House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy just came out this month, and Brendan kindly stopped by to answer a few of my questions about the new book.
Will you tell us a little about your new book, House of Echoes, and what inspired you to write it?
House of Echoes is about the Tierneys, a young family from Manhattan who hits a rough patch in their personal and professional lives. Looking for a fresh start, they move to a decrepit mansion in a remote corner of Upstate New York with the intention of turning it into an upscale inn. As you might guess, things don’t go as smoothly as they hope! An isolated village with a dark history, an eccentric son with a wild imagination, a marriage on the brink: it’s a classic Gothic setup, but with some very modern characters, a tricky structure, and lots of twists along the way.
In terms of inspiration, I set out to write the kind of book that I love to read: one that blends elements of suspense, horror, crime, history, and literary fiction in a way that makes any twist seems possible. My first image of the book became the opening scene in the novel: a man watches his dog run through an overgrown field with a massive house looming behind him. Though the man owns the house, he knows he doesn’t belong there.
You have a background in editing, but have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us a bit about that progression?
Whether short stories or truly appalling poetry, I’ve been writing since middle school. I took a crack at writing a literary novel after a few years of being an Editorial Assistant at Penguin. In retrospect, what I ended up with was a classic, newly-minted English major kind of novel: soaring language, deep symbolism, absolutely zero plot. It was bad. It lives in my dresser drawer.
I had better luck with my second attempt. This one was from the Dan Brown school of thrillers, deeply researched with tons of action. It netted me my first agent and won me some fans at publishing houses, but didn’t end up selling. This one also lives in the drawer.
I learned a huge amount from these failures, the most important thing being the realization that I couldn’t write with the aim of satisfying other people. I had to write to satisfy myself first. The best thing I could do was write the kind of book I most enjoyed reading. That’s why I’m glad House of Echoes is my first published book and that those others are safely hidden in their drawer.
What kind of research did you do for House of Echoes?
I did some research into events in Upstate New York during the Revolution, as well as the region’s interesting religious history. Guides to local flora, fauna, mental illnesses, and medicinal herbs were also really useful. I spend quite a lot of time in Western Massachusetts, and wandering those old growth forests helped a great deal with nailing down the isolated, almost primeval feel of the novel’s setting.
What is your writing process like?
In a word? Ugly.
I’d love to be the kind of writer who can work from an outline and bring it to life one perfect paragraph after another, but that’s not how it goes for me. For every word that appears in the book, there have probably been three deleted. My characters seem to be full of surprises, and sometimes it takes me fifty thousands words to figure out who they really are. My books tend to be structurally complicated and delicately paced, so it often takes me a while to get it right.
Revising is a painful process for me, but absolutely crucial. One of the huge benefits of my background in publishing is that some of my very good friends are great editors. Their eyes, along with those of my editor and agent, really help me see where the meat of the story is and what the book wants to be. The blood of many darlings is spilled, but the carnage is necessary.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I read widely, so my influences are all over the place. Just a glance at the flap copy for House of Echoes tells you that Stephen King has made a big impact on me. The delicate interpersonal relationships, domestic conflict, and tricky narration in House are informed by my admiration for Tana French and Gillian Flynn. House also has an unusual structure, and I was able to crack it while reading Junot Diaz, who isn’t afraid to play around with narrators or POVs.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
This is a tough one! I’ll say The Secret History by Donna Tartt with Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and Frank Herbert’s Dune as the runners up.
What are you currently reading? Are there any books you’re particularly looking forward to?
So many books and so little time! I’ve recently read and loved Kelly Braffet’s Save Yourself, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (which completely lives up to the hype), Pierce Brown’s Golden Son, Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land (the spectacular conclusion to his Magicians Trilogy), and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I’m currently reading The Magus by John Fowles—I’m two hundred pages in, have no clue what is happening, and can’t wait to figure it out!
As for books I’m looking forward to, Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands and Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble are at the top of my list.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently deep into my second book, which I’m very excited about. Like House of Echoes, it’s a bit of a genre-straddler set in the same imaginary geography of Upstate New York.
About House of Echoes:
In this enthralling and atmospheric thriller, one young family’s dream of a better life is about to become a nightmare.
Ben and Caroline Tierney and their two young boys are hoping to start over. Ben has hit a dead end with his new novel, Caroline has lost her banking job, and eight-year-old Charlie is being bullied at his Manhattan school.
When Ben inherits land in the village of Swannhaven, in a remote corner of upstate New York, the Tierneys believe it’s just the break they need, and they leave behind all they know to restore a sprawling estate. But as Ben uncovers Swannhaven’s chilling secrets and Charlie ventures deeper into the surrounding forest, strange things begin to happen. The Tierneys realize that their new home isn’t the fresh start they needed . . . and that the village’s haunting saga is far from over.
House of Echoes is a novel that shows how sometimes the ties that bind us are the only things that can keep us whole.