Interconnected stories that pivot on the same geographical point: a once-thriving fishing resort where multiple characters thread one chapter to another, and each to the main protagonist, Meg.
What genre does your book fall under? Novel-in-stories though I don’t like categorizing fiction in this way. Originally, the publisher printed ‘novel’ on the cover, but I wanted readers to decide for themselves what it was, so it says nothing.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Vera Farmiga, Michael Sheen, Judy Dench, Doug Bedard, and Max von Sydow (not asking much, am I?)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Painter Meg returns to what’s left of the family resort, where visitors and their memories still crowd the place, recalling their various vacations and connections to those who’ve tended the resort since 1939.
How will you help promote this title?
Social media, pursuing library events and alternative venues beyond what my publicist can do (she has more books to promote than mine) Holding my north-woods-themed book launch in a bar was one – I gathered local writers who all helped by reading parts of the book. We had a polka duo, book-jacket beer coasters and a Bad Plaid fashion show. So fun.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I can’t really bookend something as nebulous as a start-to-finish date, pun intended. Besides, since time isn’t an element of the creation of a story, it’s really hard to pin down. I’ve published books only to find I’m not completely finished. Vacationland has stories conceived of fifteen years ago. And right now I’m thinking about stories I might not finish for ten years. If pressed, I’d say collective time spent writing Vacationland all squashed together might add up to two or three years.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Olive Kitteradge, or Visit from the Goon Squad, or Fame, by Daniel Kehlmann
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The idea of a resort from varying perspectives of visitors, proprietors and locals seemed like a concept I felt worth weaving characters around. In Minnesota, a lot gets written about the wilderness experience, but less about resort life, and very little about the people and the communities that line the roads leading to such places – like the beer truck drivers and bait shop owners. I wanted to tell their stories. But I was also moved to challenge the tired Minnesota stereotype – not all the men in Vacationland are good looking and not all the children are above average – or white for that matter.
What else about your book might interest readers?
The themes of vacations - seems everyone has a memory, of a resort; and old cabin; scout camp, or maybe had some fishing or canoe trip go either very right or very wrong. Vacations can be awful or wonderful, even life-changing. For some, maybe those two weeks in July are just a yawn in time, a pause in life with enough leisure to take a real look around or even inward.
June 2005 InterviewNPR, Aspen
Q. The Ice Chorus follows a Canadian filmmaker working through her memories after she's escaped to a remote Irish village. You've mentioned sometimes not knowing the underlying goal or premise of a book is until it's written. What did you discover after writing the The Ice Chorus?
A. I've heard other writers claim this - that we don't always know what we're on about until the end. In my case, I didn't know what besides the basic story compelled me to write The Ice Chorus until another writer pointed out what he thought the parallel was. He insisted the novel was about the importance of telling our own personal histories, if not to others, at least to ourselves.
Q. And did Liselle discover that?
A. She was so caught up in telling the stories of others it took her awhile, but in the end, she tells, reveals herself her own history, puts together the hidden and stowed memories in order to understand herself... to move into a future, to go into it with an awareness, and how even the denied bits of a past form who she is today.
Q. The phrase "Irish Yarn" comes to mind when reading the passages about Remy Conner, the patriachal figure who takes Liselle under his wing.
A. I think Remy facies himself a 'sanachie' of sorts - a dying breed of the Irish storyteller who once roamed the country giving history, or stories, for a bed and a meal, and drink, of course. Remy though, isn't itinerant. He does enlighten Liselle that there are many ways of telling a story, even suggesting that with her camera and her documenting of peoples lives, she might just become a modern version of a 'sanachie'.
Q. The Irish settings and characters - especially their dialogues, are so vivid. What is your history with the locations and people you write about.
A. Other than times spent in Ireland and reading tons of Irish literature? very little, actually. I'm not Irish, but during my visits I've always felt completely at home - with the people and the landscape - I love the cadence and the manner of the language - the average Irish person speaking an English so descriptive and colourful it's nealry a different tongue, and the articulate Irish person practically speaks in lyrics...
Q What keeps drawing you back?
A. Ah, besides the people and the sea?Something I cannot articulate well - but to simplify it at its most basic, the air on the West Coast seems to be the sort of air my lungs were meant to breathe, a mix of molecules that include both calm and inspiration.
more coming...page under construction
March 2001 Interview A VIEW FROM THE LOFT
These Granite Islands, Sarah Stonichs debut novel, published by Little, Brown. Foreign rights have sold to seven countries, plus the United Kingdom, and the book is slated for translation into six languages. The publisher plans a staggering first printing of 75,000 copies.
Stonich is now at work on a third novel, and a volume of short fiction. The recipient of a Loft/McKnight Award, and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, Stonich has traveled China to collaborate with a Chinese American painter on a book of essays and paintings. She has been awarded residencies at Ledig House International Writers Program, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. She lives in St. Paul, with her son.
Q. How would you describe the basic story of your novel?
A. These Granite Islands winds back and forth between the final days of a milliner, Isobel Howard, and a summer sixty years earlier, when shed befriended an extraordinary but troubled woman. After this new friend, Cathryn, takes up with a local man, Isobel becomes a reluctant accomplice to their tumultuous affair. In small town America in 1937 that complicity tests Isobels loyalty and her definitions of propriety. When the situation dissolves in tragedy, shes left with a life-long mystery, and, the immediate need to assess her own future, her own marriage.
Q. While you focus on the enduring consequences of friendship, the very friendship at the center of your novel seems sort of country-mouse, city-mouse pairing. Why have you chosen such opposing personalities for your characters?
A. Isobel has lived a sheltered life. I wanted her to be profoundly affected - awakened, you might say, by Cathryn, who is her social, temperamental and cultural opposite - yet also someone Isobel admired and valued for those very differences.
Q. Why did you choose these historical and geographic settings for your novel?
A. I have a novelist friend who when speaking to students challenges them, write what you dont know. I like that defiance to clichés often proffered in creative writing classes. I set this story towards the end of the Depression, as I was living and writing during the affluent late nineties. I also chose the thirties for the starched morals and the implications of disregarding them. It was an aesthetic decision as well. I really enjoy writing descriptively, and the sparseness of that era conveys a sort of uncertain innocence. Back when sheets were white, was something Id heard my grandmother say often - and wistfully. I think I share that aesthetic nostalgia.
Choosing Minnesota as a setting was more difficult because I was afraid of being flagged a regional writer. I didnt want to define myself and my readers with my first published novel. I initially considered setting the story in the Canadian maritime. As it turns out, I shouldnt have worried, we arent done selling to foreign markets yet, but so far the book will be published in several countries, and even translated into Hebrew. So while place is prominent, the story itself transcends regional boundaries. Its about people, after all. It could be anywhere.
Q. There are a few mysteries that remain unsolved in this novel, one being the death of a character. Do you feel a responsibility as a writer to explain these missing links?
A. In the first draft of the book, Isobel takes to her grave the fates of characters Jack and Cathryn. I felt strongly that the reader would be able to make his or her own deductions and come to believe, as Isobel does, that what might have happened to these people wasnt at all important. My agent and publisher thought differently, and so I rewrote the ending to give away more than I originally intended.
Q. Where did the title These Granite Islands come from?
A. At the most difficult juncture of writing this novel - about two-thirds of the way through - I was ready to chuck it and even give up writing altogether. I walked away and started reading poetry. I happened upon T.S. Eliots Marina and it revived the whole story for me, closed all the gaps. The lines, what seas what shores what grey rocks... what granite islands towards my timbers provided an analogy for all the strife that comes at Isobel during her own long journey. No one lives to be ninety-nine without tragedies, and shed had her share. My original title, true to the poem, was What Granite Islands, but marketing people insisted that was too literary a title, whatever that means. I asked a lot of writer friends their opinions, and most backed me up. I was in a pub in Ireland with Frank McCourt and I asked him what he thought, fully expecting him to support me as well. He shook his head and said Its terrible, terrible. Its a dirge of a title. I still disagree. The novel Im working on now has no title - but if These Granite Islands is successful, Ill be able to call it whatever I want.
Q. Youve said you never have writers block. How do you manage that?
A. Actually, I get the opposite of writers block, a sort of idea overload, too many, so that when it comes time to sit down and write, I struggle to not go off in wild directions. Ive got dozens of stories and novel ideas that will never be finished. As for what inspires me - being out in the world, I guess, just soaking it up. I travel a lot. I like to think that even if I'm writing about a corner of my garden, having explored and experienced other bits of the world might allow me to do so more convincingly.