Please welcome the lovely Letitia Trent back to the blog! Her new book, Almost Dark, came out last month, and she stopped by to talk about it!
Will you tell us about Almost Dark and what inspired you to write it?
Absolutely, and thanks for the opportunity to chat about it! Almost Dark takes placed in a New England town loosely based on Bennington, Vermont, the town where I lived until I was twelve and the place where most of my family still lives. It’s a story about a people trying to figure out their relationship to home—if it means a particular place, a history, a person, or simply a feeling of rightness. This was the first novel I wrote that felt was worth sending out into the world—I attempted about four novels before it, but they were terrible. This book and my previously published book (Echo Lake, which was actually written after this one chronologically) are both about places I know well and characters who are trying to figure out what it means to have a home. I think that was my obsession at the time, how to know when you are home and both the perils and comfort of having a home, a family, a place where you are really known. It’s both a great longing for me to have those things and also a fear, because the idea of being stuck in a role or place is terrifying to me. So, Almost Dark is a kaleidoscope of experiences about that very tension.
Did you do any specific research for the book? What is your writing process like?
I did a little bit of Bennington research, though not much, as the town isn’t really directly based on Bennington. It’s more based on my dreamy, childhood memories of Bennington. I remember the catamount statue, for example, and the deer park with the Tastee Freeze across from it. I also remember Bennington College, which was in North Bennington, where my grandparents lived, though my working class family didn’t attend that or any college. Another thing I remember, though I can’t recall if it got into the book, was this enormous chair in front of a furniture store. A chair so big I thought it must be made for God. Bennington is very special to me, but also a ghostly place. My grandparents died there after our family moved to Oklahoma. They were my great stability. The land we lived on for my entire childhood now belongs to my uncle. The rivers I swam in now seem very small and impossibly rocky and cold. It’s a place I can’t ever really get back to.
My writing process involves plowing through a first draft and then chipping away and adding and chipping away and adding until I can’t look at it anymore. Then, I put it away for a while until I can stand to look at it again. Then, I chip away and add again. I go through that process several times. I was very lucky to receive a fellowship to the MacDowell colony when I was writing my first draft, so I had a great deal of time and calm when I was working on it. Now, I have a young son and am in grad school, so my writing process is to just write whenever I can and for as long as I can before I fall asleep. It doesn’t happen often, but I hope to get back to a routine after graduation.
What makes Claire compelling?
Well, I hope she’s compelling, though I can’t be sure about that until I hear it from somebody else 🙂 I think she’s going through a common struggle, though her version of it is rather extreme. We’ve all felt like we are holding on to the past and a version of ourselves that might be trapped and reified by some event in our lives, an event that marks a “before” and “after” period. Her work getting through that is something I hope the reader can connect to.
What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that will make you put down a book, unfinished?
I honestly have no idea how to answer this question! A good writer can get away with pretty much everything in my opinion. If it works, it works. I usually only put down a book if the writing on the sentence level isn’t interesting. I read a lot of different things in a lot of different genres and styles, but that’s probably the common theme: I have to like the sentences.
You’re very good at writing unsettling stories, but what is something that truly scares you?
Oh, the usual. Death. Harm coming to people I love. Poverty. I don’t really trust that the everyday mechanisms of life to keep turning and expect the rug can be pulled out at any time, really. I’m also very, very afraid of car accidents and school shootings. Sorry, this response is a huge bummer.
It’s been a while since we caught up! Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?
I’ve been finishing up a Master’s degree in clinical psychology, so pretty much all of my reading has been case notes and psych books. But in between, I’ve read A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, Academic Exercises by K.J. Parker, and Sea Change by K.D. Lovgren.
What are you currently reading?
Currently digging into Experimental Film by Gemma Files and Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias. I also have a pile of poetry collections from the AWP conference, which I finally attended for the first time, including books by Jasmine An, Allie Marini, T.A. Noonan, Les Kay, and Saba Razvi (among many others!)
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write a lot. Even if it’s not good, it will still teach you something. Try to reach out to writers you genuinely admire, not with the intention of getting something back from them, but to let them know you enjoyed their work. Get to know small presses and get yourself into the community. Have a few trusted readers. Try to enjoy writing and the process.
Comparison with other writers is deadly.
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope they’ll be a little spooked and a little sad and a little happy, too.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Well, I’m in the very last weeks of my internship, so I’m hoping my immediate future includes licensure and a job in mental health. I’m also picking away slowly at a novel, which I hope to finish within the year. It’s a novel that takes place in Paris, Texas, where my parents went to flea market when I was a teenager. They sold cheap jewelry and t-shirts. All of the jewelry they sold turned my skin green. I’ll have to do some research about Paris for this novel, because I don’t think we went anywhere in Paris except for that flea market, which was a semicircle of shacks with a snack stand in the center (I remember the corn dogs, burnt on the outside and frozen in the middle). My horror film podcast, The Brood, will be starting up again in the fall.
In other news, I’m going to have work out soon in Best Horror of the Year volume 8 and the Hysteria anthology. Soon, I’ll be moving to the woods in Arkansas, which I am very much looking forward to. I want to fall asleep to the sounds of nightbugs again.
About Almost Dark:
Claire, a private and outwardly content librarian, carries a secret: she is wracked with guilt over her twin brother Sam’s accidental death fifteen years earlier. Claire’s quiet life is threatened when Justin, an aggressive business developer, announces the renovation of Farmington’s oldest textile factory, which is the scene of Sam’s death along with many other mysterious accidents throughout its long history. Claire not only feels a personal connection to the factory, but she also begins to receive “visitations” from her brother, which cause her to question her sanity. As Justin moves forward with his plans to renew the factory, Claire, and the town as a whole, discover that in Farmington, there is no clear line between the past and the present.