And that was such a surprise. And I was writing a book that I didn't expect to include. And then it became this backbone because it gave me so much joy to write it. I love it, I love it all. And so you talked a lot about your connection to Appalachia and it can be very stereotyped and it sounds like you broke through that a lot. Did you have any influences from growing up and things that you based some of the characters on? I wanted to write a book about Appalachia, because it is such a stereotyped place that's often lampooned for being poor and, you know, uneducated and ignorant and my experience has been that there are people living fully textured lives. And I wanted to put that on the page all of its splendor and complications. The people I know they're the women I know there they have lived life full of dreams and triumphs and failures. And I wanted to show all of that on the page. Women in particular, I think avalanches an area that continues to be emptied out for the rest of the world, whether it's coal or steel or strip mine. And the women in china that I wrote about, that's exactly what they do, they're continually giving. And there's something that's so beautiful about that, but there's something that's also so chilling about that kind of loss. And I wanted to be able to capture that on the page. I think the women in my life that I've known, I mean, my mother certainly is such a strong woman who grew up, much like ruby did in the novel, ruby's Friends mother, my grandmother, I based a lot of rubies opinions in life on her. My grandmother was just like her where she, you know, she would never buy anything new. She would go into her claws and look at her been of fabrics and that was that, I mean, she sewed, you know, my dresses, all that sort of thing. And I wanted to show that kind of strength. That's not making something out of nothing, but making something out of what already is that to me felt like what it means to be an Appalachian woman. So I wanted that that line is one of my favorites in the book when I describe her, because I just think there's so much strength and you're taking what you have and remaking it into something new. Well, I felt like I was there and I know that you grew up in Western pennsylvania, which is a different part of Appalachia than we're accustomed to hearing about. Right? Yes. And actually it's funny, I did not, I was not familiar with the term Appalachia for the rust belt until I left when I was 18 and went to college and I got a lot of questions about why are you named Amy Jo and you know, what is this accent you had? And I realized again that there was this sense of outside pressure looking in on someone like me to define me as a hillbilly or whatever. So I had to, it was a lot of culture shock in leaving with reverse culture shock to sort of look back and say, oh that's how the rest of the world sees us as these terms. I never, I never heard the term faith healing church even until I left, you know, it just wasn't like terms people use. So it was really interesting for me and maybe part of my own development as a person to kind of see, there's what the rest of the world thinks that's true. And then there's what I know is true. So now let's talk about Moon shine, because that is yes, because that is part of the blood and title of this book. So, you know, as we're talking about origins, it's part of it. Did you already know a whole lot about it? Or did you research it? And Amy Amy Wine moonshine? So, I mean, I knew nothing about moonshine when I started writing this book. What ended up happening was I was doing some research by reading this group of anthologies called the Foxfire Books. I'm sure you guys have heard of it, They're they're fantastic. They're basically oral histories of life in the mountains. So I was reading about faith feeling to just sort of square up what my experience was with what other people reported. And right next to that section in the book is was one called Moonshining is a Fine Art. And I thought, oh, that's fascinating. Let me read about that. And the more that I read about it, I just fell in love with it. And I think part of it was where I was at in my life, I had a newborn who was born early at the time. He never slept, he was up all the time. So we was night and we were up and I'm reading about this book, and so much of what moonshiners do is being up at night and working alone in the dark. And so I spent so many nights that summer where my son was just a few months old being awake. And I felt this...

...real kinship with these other people who are also alone in awake at night and at work. And it was such a gift to me because I what that gave me the research of it, not only like I said, did it give me joy in writing the book and creating this moonshiner character who I fell in love with, but I think Moonshine taught me the importance of showing up, you know, showing up for your loved ones, showing up for your land, showing up for your community, for your art. I mean, these people give everything they have into a bucket of mash, you know, that's sort of like corn, sugar and water, they can put all this work in and it can spoil at the end of a week or two and then they're back at the beginning, they have to put so much faith in themselves, so much based in your earth and water for it to come together all the while. So misunderstood and sort of, you know, criticized and land Putin for something it was never meant to be. I mean, you know, the legendary moonshiner, somebody who's got dollar bills hanging out of his jeans, but that's not the case. A lot of these people just bottled the life that they lived and wanted to share it with the people they love. And that was what caught my attention in my heart, so much was these people are misunderstood and they're just trying to live their lives, perform their arts and find their own sense of miracles within that space of being misunderstood. And then I just thought, oh my gosh, I have to include this in the novel because it gave such a different perspective of what it means to have faith and what it means to love people than what we see in Breyer. And so I wanted there to be something else that says there's more to this story, right of what it means to live here. I love it. As I was reading the book, Faith and Moonshine were just such metaphors for everything that happened to the characters and their journey. And it just it just added so many layers to it. So, I'm so glad you did that research. Let's go back a little bit since we're talking about origin stories. You mentioned earlier a little bit about your memoir Sunderland. How did that jump start your publishing journey and how is it different than this book? And how did the process differ? I never thought I would write a memoir. I still can't believe I wrote a memoir. I don't think I have it in me to write another memoir. It was one of these things that I just I had written a book, a novel that wasn't very good. And I tried to sell it and I couldn't sell because it wasn't very good. But I didn't know it wasn't very good. So I thought let me let me go back to school and and give learning how to do this another shot. And it just so happened. I actually got into a nonfiction M. F. A. Program and I entered with this other idea of something I wanted to write and my wonderful teacher and mentor louise desalvo. She sat me down and said, I want you to tell me where you're from. And I said, oh you don't understand, nothing happens where I'm from, right? But that wasn't true. The truth was, there was so much that happened where I was from, but I was afraid to tell it or I thought if I tell this truth, it's going to come at the price of everything that I have and I hold here. So the first book that I wrote syndrome and became a very long answer to that question of where I'm from. And like I said, it is about a secret that I kept for a very long time and I was not the only person or a young woman who kept the secret in regards to a teacher who was sexually assaulting the students. And so the book is more about the price of silence on a young generation and what that did to a community. So, you know, it's a, it's a very sobering book, but something I'm so proud of because when I look back at that book, I see me writing about my first love, which was my hometown and our breakup story, and why it couldn't work out and why I had to leave and why I missed it every day and I can never live there again. You know, when I finished writing it though, I was so sick of myself, I thought I just I can't I can't think about myself anymore. And um, but I wanted to continue to write about things that were important to me and felt risky. And I think faith is another great love story of my life, that it continues to be a really beautiful, not I continue to untangle in meaningful ways for myself, but I just didn't want to talk about me, you know what I mean? So I said, I'm gonna try another novel and I felt like I could breathe. I mean there's something that is so beautiful about memoir, it's extremely introspective and it taught me a way of being in the world that I think is very useful in terms of thinking about how the past continues to imprint the present and the kind of present person I want to be. And I think that served me really well when I transitioned into fiction because fiction just feels like wide open spaces and I love that and it felt like, you know, when I was a...

...memoirist I had no choice, I had to stick with what I did what the truth was. But then when you switch to fiction, you kind of feel like, oh my goodness, there's so many choices, you know? So it helped me to think of it as you know, in both circumstances, I'm the driver in the car, right? But memoir kind of exists in the rear view mirror, whereas fiction is at the horizon. And I think as I'm able to continue having conversations with myself about those two genres, it helps me plant my feet in one or the other, but it was such a joy to be able to write about things that felt intimate to me, but not have it be me. And that was sort of the birth of ran who it is like me and that she's got such hope in the world and ivy, who's the best friend who has so much cynicism that I also have. So it was really fun to kind of assigned little bits of myself into the character. So they have some skin, but also make them nothing like me. So it felt like I could hang out with other people, you know, have other friends other than myself. Yeah, well I can say that we are so thrilled that you told the truth in two different ways because that's what you're doing. You're telling the kind of brave, not kind of the brave and courageous truths of our lives and one in memoir and one in this astounding book, shiner amy, thank you so much for being with us. This is such an astounding book and everyone out there it is now out in paperback, Amy jo Burn shiner, Go Get You one. 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. Yeah, wow.

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