Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 4 months 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 FictionWriter's Block podcast. Five new york times, bestselling novelists, endlessstories joined mary Kay andrews, Christine Harmel, Christie Woodson,harvey paddy, Callaghan, Henry and mary Alice Munro along with librarian RonBlock As novelists were five longtime friends with more than 80 publishedbooks between us and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating authorinterviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you lovebooks 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. CathyCunningham was a successful but unfulfilled radio executive in Atlantaone 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 comein six varieties and they are the best selling cheese straw in the UnitedStates plus the cookies are melt in your mouth, delicious yummy snacks anda woman owned empire. Now that is something that we here at Friends andfiction can get behind try them, you'll be so glad that you did get 20% off onyour online order at Mama Geraldine's dot com with the Code Fab five snack onY'all. Welcome to the Friends and FictionWriter'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 oftheir stories and their ideas for their latest work and learn how thoseblossomed into some of our favorite reads on today's episode. We arethrilled to welcome Chris Whitaker, author of the phenomenal. We begin atthe end of which Kristin Hannah wrote a vibrant, engrossing, unP put downdouble thriller that packs a serious emotional punch. One of those rarebooks that surprise you along the way and then linger in your mind long afteryou have finished it. We are also lucky enough to be talkingwith Amy Jo Burns, the author of Shiner which Booklist awarded a starred reviewand which I gave 1000 stars. And booklist said no and booklist said thisgorgeously written plot rich novel examines the complex lives of fivebeautifully realized characters being set in Appalachia. It is no surprisethat the novel is also about story and its gradual morphing into legend. Thismemorable first novel is exceptional in its power and imagination. It's clearlya must read, I am paddy, Callaghan Henry and I am Ron block. First up, wewelcome Chris Whitaker who is the award winning author of Tall Oak, All theWicked Girls. And we begin at the end, All three books were published towidespread critical acclaim, with Tall Oaks going on to win the C W A johncreasy new blood dagger award, which is a mouthful of an award, instant newyork times bestseller and the number one indie. Next pick, we begin at theend was also a Waterstones thriller of the month. A Barnes and Noble Book ClubPick a Good Morning America Buzz Pick and now an amazon editors Best book of2021 so far so far. It is long listed for both the gold and the Steel Daggerawards when not writing chris works at his local library where he gets tosurround himself with books just like our Ron block. Yeah, we'll have that incommon. Welcome chris. We're so glad you're here. Thank you for having meand thank you for the lovely introduction. Thanks chris for beinghere. We are so thrilled because we're both such huge fans of the book. Butlet's just start a little bit with you telling us about this novel. We beginat the end and a little bit about the thought provoking title. Okay, so, thestory follows a year in the life of the 13 year old girl named Duchess stayradley. And um and the Chief of police of the local town that she lives in inin 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 thedeath of a child that occurs in the very beginning of this story. And thebook kind of follows them after this, this event 30 years later, and we findout, you know, duchess wasn't born then, but she's very much struggling with hermother, who is an alcoholic and a drug...

...user, and walk is the policeman thatkind of kind of cares for her and takes care of her and she would struggle toadmit that, you know, she claims that she doesn't need anyone and a convictedkiller returns to their town and This guy used to date her mother 30 yearsago and duchesses worried about him and the impact he's going to have on theirfault on their small family because she's kind of the carer to her youngerbrother as well. So she takes action, kind of preemptive action. And we getto witness the fallout of this, of this this act that she commits andeverything kind of goes wrong for her and and she has an eventful year and wewe come along for the right. It is quite the year for a 13 year old girland you bring it alive in. It leaps off the page. But before we get abouttalking about some of the other things in the book, I want to talk about yourpath to becoming a writer. I know you were a stock trader, which does notseem the normal path to writer. And you revealed some very personal things in aGuardian article late last year. And I've listened to your talk with tim atNantucket Books. We had our own book group about Duchess where you revealedsome of these same things. So as I told Ron your origin story for this book isone of the most touching and extraordinary I've ever heard. Can youtell 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 beginningwhen I was at school. I was not academic, shall we say? I didn't applymyself. I didn't um I just didn't enjoy it that much, you know, I like going toschool. I like seeing my friends, I didn't like the work, so I used to kindof, I used to cut school a lot and mess around and and I went out and gotreally 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 paidto university, I mean, I could I could have resat but to be honest, nothingappealed enough, you know, I was one of those people that was eager to get outthere into the world um what I perceived to be the real world, youknow, 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 wasI did some bar work which I loved worked in a bakery, which I also lovedsold electrical cabling. I didn't like that so much and but nothing reallygrabbed me. You know, I expected to kind of fall into something. I don'tknow 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. Becauserarely do we find we do interview people and I do talk to authors who sayI knew from the moment I was seven years old and I picked up charlotte'sweb that I wanted to be a writer and I took a convoluted path. I worked at abakery chris so that's fantastic. I ate all the, I ate all the frosting. Iworked at drive throughs. But yes, I mean my education is as a pediatricnurse. So when I hear how you you went from all that and then suddenly youended up in stock trader. Yeah. Yes. But yeah, it was a strange route intothat. It gets stranger still. So I was I was working as a real estate agentand kind of like a junior, yeah, kind of like an office junior and I was outdropping flyers and leaflets through people's doors. And it was early onemorning in London in North London probably about nine o'clock in themorning. And and someone came up to me just a random man and asked to borrowmy cellphone and I knew I was going to get mugged because you know being alondoner, you know what's coming. You know my friends have been a few of myfriends 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 Ijust said no, I flat out said no, because he wasn't very big. I justthought I just I'm not giving you my cell phone. And and we we had a bit ofa fight and then he pulled out a kitchen knife and I thought it was toscare me because it was a big, it was too big. The knife. You know, that'swhat I thought at the time, this is to this is not going to happen. And thenhe stabbed me repeatedly in the side. And I didn't know because I had theadrenaline going. So I thought I was being punched um and didn't really feelmuch. I didn't feel any pain really. And then I looked down and saw justblood everywhere. And so I dropped my my cell phone and my wallet and hepicked them both up and kind of made some threats as well at the time thathe 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 mycar was nearby and the hospital was...

...quite nearby. So I managed to get backto my car and drove myself to hospital and just about made it there as I wasbeginning, you know, as the world was starting to go black, just asterrifying. Yes, it is, isn't it? And as we as readers of crime fiction andthings and what we watch television, don't we? With violence and it's justit's so different in real life, you know, it's so personal. If that's theright 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 novelfelt so alive. You have been in that place where you're on the balance ofthe 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 otherthan get to the hospital, get some help. So I did and they did help me. And Ijust I had some stitches and I had three scars on my side and which I kindof hate. You know, I wish they were just they faded a lot, but they'rethey're like a constant reminder of a bad time. But but the consensus wasthat I was lucky. You know, and I've had this lucky escape and you just, youknow, when people say, you know what they mean, but you don't feel lucky atall, you just feel really unlucky. I was just going about my business, youknow, and and it happened, so I was I was kind of expected to just dustmyself 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, itdidn't work out like that tall and and I now know it was PTSD but I didn'tknow anything at the time, I didn't know it was the lack of sleep, getlying down at night and just running it over and over, you know, could I havedone something different, why did this happen? What if this had happened? Youknow, and it's just mentally exhausting and it just really took a toll and itwent on and on and I had, my older brother went to a really gooduniversity and and has always been kind of a together person and so my parentsnever had to worry about him and so I didn't want to be the one that they hadto worry about, so I didn't say anything. I know, but but my family area bit like that, you know, my parents split when I was quite young and my momworked 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 toughsingle mother thing going on and so I didn't want to burden anyone so I justkept my mouth shut about it. I just smiled and got on with it and had agirlfriend at the time and just didn't tell her anything either. But you knowinside I was in a real bad place and I was not sleeping, not reading, notwatching tv, I couldn't do anything like that, anything normal. And then II made a decision just to I was going to take a load of painkillers and thatwas my way out of that situation. So I couldn't think of another one. But atthat time I had been to the library and I got a book. It was kind of a selfhelp book and it talked about a technique where you you take the theincident the trauma and you change it, you change the character involves, youchange the location and you change the outcome if you want. You know you canwrite it in any way you want. And I think it's a way of taking control ofsomething 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, sheappeared on the page close to fully formed. You know, I had a strong visionof this girl wearing a Stetson carrying a gun, very much a victim, but stillstrong enough to get through all the kind of crap that's thrown at her. Andso I started writing and I wrote the bar scene, there's a scene whereDuchess's mother star is playing the guitar and she's being heckled heckledby the drunks. And Duchess breaks a bottle and holds the glass up in theair, you know, as you know in that way that she does, you know, she she dealswith her problems head on kind of I was kind of so I wrote this scene and Iwent 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 sleepbecause it had been so long and I carried on writing. I wrote it wasn't abook at all, it wasn't I didn't even want it to be a book, I didn't want tobe a writer. I just knew that there was something that was helping me In thisexercise. So I carried on writing random scenes involving this girl thatwas struggling far more than I was, you know. So if I was and I projected ontothe page, so if I was angry she was 10 times angrier. You know, if I wasfeeling lost, she just had no hope at all. And it made me feel better thatshe could get through these things then I should be able to. That's kind of howI felt. Then I went out and got really drunk and was taking drugs at the timebecause I was struggling and I drove my car off the side of the road andflipped it over and went, went back to the hospital again to be stitched backtogether as a scar down my cheek and didn't tell my family like this was agood chance to come clean to my mum.

She was so disappointed in me. Rememberthat conversation, you know about drink driving and it was just, it was a badtime. But But I went back to Montana to Duchess where I was setting it, youknow, travel mentally, traveled to 4000 miles and and again got through thatdifficult time and then we come to the stockbroking part of the story. So itwas 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 bychance I picked up a newspaper and read an article about this. It was kind ofthis guy splashed across two pages and it was his life and it was his Ferrariin his yacht and his mansion and, and he was a stockbroker and I did someresearch online and paid for my stockbroking exams and just gotqualified. You know, I worked really hard and studied for them and then wentinto the city and that was all I had on my CV. You know, there was nothing Icould write on it other than this, you know, I've got this qualification andand one company out of the probably dozen that I went and sat in thewaiting room of took pity on me. I assume it was pity. They gave me a jobas a trainee stockbroker and, and so my life changed again, you know, all of asudden I was out five nights a week until the early hours cliententertaining and things like that. It suited me quite well because I'm stilla bad sleeper. But with that life, you know, it kind of goes hand in hand withdrink and drugs and And I was a bit of an 80s cliche, you know, like I want tobe Gordon get out. So I was like, yeah, I did that for a few years and loved itand kind of didn't write anything because I didn't feel I needed to andstarted to feel like I had left that old version of me behind. And then I Iasked my boss if I could work on the trading desk which was my dream job. Iwanted to be a trader because they were kind of at the sharp end of thebusiness. You know they take the money the company makes and they reinvest itstraight into the stock market. There's no clients, you make your own decisionsand he was kind enough to give me a sharp With them with a warning that ifI lost $20,000 that's it, you stop trading And we talk about what wentwrong. And then the next day I lost $2 million dollars on my first day andobviously 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 bitmore money and then I came in one day and it was this nice office and therewas like a glass boardroom, you know with glass windows all around it. And Isaw everyone in there, the bosses and lawyers and and and an empty spot atthe end of the table for me. So I came in and I am, I sat down and obviouslythey 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 wantedto be and and and things were changing slowly so they gave me the option topay back half the money or they would go to the police, you know, and and itwas a really, it was a kind thing of them to do because you know, um, theycould have And my life would be very different now I mentioned, but I signeda contract there and then and went home in $1 million 24 and it's a lot to takeall of a sudden and we were getting married, you know, my wife was Planninga big wedding because on the surface I was a successful stockbroker, not aperson 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 wentback to duchess because I needed her again. You know, I was right backtaking drugs, drinking too much because I couldn't, I, I worked so hard to getpast the stabbing and now I'd messed up like spectacularly, you know, I justfelt like the biggest screw up and went back to Duchess and she got me throughit, you know, just sitting down writing those scenes helped me and I workedreally 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 LastChild by John Hart. I don't know if you've read some john harper. Yeah, so I read The Last Child and itwas just, it was brilliant. It was an eye opening Kind of emotional, justhe's such a good writer, he's so talented. And then I read an interviewwith John Hart where he was a lawyer, a successful lawyer, he wanted to be awriter because because it made him happy, he quit his job and just decidedto write. And so I was nearing 30 years...

...old, my wife was pregnant and a studentand so we were kind of vulnerable, but okay, because, you know, we were on thepath we wanted to be on, I was making good money and I quit my job there andthen after reading that interview and I read it at my desk. Yeah, and so I camehome 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 writtenanything before, you know, to suddenly say I'm a writer now, you know, it wasmad, it's as mad as it sounds, but I think she knew that I hadn't been happyand she was okay, you know, she's brilliant, she's very supportive andshe said to me, you know, let's do it, let's, the next day we put ourapartment on the market and sold it and we got rid of our car and we justchanged our lives to give me the shot of them being happy and doing somethingthat I wanted to do. And so we moved to Spain for a while where I got writingtool oaks, my debut and then we came back and that's when the book got, youknow, I discovered that you needed an agent and a publishing deal. Who knewthat, you know, surprise Yeah, I know, and getting an agent is a difficultthing 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 becausewriting was the only constant in my life and the only thing that kind ofmade 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 yourEdgar's. So we flew back and I signed with an agency, got a publishing dealand one The Dagger. And then took a job in the library alongside writing andwrote another book before I got back to duchess till we begin at the end. Andinterestingly, so I wrote, we begin at the end. And then I was working at thelibrary when I got an email from john Hart telling me that he had read thebook and I really loved it. And my instinct was to email him back and tellhim that he'd saved my life. And I stopped, I stopped myself because hewould have thought I was insane. But I have since done an event with john Hartand told john harper john Hart story, which was which was a really nicemoment. And I sent it to him because I think it's a nice thing to tell someonethat they've had such an impact on, on you just through their words. And thatis the story that pretty much brings us up today. I think we can say that johnHart might have saved your career, but I feel that duchess Day radley savedyour life. I think so. I am. Yeah, I think so. I don't know if I would havehad the courage to quit my job, had I not read the inspiring john Hartinterview, but I like to think I would have found my way back to duchess. Ididn't even want it to be published. You know, I didn't, it felt It's soweird to say that it's a story about a 13 year old girl. But it feels sopersonal to me because I remember mentally where I was when I wrote everyscene in that book. So so I said that I would write it because it was kind ofcalling out to me. There was a file on my computer, Mark Duchess and everytime I log in I just saw it and I felt like there was unfinished business. SoI got to work on it and just spent years probably five years or somethinglike that, working on Dutchess and turning it into a book before AmyEinhorn got her hands on it and properly turned it into a book becauseyou know, at that point I was still wobbling. I didn't really want itpublished. I didn't, no, you know, I didn't want to put it out there and shemade everything better her and the team at hope, they kind of helped my handthrough it and guided me and and now we have a finished book that you've readand it's you know, I'm lucky, I feel really lucky and I walk around saying Iam an outlaw whenever something is, whenever something comes at me, I'mlike, 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 readit 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 hasbasically saved her life. What a way out of trauma to um did she change overtime or did she just reflect what you were going through? Um she probablyjust reflected it. I mean, even the writing stayed fairly true to it, youknow, 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 withoutquite un emotionally, I just wrote about this girl. Matter of fact, wethis is what happened, this is what she...

...did and I kind of stuck to that and itfelt right duchess evolved in a way that took years, you know, she, she shestruggled so much, doesn't she? And she has such a tough time and and you kindof, you know, if I've done my job right then then read as a kind of willing herto do the right thing and make the right decisions and just sometimes biteher 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 itcan be quite difficult to read sometimes, but I I kind of stayed trueto that that character that I had written, you know, all those years agoand and just just built out around her really kind of, you know, I spent Ispent 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 andpeople duchesses age talking and picking up on speech patterns andthings like that and and yeah, I just I just knew that it actually had to beright, otherwise the story just wouldn't work. She's such a key part ofthat story and I hope I managed it so well. We were saying that she isprobably among our very favorite literary characters ever ever. That'sthat's the ultimate compliment. Absolutely. We agree, thank you verymuch 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 havemuch time for anything else. And if the book is not going well, I'm kind of Igo quiet and my kids sometimes worry about me and I do wonder sometimes ifit's been worth it. And I think it has for the most part, I agree. I thinkthat 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 ofyou to share the back story because it's just as powerful as the bookitself. Well, I kind of I discussed it with Amy going into it, you know howhonest I'm going to be about it and to to tell it any other way just wouldn'tbe the truth. You know? And when people ask where duchess came from, where thestory came from, I just I have faith in people understanding and being kind andeveryone has been. But on the flip side I worry about my Children one day, youknow, picking up this story and or googling me and finding interviews andand because I told them it's a shark bite on the side of the car. Daddy gotbitten by a shark. Yeah. Yeah, I'll have some explaining to do. But theGuardian article you spoke of is the first time my dad ever found out thatstory. 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 hesaid there's an article about you in The Guardian, is it true? Um and I saidyes and then he had to go at me to taking drugs, wow. I guess there's athere's a cost to truth. But the flip side of it is how much it's going tohelp 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'seasier for people to talk about their feelings and their and their mistakesmore importantly, you know, because I'm not proud of a lot of the stuff I'vedone, 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 beena writer. Yeah, so you have to believe sometimes that you know, you're aproduct of all the things you've done, both, good and bad, the astounding. I'mjust 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 mostfascinating glimpse into an origin story and process and we're going tohave to have you back because I have a whole bunch more questions aboutMontana and working in libraries and one of your books was set in Alabamawhere 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 theride you. It's always such a joy when the personality of warmth and openheartedness matches the book. It's as if the book and you have meldedtogether and I bow to that so perfectly...

...put patty, I couldn't thank you. That'sthat'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 tous and we'll be like yeah, awesome, thank you, thank you chris thank youfor having me. Mhm Yeah, now let's welcome Amy Jo Burns, authorof Shiner, Just out in paperback. Amy jo Burns is the author of the memoirSunderland. Her writing has appeared in the paris review Daily Tin HousePlowshares, Gay magazine, Electric literature literary hub and theanthology. Not that bad, I love this book. Welcome Amy. Thank you so muchfor having me. This is so great Amy. Let's start out by having you tell usabout Shiner. What do readers need to know to get them excited to read thisbook? That Patty and I both adored your opening line. Making Good Moonshineisn't that different from telling a good story and no one tells a storylike a woman just grabs you right from the get go tell us about ran and herfather and also the meaning of the title, Well what you need to know aboutthe book is you know ren is a 15 year old girl who's living a very secludedlife in the mountains of West Virginia with her parents and her father becamethis local legend when he got struck by lightning when he was 18 years old andhe becomes a snake handling preacher and one summer ren witnesses himperform a miracle that goes horribly wrong. And then all of these familysecrets start to unravel. So the story is told from three perspectives. One isRiends of course, another is a lovelorn moonshiner and then the last is areclusive house white. And those three voices work together to tell the truestory that's hiding behind this mountain legend. It's stunning. So youknow, this book blew me away as a preacher's kid. Yeah, we're bothpreachers kids and I think I felt this story all the way to my bones, I keptputting it down and then picking it back up and the need to believeeverything a charismatic preacher father believes is so real and yet andyet So tell me the origin story of this. Where did the original member of thisstory come from? How did you possibly come to write about a one eyed snakehandler preacher and his 15 year old daughter named ren? Yeah, you know, Ithink there's a few different answers to this question, but the truth is thisstory I think has lived inside me since I was young and I attended a faithhealing church, you know, where people spoke in tongues and prophecy and allthose things and there was something very beautiful and sacred about it andyet something very hard to understand and almost violent in its intensity.But when I actually started putting pen to paper, my first book as youmentioned, was a memoir and that book is about what it's like to be a youngwoman who needs to keep a secret and how that secret reverberate through alife and through a community and what that experience taught me is what itmeans to be a woman who has a story that hasn't been heard. You know, it'ssuch a great act of compassion to bear witness to someone's story. So when Iturned to fiction, I started thinking about, what does it mean to be writtenout of your own story? What is it? Oh wow. To choose a life where you aremisunderstood and forgotten? And how does that change the trajectory of alife? Because, you know, we have this preacher who is so set in his ways andall the characters are trying to find because he is who he is. All the othercharacters are trying to find a way to outlive these labels that have been puton them. Like what does it mean if I'm not the preacher's daughter, what doesit mean if I'm not the snake handlers wife? What does it mean if I'm notstruck by lightning? And I think for the women in the novel, it encouragesthem to think about what life means beyond the mountain. What what might itlook like to see something they've never seen before, but prior, it makeshim bet on himself, right. He has no humility. And every other plot pointthat happens in the novel is because he thinks every story revolves around himand there's something I think very real about that and my growing up, it justfelt like every single story was centered around a man. And I reallywanted to tell the story when when it...

...centers around the women instead, butalso to talk about the fallout when every story is about a man and whatthat what that does to women. I love what you just said. What does it meanif I'm not and then just fill in the blank. Right, What does it mean if I'mnot this or that? And then the the word that kept coming through my head whenyou were talking about the preacher is the word humorous and this belief thateverybody 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 youwere 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 withsomebody on fire. I don't know where it came from. I don't know why, but I wasso captured by the idea of a woman catching fire. And I think it has to dowith all these things that we've been saying, you know, women constantlywritten out of their own stories. And I wanted to just have a very tangibleexample that I had nothing else to go on. I just saw this woman catching fireand then I wanted there to be something that looked like a miracle. But itturned out it really wasn't. And there was all this fallout from that. And itwas interesting because when I started to write, I tried to keep going forwardfrom that moment. Like what happens next to this woman who catches fire andtheir best friend's husband put the fire out, Is that the opening scene ofthe book? But what I found that was so interesting was that the story waspulling me back, right, pulling me back in time. I couldn't go forward withoutgoing back. And I realized that that is because I think that the way women tellstories works backwards, you know, we think back through our mothers and allthese things that aren't said and all these secrets that were kept. So even Iwhen I started writing this book, I wanted to write about what it felt liketo be the daughter of a man like this, that sort of sucks the air out of anyroom that he's in. But then I realized as I was writing it that the real powerand the real miracle comes from these women who aren't showing right, theyhave a really real faith, but it doesn't have to have all these bellsand whistles on it. Breyer is somebody who thinks the miracle has to look likea lightning strike, right? Has to come with this capital M God stamp on it andren 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 inmiracles. They just don't have to look like what her dad told her. They haveto look like they are there at her fingertips when she sees these women inher life continuing to sacrifice themselves for each other. And I didn'tknow that when I started writing the book, it was something that I feel thebook gave me that I wasn't expecting, I was sort of thinking I'm going to takedown, you know, this patriarchal society, but what it gave me was thatwomen are building themselves up. I didn't I couldn't see the story behindthe story, even though when I started I said, I'm going to tell the storybehind the story, but I didn't know what it was. You know, I had to find itand that was so meaningful for me. And I think that is what this book willalways give me and why I hold it so close in my heart is that there is justthis ever last thing Love and gift of women doesn't matter if they're seeingor if they're not, it's there, you know? And so that's I think when I thinkabout 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 abouthow books give to us as much as we give to them. And that sounds like that'swhat this book did to you. It really did. And that's something else thatthis book taught me to and you probably feel this way to patty. I mean when Istart writing I'm usually writing about something that I'm grieving orsomething that I don't understand because so much of a good book isasking the right question. Right? It's not it's not about finding the rightanswer, you know? And I think the question I was asking myself in thisbook is if you can't change your circumstances, where do you find yourstrength? And every character in the book answers that question in adifferent way? And I realized for me in answering that question is when I can'tchange my circumstances, I find joy in telling stories. And so any time I cansit down and pinpoint where the joy is coming from, because I'll always beable to put my finger on where the grief is, that sort of, you know, Ithink what I'm naturally wired, but for me it becomes a real story when I sayI'm getting joy from this, you know, and that was what happened withMoonshine. I mean, that came out of...

...nowhere. The book is you know, aboutmiracles, certainly, but it's also about The Miracle of Moonshine. Andthat was such a surprise. And I was writing a book that I didn't expect toinclude. And then it became this backbone because it gave me so much joyto write it. I love it, I love it all. And so you talked a lot about yourconnection to Appalachia and it can be very stereotyped and it sounds like youbroke through that a lot. Did you have any influences from growing up andthings that you based some of the characters on? I wanted to write a bookabout Appalachia, because it is such a stereotyped place that's oftenlampooned for being poor and, you know, uneducated and ignorant and myexperience has been that there are people living fully textured lives. AndI wanted to put that on the page all of its splendor and complications. Thepeople I know they're the women I know there they have lived life full ofdreams 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 emptiedout for the rest of the world, whether it's coal or steel or strip mine. Andthe women in china that I wrote about, that's exactly what they do, they'recontinually giving. And there's something that's so beautiful aboutthat, 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 mylife that I've known, I mean, my mother certainly is such a strong woman whogrew up, much like ruby did in the novel, ruby's Friends mother, mygrandmother, I based a lot of rubies opinions in life on her. My grandmotherwas just like her where she, you know, she would never buy anything new. Shewould go into her claws and look at her been of fabrics and that was that, Imean, she sewed, you know, my dresses, all that sort of thing. And I wanted toshow that kind of strength. That's not making something out of nothing, butmaking something out of what already is that to me felt like what it means tobe an Appalachian woman. So I wanted that that line is one of my favoritesin the book when I describe her, because I just think there's so muchstrength 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 Westernpennsylvania, which is a different part of Appalachia than we're accustomed tohearing about. Right? Yes. And actually it's funny, I did not, I was notfamiliar with the term Appalachia for the rust belt until I left when I was18 and went to college and I got a lot of questions about why are you namedAmy Jo and you know, what is this accent you had? And I realized againthat there was this sense of outside pressure looking in on someone like meto define me as a hillbilly or whatever. So I had to, it was a lot of cultureshock in leaving with reverse culture shock to sort of look back and say, ohthat's how the rest of the world sees us as these terms. I never, I neverheard the term faith healing church even until I left, you know, it justwasn't like terms people use. So it was really interesting for me and maybepart of my own development as a person to kind of see, there's what the restof the world thinks that's true. And then there's what I know is true. Sonow let's talk about Moon shine, because that is yes, because that ispart of the blood and title of this book. So, you know, as we're talkingabout origins, it's part of it. Did you already know a whole lot about it? Ordid you research it? And Amy Amy Wine moonshine? So, I mean, I knew nothingabout moonshine when I started writing this book. What ended up happening wasI was doing some research by reading this group of anthologies called theFoxfire 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 readingabout faith feeling to just sort of square up what my experience was withwhat other people reported. And right next to that section in the book is wasone 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 inlove with it. And I think part of it was where I was at in my life, I had anewborn 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 ofwhat 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 fewmonths old being awake. And I felt this...

...real kinship with these other peoplewho are also alone in awake at night and at work. And it was such a gift tome 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 characterwho I fell in love with, but I think Moonshine taught me the importance ofshowing up, you know, showing up for your loved ones, showing up for yourland, showing up for your community, for your art. I mean, these people giveeverything they have into a bucket of mash, you know, that's sort of likecorn, sugar and water, they can put all this work in and it can spoil at theend of a week or two and then they're back at the beginning, they have to putso much faith in themselves, so much based in your earth and water for it tocome 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, youknow, the legendary moonshiner, somebody who's got dollar bills hangingout of his jeans, but that's not the case. A lot of these people justbottled the life that they lived and wanted to share it with the people theylove. And that was what caught my attention in my heart, so much wasthese 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 ofbeing misunderstood. And then I just thought, oh my gosh, I have to includethis in the novel because it gave such a different perspective of what itmeans to have faith and what it means to love people than what we see inBreyer. And so I wanted there to be something else that says there's moreto this story, right of what it means to live here. I love it. As I wasreading the book, Faith and Moonshine were just such metaphors for everythingthat happened to the characters and their journey. And it just it justadded so many layers to it. So, I'm so glad you did that research. Let's goback a little bit since we're talking about origin stories. You mentionedearlier a little bit about your memoir Sunderland. How did that jump startyour publishing journey and how is it different than this book? And how didthe 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 writeanother 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 sellbecause it wasn't very good. But I didn't know it wasn't very good. So Ithought let me let me go back to school and and give learning how to do thisanother 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 towrite and my wonderful teacher and mentor louise desalvo. She sat me downand said, I want you to tell me where you're from. And I said, oh you don'tunderstand, nothing happens where I'm from, right? But that wasn't true. Thetruth was, there was so much that happened where I was from, but I wasafraid to tell it or I thought if I tell this truth, it's going to come atthe price of everything that I have and I hold here. So the first book that Iwrote syndrome and became a very long answer to that question of where I'mfrom. And like I said, it is about a secret that I kept for a very long timeand I was not the only person or a young woman who kept the secret inregards to a teacher who was sexually assaulting the students. And so thebook is more about the price of silence on a young generation and what that didto a community. So, you know, it's a, it's a very sobering book, butsomething I'm so proud of because when I look back at that book, I see mewriting about my first love, which was my hometown and our breakup story, andwhy it couldn't work out and why I had to leave and why I missed it every dayand 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 myselfanymore. And um, but I wanted to continue to write about things thatwere important to me and felt risky. And I think faith is another great lovestory of my life, that it continues to be a really beautiful, not I continueto untangle in meaningful ways for myself, but I just didn't want to talkabout me, you know what I mean? So I said, I'm gonna try another novel and Ifelt like I could breathe. I mean there's something that is so beautifulabout memoir, it's extremely introspective and it taught me a way ofbeing in the world that I think is very useful in terms of thinking about howthe past continues to imprint the present and the kind of present personI want to be. And I think that served me really well when I transitioned intofiction because fiction just feels like wide open spaces and I love that and itfelt like, you know, when I was a...

...memoirist I had no choice, I had tostick with what I did what the truth was. But then when you switch tofiction, you kind of feel like, oh my goodness, there's so many choices, youknow? So it helped me to think of it as you know, in both circumstances, I'mthe driver in the car, right? But memoir kind of exists in the rear viewmirror, whereas fiction is at the horizon. And I think as I'm able tocontinue having conversations with myself about those two genres, it helpsme plant my feet in one or the other, but it was such a joy to be able towrite about things that felt intimate to me, but not have it be me. And thatwas sort of the birth of ran who it is like me and that she's got such hope inthe world and ivy, who's the best friend who has so much cynicism that Ialso have. So it was really fun to kind of assigned little bits of myself intothe character. So they have some skin, but also make them nothing like me. Soit felt like I could hang out with other people, you know, have otherfriends other than myself. Yeah, well I can say that we are so thrilled thatyou 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 truthsof 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 andeveryone out there it is now out in paperback, Amy jo Burn shiner, Go GetYou one. Thank you for tuning in, Join us everyweek on Facebook or YouTube where our live show airs every Wednesday night atseven p.m. eastern time and please subscribe to our podcast and follow uson instagram. We're so glad you're here. Yeah, wow.

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