Not long ago, I clicked on my daily LitHub post and began my usual scroll down the rich offerings there. Among them I found a link to Seven Questions asked of five vibrant writers. For the first six questions the answers had to be given in a word or two, at most a simple phrase. Only the seventh allowed for complete sentences. I was intrigued by these writers’ answers.
I wondered how I might answer these questions that go straight to the core of what we as writers are doing. I took on the exercise. Some of my answers surprised me. Some elicited precision in my view of my writing. So I decided to share this with you, with due acknowledgement to LitHub. https://lithub.com/chloe-aridjis-jen-beagin-and-more-take-the-lit-hub-questionnaire/
7 Questions: no wrong answers. Incomplete except for #7 (aren’t all answers incomplete?)
- Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about? Misjudgment, injustice, trauma, recovery, freedom, courage
- Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book? My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandfather, my own life, my experience and knowledge as a therapist
- Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book? Social and political upheaval, climate change, racial discord, figuring out what to cook for supper and how to keep my feet warm, cleaning out closets and drawers to inspire revision
- What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers? Despise? No, but wonder what book they read, yes: Flat character, immoral, bland, purposeless
- If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be? An astronaut musician OR a musician astronaut, piano and guitar
- What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at? Atmosphere, voice, inner depths of fully rounded characters. Want to be better: concise, structure, immediate action
- How do you contend with thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything? Though I began writing for myself, the process connected so directly and deeply to crucial issues of immediacy to today’s extended crises, and they are both critical and extended, that I want to communicate in whatever way possible to open awareness of our inheritance of longstanding issues. This is not just a story. These are issues that affect all of us.
Well, there you have it. When I get a chance for more than a word or phrase, I can get long-winded! Right back to the second part of Question #6.
In her sweeping debut, Diane C. McPhail offers a powerful, profoundly emotional novel that explores a little-known aspect of Civil War history—Southern Abolitionists—and the timeless struggle to do right even amidst bitter conflict.
On a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family. Judge Matthews is an abolitionist who runs an illegal school for his slaves, hoping to eventually set them free. One, a woman named Ginny, has become Emily’s companion and often her conscience—and understands all too well the hazards an educated slave must face. Yet even Ginny could not predict the tangled, tragic string of events set in motion as Nathan’s family arrives at the Matthews farm.
A young doctor, Charles Slate, tends to injured Nathan and begins to court Emily, finally persuading her to become his wife. But their union is disrupted by a fatal clash and a lie that will tear two families apart. As Civil War erupts, Emily, Ginny, and Emily’s stoic mother-in-law, Adeline, each face devastating losses. Emily—sheltered all her life—is especially unprepared for the hardships to come. Struggling to survive in this raw, shifting new world, Emily will discover untapped inner strength, an unlikely love, and the courage to confront deep, painful truths.
In the tradition of Cold Mountain, The Abolitionist’s Daughter eschews stereotypes of the Civil War South, instead weaving an intricate and unforgettable story of survival, loyalty, hope, and redemption.
Praise For The Abolitionist’s Daughter
“Diane McPhail excavates a nearly forgotten corner of American history and brings it to full, beating life. This is a fascinating and heartfelt look at the kinds of stories that don’t always make it into the history books.” —Louis Bayard, author of Courting Mr. Lincoln
“A contender, a deeply felt, thoroughly researched story . . . as good as it deserves to be.” –Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author
“Complex, vivid, and emotionally engaging. This is a story of harsh realities written with a tenderness that shines through and honors the account of one woman’s struggle to overcome her society’s rules and her circumstances in the face of inconceivable devastation. I couldn’t put it down.” –Carol E. Anderson, author of You Can’t Buy Love Like That
“What an impressive book this is! Diane McPhail works a spell on the reader, transporting us to Mississippi in the 19th century, introducing us to a family torn apart by the time and place in which they live. She tells a dark tale, yet it’s laced with lyricism and compassion. This is a powerful, imaginative, captivating book—I’d say, even urgent, considering the time we find ourselves in now.” –Judy Goldman, author of Together
“A tender, sparkling debut that bears gentle witness to the abominations of slavery and oppression while heralding the grace, power and necessity of righting wrongs and choosing love. McPhail is full of talent and heart.” –Ethel Rohan, author of The Weight of Him