Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always included in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewee’s mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.
Today’s guest for the WHAT is Talia Carner, whose first novel, Puppet Child launched a nationwide legislation–The Protective Parent Reform Act. China Doll made Amazon’s bestsellers list and served as the platform for Ms. Carner’s presentation at the U.N. in 2007 about infanticide in China. Her novel, Jerusalem Maiden, (HarperCollins 2011,) won the Forward National Literature Award in the Historical Fiction category. Her latest novel, Hotel Moscow, (HarperCollins 2015) won USA Book News award in the Multicultural category. Her upcoming novel, The Third Daughter, (HarperCollins September 2019,) is a daring exposé of sex trafficking.
Inspired by Sholem Aleichem’s story, “The Man from Buenos Aires,” author Talia Carner’s novel, The Third Daughter (HarperCollins, September 2019) breaks the silence on the trafficking of Jewish women from Eastern Europe to Buenos Aires in the late 1800s. For historical background, book tour schedule, reviews, and contact for book group participation, please check her website.
Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your books?
Stories find me. I don’t seek them out. Each time I am far along with a novel and think that maybe it’s my last one, the next one presents itself. Each takes hold of my head and heart and compelled me to sit down to what turns out to be three to six years’ work at a time. I’ve long realized that the seeds of every story had sprouted in my psyche years earlier, where they fermented…. All it takes is a passing comment, a line in a newspaper, or a road sign, and the idea blooms, takes hold on me and doesn’t let go until I crawl under the skin of a new protagonist. I rise and fall with her spirit as she struggles—and prevails against—the forces that shape her life, be they psychological, political, social, geographical, legal, economic, or religious.
Once the original concept exists, how do you build a plot around it?
I don’t plan the plot, but rather I get on the journey with the protagonist, and learn alongside her while she finds herself in a myriad of situations involving the central social issue or the historical truth of the novel. That said, on occasions I must stop and redirect her so she doesn’t lead me away from the main storyline into less relevant parts of her life. Most importantly, I ensure that the moral dilemma is strong, and does not wear out in the course of the book. Equally circuital is that when things go awry for her, she and I—as the author—don’t shy away from confronting the drama that such a situation entails. It takes guts to write the harrowing experience, and I put myself in a dreamlike trance to feel it fully and let the words spill onto the computer screen. In the editing phase, though, I might soften the scene to fit the readers’ tolerance, so they won’t throw my novel against the wall in horror…. This has been the case with my new novel, The Third Daughter, which deals with sex trafficking. The reader gets a strong reading experience, but also satisfaction from the emotional rides and the thrill, the way she might experience in a gut-wrenching film that stays with her afterward for days.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
I don’t plot ahead of time. Each time the reader is surprised, I was surprised when the story took that dramatic turn. The most I do is follow the analogy that writing a novel is like setting out to drive at night from New York to California. You know the final destination, but you can see only as far as the headlights. In my case, I may keep in mind that those headlights should reveal, within two to five chapters, a hand that reaches down from the sky and yanks the story into a new orbit. I may or may not know where this short drive ahead will lead.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I sit in front of my computer, close my eyes, and start typing. The right story moves to the forefront. That said, I’m two years into researching novel #6—including four trips to France, where the story is set—but have written very little of it. That story has the historical background in place; I know my protagonist well, but I still have no idea where her journey will take her. Luckily, by now I trust my instincts that, once I finish the bulk of my book tour for The Third Daughter and have time to devote to writing this new book, it will all fall into place.
I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?
Since I am in a dream-like state when I write fresh material or concentrate hard on revisions and editing, I can’t imagine being distracted by either cats or music. There were times I tried music, but I ended up getting up to dance…. I may sit at the computer for 10 hours at a stretch without eating, with only the occasional bathroom break. If you are in a dream, can you stop to be awakened by a phone call, and then return to the dream?