Family Secrets Unearthing Story Maureen McQuerry
Welcome to Creative Conversations. This month we’re exploring how surprises, sometimes dark, sometimes joyful, can dramatically change our lives and our stories. This is what happened to my friend and fellow novelist, Maureen McQuerry as she began writing her latest book, Between Before & After. Come close and read about her astounding revelations in the conversation below.
Maureen is an award-winning poet, novelist, and teacher. Her YA novel, The Peculiars is an ALA Best Book for YA 2013, Bank Street and Home Book recommended book. Her MG fantasy duo, Beyond the Door and The Telling Stone, were a Booklist Top Ten Fantasy/SciFi for Youth and a finalist for the WA State Book awards. Her poetry appears in many journals and anthologies. In celebration of her newest book Between Before & After, she’s offering a hot-off-the-press signed copy to some lucky Dreamwalker.
“Told in dual narratives between 1918 New York City and 1955 San Jose, California, Between Before and After, by award-winning author Maureen McQuerry, explores the nature of family secrets, resiliency, and redemption. This is an historical coming-of-age Young Adult story about the complex bonds between mothers and daughters.”
Welcome to the CC Dreamwalkers. Add your comments, too. We’d love to hear from you.
Janet: Thanks for joining us here on Dreamwalks today Maureen.
Maureen: I’m so happy to be here, Janet! I love the idea of a creative conversation!
Janet: Yes, we have a lot of fun delving into the creative process here. Congratulations on your new book. How did your creative process serve you while writing it?
Maureen: This book took many different turns. It was about ten years in the making and it’s loosely based on my own family story. So, it began with stories I heard as a child and questions I had about them as I got older. And because the book was in process so long, some of the questions changed or got answered in interesting ways during the writing.
(Research trip to NY Brooklyn Bridge)
Janet: I have so many friends who will be eased to hear this book took ten years. Some books do! You call your new book “a redemption story about hope and the bonds of family, about the way wonder shows up in unexpected places.” Can you talk more about that?
Maureen: Yes. My grandmother died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919. She left 3 children behind. The oldest was 10 and he was my father. After she died, his father never recovered, and my father was left to fend for himself. I grew up hearing stories about surviving as a child on the streets of Brooklyn. The orphanages were overflowing and there was no place for many of these flu orphans to go.
My father grew up badly damaged by this experience and struggled all his adult life. I wondered about resiliency and how these children survived and if any of them thrived. So my story starts in a dark place. Then during the course of writing the book two very interesting things happened that changed that bleak trajectory in my family’s life and in the story. The events offered a chance for redemption of a difficult past.
Janet: Are you able to speak about the events? Or at least touch on them?
Maureen: Sure. I grew up believing I was an only child. When I was thirty, I discovered I had a half brother. His introduction in our lives gave my father a chance to reconcile some relationships in his past, but it didn’t have a huge impact on me except to change my view of myself and make we wish I had known him sooner. Then after my father died, when I had about given up on the novel, I got an email from a stranger on a DNA site. It turned out he is also my brother, and only two years older than me. We met on Father’s Day and the minute I met him, I recognized him. He has all of my father’s best traits minus his tragic flaws. I believe that he is the man my father would have been, was trying so hard to be but couldn’t, because of his background. Both brothers have been a huge gift to me and helped me realize I was writing a story about redeeming the past, and about wonder.
Janet: Wow, what a story, Maureen. Thank so much for sharing the details of the surprises that both changed the course of your life and the narrative. I write to understand the world, posing questions that can’t be easily answered but lived through characters within a story. Some questions are too deep for anything else. At least that’s how it is for me.
Maureen: I agree! I do the same thing. I write to explore questions I’m grappling with and they sometimes change during the course of the narrative. If I knew the answers, the book would be too prescriptive. In Between Before and After I was wondering about what it takes to survive in difficult circumstances and why some people are resilient, and some aren’t. The book asks how you find light in dark places. I think all my books have begun with questions.
Janet: Yes. When our middle son ran away in his late teens, I asked what drew him into darkness and what could I do to bring him back. More deeply, what could I do to bring him back if he didn’t want to come back? That question became The Beast of Noor. Later, when dealing with a family member with mental illness, I asked what happens when a healer can’t cure the incurable? How does she cope with the failure? That became a core question in In the Time of Dragon Moon.
Maureen: In The Peculiars I was wondering if we become our parents and how you survive as an outsider. A new manuscript I’m working on asks how do you live after grief. It sounds bleak but there’s a wonderful funny touch of magical realism. Most of my books tie in to fairytales or myth in some way.
Janet: You read my mind, Maureen. I was just about to ask you about Hansel and Gretel since I read that Between Before and After tells that tale between chapters.
Maureen: I was so excited the editor let me keep it there! The novel is set in two time periods 1919 New York and 1955 San Jose, CA. and told by mother and daughter narrators. The Hansel and Gretel book ties both stories together as well. In between the chapters I have a retelling because it is the ultimate story of resilient children who against all odds stay together and eventually find their way home. No one can go through the woods unchanged. Surviving childhood is not always easy nor is it guaranteed. Hansel and Gretel reminds us of that but it also speaks to the bond of siblings, bravery and triumph.
Janet: The discovery that you had brothers also seems to touch on this tale. You found out you weren’t wandering in these dark woods alone.
Maureen: Yes, in fact, the book is dedicated to my brothers.
It felt like a miracle when I discovered them.
Janet: So moving to read this dedication, Maureen. I know the book won’t be out until Feb 5th, but could you put up a little snippet here? Just a little taste from the opening or some such?
Maureen: I’m happy to share the first paragraphs of the prologue.
The year Uncle Stephen performed a miracle, all our lives changed. Of course, at first, no one was sure it was a miracle; miracles aren’t things you see every day, so how could you know? Even after the investigation, our lives kept changing. When a miracle invades, Uncle Stephen says, it sends out roots that reach backward and forward in time. It catches people by surprise when they discover that everything they’ve seen of nature so far is only one part of a system. They forget about the other part, the part running underground. …The best stories can be as unpredictable as miracles. They can surprise you even when you think you know them by heart.
Janet: Ah, it begins with change and a miracle.
Maureen: Yes, the book deals with questions about miracles. And that if they exist, they are not easy or benign things. As you can see, one of the characters in the novel unwittingly ends up in an investigation about the miraculous.
Janet: This opening makes me want to know more so it will be hard to wait for more pages to turn. Thank you for talking with me about the background and deeper family rivers feeding this story. The challenge of writing it. The discoveries you made. I was so moved to hear you dedicated it to your brothers. Writing from such profound questions as yours shows your passion and your resilience. May this book find a home in many hands.
Maureen: Thanks so much, Janet. I appreciate hearing how your stories too, bloomed from questions in your life. Thanks for letting me share a bit about my latest baby! And Janet, to all your readers, I want to encourage them that sometimes our best stories are the ones that take the longest road to publication. We need to be ready to tell them. Thanks for joining Janet and me today!
Maureen will be in Seattle on the YA Survival Tour with authors Mary Cronk Farrell and Stephen Wallenfels in Feb. They’ll be at University Books on Feb 16th at 4 pm and at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Sunday the 17th.
How to Enter. The giveaway is limited to US address or APO address. Participants must be 18 or older. To those of you who are new to Rafflecopter, all you need to do is sign in or tweet to enter (a tweet helps to spread the word about the book giveaway, but either way is fine). If you’re keen to win, you can sign in or tweet as often as once per day. The tweet is written for you ahead of time. You just need to click. Also, you need to click “I Tweeted” to confirm the entry. Good Luck All!
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