Please welcome Lori Roy to the blog as a part of my Edgar Award Nominee Spotlight series! Her book, UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is a nominee (she also has a win for BENT ROAD), and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about it!
It’s so exciting that UNTIL SHE COMES HOME has been nominated for an Edgar Award! Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?
UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is the story of best friends, Grace and Julia. Life erupts on Alder Avenue when child-like Elizabeth disappears while in their care. All the neighbor ladies fear the recent murder of a black woman at the factory on Willingham Avenue where their husbands work may warn of what has become of Elizabeth, and they worry what is yet to become of Julia—the last to see Elizabeth alive. Only Grace knows what truly happened, but her mother warns her not to tell. “No man wants to know this about his wife.” Ashamed that her silence puts loved-ones in harm’s way, Grace gravitates toward the women of Willingham Avenue, who recognize her suffering as their own.
Through their acceptance, Grace conquers her fear and dares to change what happens.
UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is set in Detroit, Michigan in 1958, and I would categorize it as literary suspense. I was first inspired to write this novel while writing BENT ROAD. The story in BENT ROAD begins when the Scott family leaves Detroit, Michigan in the wake of the 1967 riots to move back to their hometown in western Kansas. In order to write this part of the novel, I did a great deal of research on Detroit. I read several books on the city’s history, interviewed people who had lived there during that era, and watched home movies shot in the city. Setting is where all my work begins and while doing that research, I became increasingly interested in Detroit and knew while writing the earliest pages of BENT ROAD that I would be revisiting the city in my second novel.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
It never occurred to me when I was a child that I could become a writer. I did the requisite writing while in school and no more. I once tried to write a journal, but I ended up boring myself so the effort was short-lived. While I’ve always been a reader, I didn’t start to pursue writing until my son was three years old and I decided to leave the corporate world where I was working as a tax accountant. Upon making the decision to stay home with my son, I set new career goals for myself. Knowing my son, and my daughter who came along a year later, would one day go off to college and begin lives of their own, I wanted to use those years at home to work toward developing a new career for myself. I studied good writers, read as much as I could, sought out great teachers and wrote every day.
Your first book, BENT ROAD, actually won an Edgar, so it must be doubly exciting to get this nom.How did you celebrate when you found out about your first win?
The winner of each category of the Edgar Awards is announced during a banquet held in New York. After the event where it was announced that BENT ROAD had won the Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author, my husband and I and several others went to the hotel bar and toasted with pink champagne. After celebrating there, my husband and I changed into our jeans and tennis shoes and took a walk through the streets of New York. Because I had been too nervous to eat much at dinner, we shared a hot dog from a street vender.
UNTIL SHE COMES HOME takes place in late 50s Detroit. Why did you decide to set the book in this time period and location, and what kind of research did you do for the book?
The late fifties were a fascinating time in our history. While the county was enjoying great prosperity in the years following WWII, there was also an ever increasing anxiety among people. Bomb shelters began to spring up in response to fears that a bomb might one day land in the middle of the country.
In order to root myself in an era in which I had not lived, I read several non-fiction books on the city of Detroit and the country as a whole. I also interviewed people who had lived in the city during that time and found great inspiration in the memories they shared. And because UNTIL SHE COMES HOME features three women, I gained an interesting insight into the era by studying cookbooks from the late fifties. The introductions to these books illustrated the types of demands placed on women at that time in history, the things that were expected of them and values they were meant to share.
Why suspense? What do you love most about reading, and writing, in the genre?
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received during my early years of studying the craft of writing was to write the book you want to read. Many beginning writers make the mistake of writing the book they want to write. We writers like to lean on the elements of the craft that come most easily to us. The literary elements come easiest for me, but I also like to read a book that has a well-developed plot. I want a storyline that will compel me to turn page after page. This is my guiding principle as I write.
Who have been a few of your biggest literary influences?
I lean a great deal on the classics for my influences. In addition to those, which include John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemmingway, Harper Lee, Zora Neale Hurston and many more, I have been reading a good deal of Alice Munro’s work, as well as Ron Rash, Toni Morrison, and Flannery O’Connor.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I would have to pick two. One would be TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee and the other would be THE PRINCE OF TIDES by Pat Conroy.
What’s next for you?
I am at the tail end of writing my third novel, a place I’m thrilled to have finally reached. I’ve gone to northeastern Kentucky for this novel, and it’s loosely inspired by the last public hanging in the United States. The novel, as yet untitled, follows two storylines separated by fifteen years. The first, set in the mid-thirties, introduces the woman who, to avoid an unwanted marriage, will see to it one last man is publically hanged. The other story, set in the mid-1950s, follows fifteen-year-old Annie Holleran. Annie, the keeper of her Grandmother’s know-how, lives with her family on a lavender farm where she fears she will forever stand in the shadow of her prettier, kinder, smarter sister. When the two storylines collide, Annie exposes the truth behind the hanging that tore her family apart fifteen years earlier and that threatens them still.
About UNTIL SHE COMES HOME:
In 1958 Detroit, on Alder Avenue, neighbors struggle to care for neighbors amid a city ripe with conflicts that threaten their peaceful street.
Grace, Alder’s only expectant mother, eagerly awaits her first born. Best friend Julia prepares to welcome twin nieces. And Malina sets the tone with her stylish dresses, tasteful home, and ironfisted stewardship of St. Alban’s bake sale.
Life erupts when childlike Elizabeth disappears while in the care of Grace and Julia. All the ladies fear the recent murder of a black woman at the factory on Willingham Avenue where their husbands work may warn of what has become of Elizabeth, and they worry what is yet to become of Julia—the last to see Elizabeth alive.
The men mount an around-the-clock search, leaving their families vulnerable to sinister elements hidden in plain sight. Only Grace knows what happened, but her mother warns her not to tell. “No man wants to know this about his wife.” Ashamed that her silence puts loved ones in harm’s way, Grace gravitates toward the women of Willingham Avenue, who recognize her suffering as their own. Through their acceptance, Grace conquers her fear and dares to act.
On Alder Avenue, vicious secrets bind friends, neighbors, and spouses. For the wicked among them, the walk home will be long.