A chat with Peyton Marshall, author of Goodhouse: A Novel

GOODHOUSE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Peyton Marshall comes out next week, and she kindly stopped by to tell us about the new book, why she wrote it, and much more! Please give her a warm welcome!


peytonmarshallWill you tell us a bit about Goodhouse and what inspired you to write it?
I’ve always been fascinated by questions of identity: How we define ourselves as individuals, how other people perceive us, and what ultimately we are capable of.

I didn’t set out to write a dystopian novel but rather a portrait of an individual under pressure, a young person at that moment in his or her life when they must define their own morality, define their own truth.

I woke up one morning with the premise of the book buzzing in my head, and the opening scenes already populated with people. The book was a full world—beckoning me to enter—and the more I read about the history of juvenile incarceration, the more urgent the story felt.

What made you decide to set Goodhouse in the future? Will you tell us more about your particular “dystopia”?
The premise of Goodhouse, the idea that we, as a society, can identify future criminals and reform their worst tendencies – necessitates a futuristic setting. But in order to write this world I pulled heavily from the past, from the culture of reformation that surrounded some of the first juvenile jails, and specifically the Preston School that was founded in Ione, California in 1894. I wanted my future world to be a continuation of a longer conversation about youth and crime.

goodhouseWhy do you think readers (and movie-goers) are so fascinated with stories set in a dystopia?
I think that the writers writing these dystopian books were raised during the time of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation was a constant threat. This was our youth. So: It’s not difficult to imagine these nightmares come true, in a sense.

I think that the ubiquitous nature of media, also, in our contemporary lives, means that the bad news of the world, the grimmest news, gets to us, in great detail, with images, and in great quantity. It’s hard not to feel depressed, and like the world is ending, in the face of that.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I always wanted to be a writer, yes. As a kid I loved stories and wanted to be part of that culture. I wrote more seriously in college and, afterwards, spent years writing music and touring with my band, The Third Sex. It wasn’t until I attended the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, that I really focused on fiction.

I’ve always liked building things. I used to restore craftsman bungalows and even built a new house, doing much of the finish work myself. But now, with little kids at home, I must content myself with assembling Ikea furniture and growing Dahlia’s.

What was one of the first things you remember writing?
My first fiction was written in sixth grade. It involved a plucky girl, a loyal Labrador retriever, a terrible plane crash and an evil curse. I worked on it for two weeks, which seemed epic at the time.

Also, the story had a hand-drawn cover with a fairy princess and some flowers on the front because . . . why not?

What kind of research did you do for Goodhouse, and what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I read numerous memoirs – probably over a dozen. Boys who were interred at the Preston School of Industry, in Ione, California. I Cried But You Didn’t Listen, My Shadow Ran Fast, all of the nonfiction of Edward Bunker.

I also read Foucault’s essays on punishment.

What do you look for in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
Bad prose will make me stop reading.

I love a sense of adventure. I love brilliant, fearless writing.

Without thinking about it too much, what’s one book that you would recommend without reservation?
-Atonement, by Ian McEwan.

What’s next for you?
My book tour. And then some rest, hopefully. And then, hopefully, another fiction project. Or perhaps a collection of essays. I’m not completely sure.

Keep up with Peyton: Website | Twitter

About GOODHOUSE:
With soaring literary prose and the tense pacing of a thriller, the first-time novelist Peyton Marshall imagines a grim and startling future. At the end of the twenty-first century—in a transformed America—the sons of convicted felons are tested for a set of genetic markers. Boys who test positive become compulsory wards of the state—removed from their homes and raised on “Goodhouse” campuses, where they learn to reform their darkest thoughts and impulses. Goodhouse is a savage place—part prison, part boarding school—and now a radical religious group, the Holy Redeemer’s Church of Purity, is intent on destroying each campus and purifying every child with fire.

We see all this through the eyes of James, a transfer student who watched as the radicals set fire to his old Goodhouse and killed nearly everyone he’d ever known. In addition to adjusting to a new campus with new rules, James now has to contend with Bethany, a brilliant, medically fragile girl who wants to save him, and with her father, the school’s sinister director of medical studies. Soon, however, James realizes that the biggest threat might already be there, inside the fortified walls of Goodhouse itself.Partly based on the true story of the nineteenth-century Preston School of Industry, Goodhouse explores questions of identity and free will—and what it means to test the limits of human endurance.

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