I am so pleased in presenting my interview with Barbara Claypole White, another wonderful and talented Author from North Carolina. I read THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR a few months ago and fell in love. There is so much going on in this novel and I couldn’t wait to encourage others to read it. Thank you, Barbara, for the interview and I can’t wait for your next novel.
CL: Barbara, you touch on two important things in this novel: Depression and Alzheimers. I loved this. Both my grandparents passed away from Alzheimers and you handled both of these situations with grace, respect and knowledge. Tell me something about how or why you wrote about them.
BCW: Thank you. I do a ton of research, but I also write from the heart. As the mother of a brilliant young man with an anxiety disorder, I’m drawn to damaged characters—people who navigate invisible disabilities with courage and humor and hope.
While I was excavating the story that would become THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, a number of family friends were battling depression and one of them spent time on a locked psych ward. Galen developed from this person’s story along with a number of one-on-one interviews and a twisted maternal fear: what if my son were suicidal?
All my characters grow out of dark what if moments in my life. Jacob, for example, was inspired by an aging relative who was trapped in a traumatic cycle of memory loss that generated hostility toward family members. Eventually we learned this anger came from a desperate need for control. I took those experiences and gave them to my sweet, gentle, and rather wise Jacob, who is beginning to disappear into dementia. Jacob just wants the right to be treated with dignity and to enjoy the illicit Wild Turkey he sneaks into his retirement home. Despite his mashed-up memories, he sees things more clearly than most of the other characters in the novel. He is still the paternal center.
CL: Hannah is a very strong character…she has faced a lot of loss and I admired her. Was anyone an influence for her in particular?
BCW: Hannah was influenced by a friend who is a cancer survivor and someone I admire greatly. But characters tend to develop their own personalities and she did! Hannah was the hardest character for me to find. We’re polar opposites: she’s calm and spiritual while I’m a bundle of emotions. Getting to know her was a long, slow evolution. I remember one day rushing through a parking lot—I’m always rushing—and thinking, Hannah would never do this. She would stroll, she would smile. Probably stop to talk to someone. But it wasn’t until my son went through a downward spiral with his obsessive-compulsive disorder that Hannah lit up for me. I realized the calm exterior was a front and that underneath she was another terrified parent.
CL: The location is crucial to the novel and the atmosphere. Tell me something about why you chose that location and how did it influence your writing?
BCW: This novel is a love letter to my little corner of rural Orange County, North Carolina. I’ve lived here—in the forests of THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR—for nineteen years, and the land speaks to me—as a gardener, as a history buff, as someone who writes about mental illness. Each of my characters is conn ected to the forest in different ways: some good, some bad. You cannot take setting out of this novel. THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR is also a story about finding peace in dark corners, whether that darkness comes from grief or mental illness or just a sense of isolation. The woodland gardener in me loves that you can find hidden beauty deep in the shade of the forest. (We have incredible native plants: jack-in-the- pulpits, pitcher plants, etc.) I’m also obsessed with the light through the trees, especially the light of the gloaming when the sinking sun hits the treetops and they burn gold. All of my characters are trapped in that in-between time that is neither day nor night. The original title for this novel was The Gloaming.
And, like Hannah, I sense living, breathing history on this land. The forest behind our house is littered with rusty mule shoes and wagon wheel frames, forgotten graves and hiking trails that connect to the historic Indian Trading Path. It reminds me of that wonderful Rudyard Kipling poem, The Way Through The Woods.
And when the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance chose THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR as a winter 2014 Okra Pick, I was beyond thrilled. Apparently this novel is good Southern fiction—written by a Brit. How cool is that?
CL: Very cool! You’re from England. I lived in London for a year and loved it. Do you miss England? Does it influence you at all in your writing?
BCW: I’ve been in America for twenty-five years, and even though I love going back to the homeland, England has changed drastically since I left. I can’t say I miss the country any more, but I do miss my family and old friends. I think they’ll always be an element of England in my writing. My debut novel, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, is set in the forests of North Carolina and the woodland gardens of Southern England, although the only nod to Britain in THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR is through Hannah’s scuzzy ex, who’s part Welsh.
CL: Tell me about your road to publication. What was it like?
BCW: Easy once I found my agent, Nalini Akolekar. (Nalini makes everything easy.) Like most people, I started querying too soon, but I was very, very selective. I researched every agent I queried, even though my manuscript wasn’t ready! I contacted 48 agents over two years. But during those two years, the manuscript changed dramatically. I never queried while I was rewriting, and I stopped querying for about nine months while I took the manuscript apart. Once I’d put it back together with a tighter POV, I started getting requests for partials and full.
And then, one day, Nalini popped up on Chuck Sambuchino’s New Agent Alert, and I set my sights on her. I spent two weeks composing a query letter written just for Nalini. Now that was two weeks well spent! Nalini snagged me a two-book deal with Harlequin MIRA about three months after I signed with her. I feel blessed to be with MIRA, and I adore my brilliant editor, Emily Ohanjanians.
CL: What is your next book? What can we expect from it?
BCW: It’s the story of Felix Fitzwilliam, an emotionally detached father, who, convinced that his wife is dying, struggles to prove he can make his life all about Harry, their brilliant, quirky, special needs teen. Interesting that you should have asked about England because Felix is a messed-up Brit from a dysfunctional London family. Unlike Harry who is sparky and full of joie de vivre and spontaneity, Felix is ruled by order and perfectionism and control.
Based on the premise that facing our darkest fears can bring out the best in us, IT’S ALL ABOUT HARRY is a story of acceptance. Part tragedy, part comedy, it’s about family secrets and undiagnosed mental illness, women’s health issues, and something I’ve always wanted to write about—Tourette syndrome. Oh. And there’s a spunky 75-year-old southern horticulturalist called Eudora, and an unfortunate incident with a bald squirrel. I’m deep into my second draft, so anything can happen. (I’ve already changed the ending. Twice.) It should land on my editor’s desk in mid-July, and the tentative pub date is June 2015. GULP.
CL: If anything, what do you want people to take away from THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR?
BCW: That even in the darkest moments, there is always hope. Or, as Sir Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Wise man, that Winston.
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