Today, Reviews and Interviews welcomes Barbara Forte Abate to talk about her novel The Secret of Lies.
Barbara, welcome! Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in a small town in Dutchess County, New York, the middle of five children. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t writing, or thinking of writing and I began composing what I thought was an incredible novel in 4th grade. Unfortunately, I found it necessary to give up on it when I finally came to recognize that it pretty much read like a plagiarized copy of Huckleberry Finn, and having a different title wasn’t all that effective in disguising that.
Nevertheless, I did hang onto the desire to write, eventually coming up with my own ideas and characters. (Although I do remain an enormous fan of Huck Finn.)
I married young and my children arrived in prompt succession, and so my writing aspirations went on hold for a while. I knew it was something I fully intended to return to, the question was “when?”
When the first seeds of an idea for a novel which would eventually grow into The Secret of Lies arrived, it wasn’t so much an extraordinary event as it was something I recognized as absolute and very exciting. That was twenty years ago and I haven’t stopped writing since. Although I do take off for holidays.
My husband James and I are the parents of four very fabulous children, and currently live in a very cool old house in Chester County, PA.
Please tell us about your current release.
The Secret of Lies is my debut [mainstream literary] novel. The storyline threads together elements of suspense, mystery, romance and betrayal. It opening chapters revolve around the close, though prickly, relationship between two sisters growing up in rural Pennsylvania on a small family farm in the 1950s, and the single shattering event that will come crashing in like a meteor to split their lives to the very core.
On the surface, their life is one of naïve innocence – simple and uncomplicated. As the story begins, Stevie and her older sister Eleanor are embarking on what will be the last summer they will spend at their aunt and uncle’s ancient summer house overlooking the North Atlantic. For the sisters, who eagerly anticipate spending their school vacation with their favorite aunt and uncle at this magical house far from home, this is the eternally “starred” event on their calendar.
It is during these easy golden days of high adventure beside the sea, that the sisters revel in an existence altogether opposite to their accustomed routine at home on the farm. Yet it is in the midst of this last summer when everything once perfect will turn ugly and heinous, spiraling horribly out of control – everything familiar torn away into splintered fragments that even time declines to heal. And it is this single pivotal event that will shape everything that subsequently unfolds into the reminder of the story.
What inspired you to write this book?
When I first sat down to write this story, I think my heartfelt conviction was intricately tied to accomplishing a dream I’ve carried around since grade school when I first started writing this-and-that in a notebook I kept under my mattress. (I shared a room with my two sisters, so under the mattress was “the vault.”) I do think that maybe it helped that I was so naïve at the time to believe that writing a book was simply that, writing a book. Had I known what I was up against – well, I might not of had the courage to put down that first sentence.
I can tell you that this early fallacy of mine was all but vanished by the time I’d reached the end of the book, because by then I’d been struck by a lightning bolt. I very clearly came to understand just what this writing thing was actually about, and the fact that regular injections of heart and soul would be required. Just as I came to believe unequivocally that to truly love the intricate world and collection of complex characters I’d created was not a dream fulfilled until others had experienced it as well. In my mind it is absolutely the readers who provide that final essential link. Readers that hopefully come wandering past and find themselves captivated enough to stay along for the ride. I truly feel that a story doesn’t altogether exist until it’s been read. Until then, it’s just the author wandering solo on the page.
What is the meaning of your book’s title?
The very nature of Secrets so often comes into question over the course of our lives – those that are honest and those purposely deceptive. While some secrets might prove necessary inasmuch as they may cause less damage when left alone sealed in the vault until the end of time, there are those secrets that are something else altogether – things tangled up and sold as secrets for the deliberate intention of concealing infinitely damaging mistruths. Such is the case in my novel when one of the sisters, Stevie, is confronted with the terrible question of whether the tragic secret she’s been protecting so diligently at her own expense in a bid to heal her wounded family, is in actuality, a terrible lie intended only to protect the guilty.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Early on I convinced myself that because my writing wasn’t something I’d earned a degree for or was likely to heal or change the world in any notable way, to dedicate daytime hours and sleepless nights in pursuit of a finished manuscript was something altogether frivolous – maybe even egotistical. It took me many years to readjust my thoughts on this, but I think I’ve finally broken through the barricade. And truly, it wasn’t having my published novel in my hands at long last that made me consider myself a card carrying legit writer. Losing my insecurities of daring to call myself a writer settled in without my seeing it. It was during the day to day, month to month, and in my case, year-into-year-into-year routine – when the rejections were coming fast and furious and yet I continued to write, rewrite, edit…and then send it out again, that I came to understand that there was a indeed a title that came along with such ironclad diligence and perseverance – Writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Because I married not long after graduating high school and my children arrived in timely succession, being a work-at-home-mother can pretty much describe my work day. When I first started writing it was in the afternoon when babies napped and I could generally claim a couple of quiet hours to work. My first drafts are always longhand on those big legal pads. Not only because they wonderfully portable and less intimidating then a blank white screen, but I didn’t have a typewriter (and certainly not a computer).
Fast forward twenty years later and I’m still pretty much following the same routine. One would assume that now that my children are grown – and my youngest nearly grown – I would have endless hours to create, but somehow it’s just never worked out in such a way that I ever have more than an afternoon at a time to sit down and write.
Nevertheless, I am a firm believer that when it comes to those things that we love and value, no matter what, we will find the necessary time and space to fit them into our lives. It’s far too easy to back-burner those things that don’t seem absolutely necessary to the care and feeding of the world at large. We’re all so overworked, overextended, and overtired it’s never a difficult thing to rationalize why we’re not doing those things that aren’t immediately imperative. Nowhere on my tombstone would I want it engraved, “She never did get that book written, but she had a damn clean house.”
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Okay, confession. I wrestled here with telling a lie and making up something really fun and cool, but honesty won out. I have an odd affection for reading about others writing quirks and would love to have something memorable of my own to share. But the sad truth is that my quirk is not so much interesting as it is anal.
I can only write in the quietest corner of my world. And although I’m blessed to have my own room to spread out my pages, a barking dog in the neighbor’s yard, ringing phone, or children bouncing a ball in the street – aka, ordinary sounds of life – are lethal to my thinking process. I also find it impossible to focus on my work in progress if I know there’s a pile of laundry waiting with my name on it, (arrggg…I’m pretty sure I just heard the buzzer on the dryer go off and I’m not even kidding), or if the house doesn’t feel especially tidy and I haven’t planned what I’m cooking for dinner yet. Alas, if only I could find a way to let go and allow myself to live with clutter I’d surely produce volumes of perfect and wonderful stories.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew early on that I wanted to write, but I was also obsessed with the idea of being an archeologist. I spent a lot of time digging up ‘artifacts’ in the backyard, and collected many a chicken bone to prove that miniature dinosaurs once roamed the same exact spot where my swing-set now stood. Being a saver, I believe that if our dog Chippy hadn’t eaten my carefully procured collection, I’d still have them in a shoe box under my bed.
It does bring a certain satisfaction to think that all these years down the road and I really am doing what I’d always dreamed. I’m still writing, and although I never went so far as to excavate ancient ruins, I do feed that particular yearning for odd bits and historic treasures by digging through dusty boxes at yard-sales and flea markets on a regular basis.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’d really like to say to anyone on the uphill climb – and it seems we’re all in that place at one time or another – don’t become disheartened if you’re working your dream from every angle and it seems as if nothing is happening. You really just have to hang in there. Bite down a little harder if that’s what it takes for you to hang on a little longer then you might have originally hoped or expected in order to reach the summit and plant your flag. It’s all about faith and perseverance and trusting that the passions of your heart have been sown there for a purpose.