The Underneath

Interview: Miciah Bay Gault

We’re so excited to share our interview with Miciah Bay Gault on the occasion of today’s release of her debut novel, Goodnight Stranger. Goodnight Stranger is a beautifully written novel, a literary thriller that will have you wondering from the start who is telling the truth and who is hiding secrets. Set on an island, it’s the perfect summer escapism novel, perfect to take with you to the beach, but equally satisfying if you’re holidaying on your sofa after a long week of work.

Of Goodnight Stranger, George Saunders says, “Somewhere the ghosts of Shirley Jackson and the Henry James of The Turn of the Screw are smiling, because a wildly talented young writer has joined their lineage. What a taut, keenly intelligent, and provocative debut Goodnight Stranger is.”

Thank you so much, Miciah, for answering our questions so thoughtfully. We’re so happy your book is out in the world!

Miciah teaches in the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and coordinates the Vermont Book Award. She’ll be celebrating her book’s at launch Bear Pond Books this evening (July 30), and will be reading at several Northern New England locations in the coming months, including Gibson’s Bookstore (August 1), Northshire Books (August 10), The Galaxy Bookshop (August 27), Phoenix Bookstore (September 19), and Vermont College of Fine Arts (September 27).


Literary North: We’re always curious how a story begins and how it changes. Did the story in Goodnight Stranger begin with a specific image or idea? How did you find the plot changing as you wrote? Did anything unexpected arise?

Miciah Bay Gault: I read a personal history in The New Yorker years ago—about one couple’s struggle with infertility, which has nothing in the world to do with Goodnight Stranger. In The New Yorker piece the couple kept losing the pregnancies, over and over. They ended up, after years of hope and heartache, with one daughter, and I found myself wondering about the daughter. Did she, as she got older, think about the brothers and sisters she might have had, did she feel a sense of grief, was she haunted by them?

Then I imagined this image: two grown siblings in a doorway, a stranger facing them across the threshold. The air is charged with surprise, with recognition, hope, and danger. One of the siblings says, “It’s him.”

That premise was the starting point. I knew early on that Lydia and Lucas would by the siblings, twins actually, that they’d be in their late 20s, that their lives would be overshadowed by the death of a third sibling in infancy. I knew a stranger was going to show up, someone handsome and charismatic, and also eerily familiar with their home, their family. From there I had to ask myself all kinds of hard questions to find out what the book was really about.

LN: Let’s talk about your writing process. Do you write a messy first draft or do you tend to go sentence by sentence? How many drafts did you go through while writing this book? Are you the type of writer who works at the same time and place every day, or did you have to grab time whenever and wherever you could?

MBG: I’m laughing as I answer this question. I’m pretty sure I wrote 70 or 80 drafts of this novel over fifteen years. Some drafts were major renovations, removing entire characters, and shuffling chapters from one location to another. Some drafts were more concerned with tightening language. I love sentences and spend an inordinate amount of time working on that level, polishing, carving, chiseling.

I’ve been so lucky to have an agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler of Union Literary, who’s very hands on and who worked on several drafts with me. And my editor Laura Brown at Park Row Books/ HarperCollins, has an amazing editorial eye. After so many years of working alone on the manuscript, it’s been a dream to have a team working with me on the book.

I prefer to write in the morning, riding that first wave of caffeine. I’m very fond of coffee. Sometimes I still manage to write at this time, if my kids sleep in a little, but mostly I write when I can—when the kids are in school, or napping. When I was working full time at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I wrote during lunch breaks, or first thing in the morning on the picnic tables on the college green.

LN: The character Cole is an outsider. He arrives on the island and then insinuates himself into the lives of Lydia and others who grew up on the island. Can you talk a bit about the role of the outsider in your story?

MBG: Writers love to quote John Gardner (although I’ve never actually found the original quote) that there are only two plot variations in fiction: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Obviously, in Goodnight Stranger, I was interested in the latter. I knew I wanted Lydia and Lucas to have a safe, prescribed life, routines that were interrupted by the arrival of the stranger. I wanted Lydia to see herself through the stranger’s eyes. In many ways Goodnight Stranger is the story of siblings who, so mired in grief and longing for the past, never grew up. They’re frozen in time, in a kind of adolescent limbo. Lydia realizes at one point that they’ve never moved the furniture around in their house, never replaced wine glasses that broke decades ago. Baby B is the sibling who died in infancy almost thirty years ago, and his bedroom is still set up for a baby, with teddy bear knobs on the dresser. Cole, the stranger, challenges all their beliefs, everything they thought was true about their family, and ultimately…unsticks time for Lydia and Lucas.

LN: Have you always been an avid fan of literary suspense? Can you share some of your favorite authors—past or present—in the genre?

MBG: I wouldn’t actually say that I’m a fan of literary suspense, and to be honest I’m more than a little surprised that I ended up writing a literary thriller!

I do like page-turners, but that term can be subjective. I consider Pride and Prejudice a page-turner (and I know how it ends because I’ve read it a dozen times!). That said, I’m a devoted fan of Shirley Jackson, whose sentences are exquisite, and whose horror is rich and intricate. Another favorite author is Wilkie Collins, who I would classify as literary suspense.

I respond to books with beautiful sentences and a strong emotional core, and sometimes those books happen to be literary thrillers. Fiction I’ve loved lately include Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, Crystal Hana Kim’s If You Leave Me, Melanie Finn’s The Underneath, and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.

LN: What was the most memorable thing you read in the past month?

MBG: I’m riveted by Christina Thompson’s Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a nonfiction exploration of how people came to inhabit the Polynesian islands. It’s beautifully written, impeccably structured, and fascinating.

 
Photo by Daryl Burtnett

Photo by Daryl Burtnett

 

The Dipper - November 2018

"The Dipper" is our monthly newsletter, where we highlight readings, events, calls for submission, and other literary-related news for the coming month. If you have news or events to share, let us know

 

November News

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Want to hear some gorgeous music, listen to two fabulous authors read, take part in a conversation about the writing process, and stuff your face with homemade biscuits? Well then, look no further than our own Writers’ Process Night happening this Saturday, November 3 at Open Door in White River Junction, Vermont.

Join us, Laura Jean Binkley, Camille Guthrie, and Peter Orner, and a mountain of biscuits made by Literary North’s favorite baker and all-around fan, Dr. Hermann Puterschein. Scurry over to the Event page now and claim your seat at the biscuit bar! See you on Saturday!

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Slow Club Book Club members, have you started reading our final book of 2018 yet? If not, please don’t worry; you’re in fantastic company! At least one of your SCBC hosts hasn’t started either. And guess what? That’s just fine. October always seems to be a month when everything hits the fan at once. Between finally waking up from the summer drowsies and suddenly realizing that the end of the year crazies are nigh, this time of year is often overstuffed with deadlines, new projects, school meetings, and making appointments to get winter tires put on. Never fear… Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence will wait patiently for you to dip in as you have time, maybe while waiting for those tires to be changed.

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It always feels a bit awkward to promote one’s own stuff, but if you can’t do it in your own newsletter, where can you? So this is just to say… Rebecca has written a science book about rivers for kids aged 7 to 10, and it's coming out later this month! Rivers and Streams! is part of a set of four “Explore Waterways” books published by the excellent Nomad Press in White River Junction, Vermont. It’s packed with really fun illustrations by the very talented Tom Casteel, and it includes 25 river-related activities. If you have a young person in your life who’s into science—or even one who isn’t yet into science—check out the set, or the many other wonderful non-fiction books for kids that Nomad publishes.

November’s Shooting Stars

A cool literary find from each of us to help light up your month!

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  • Tommy Orange’s review of Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah in The New York Times was fantastic. Here’s a snippet:

“Now more than ever I believe fiction can change minds, build empathy by asking readers to walk in others’ shoes, and thereby contribute to real change. In “Friday Black,” Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has written a powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now, at the end of this year, as we inch ever closer to what feels like an inevitable phenomenal catastrophe or some other kind of radical change, for better or for worse. And when you can’t believe what’s happening in reality, there is no better time to suspend your disbelief and read and trust in a work of fiction—in what it can do.”

—Shari

  • I’m in a bit of a glum mood, what with the current dreary weather and the state of the world and all, so Emily Dickinson’s Patreon page in The New Yorker is giving me a welcome lift as I put the finishing touches on this newsletter. I’ll be scraping my shekels together to afford patronage at $100 a month (“I will tell you which parts of the Bible would be made better with bees. Plus all previous rewards.”) How about you? —Rebecca


November Highlights

On Friday, November 2, at 7:30 pm, GunSense Vermont, the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, and Bear Pond Books present “Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence.” This event features Major Jackson, Matthew Olzmann, and Kerrin McCadden and takes place at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier, Vermont.

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Ed Koren

You have plenty of opportunities to catch cartoonist Ed Koren in November. He’ll be at The Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, on Saturday, November 3, at 6:00 pm; at Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont, on Thursday, November 15, at 7:00 pm; at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont, on Friday, November 23, at 12:00 pm for a book signing; and at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vermont, on Tuesday, November 27, at 6:00 pm.

On Sunday, November 4, at 3:00 pm, poet Sue Ellen Thompson is giving a lecture on “Marriage, Metaphor, & Mortality: The Poetry of Jane Kenyon” at BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vermont. The lecture explores Kenyon’s lifelong struggle with depression and her marriage to fellow poet Donald Hall.

Also on Sunday, November 4, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, will be dedicating the Colony’s Library to James Baldwin, who was a resident at the Colony three times in the 1950s to work on his books. The outdoor ceremony at 11:00 am will be followed by light refreshments.

Eugene Lim will be reading as part of the Cleopatra Mathis Poetry & Prose Reading Series at Dartmouth College’s Sanborn Library, in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, from 4:30 to 6:00 pm.

First Wednesdays, a program of the Vermont Humanities Council, brings DeRay McKesson to Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, on Wednesday, November 7, at 7:00 pm to talk about politics and activism.

Catherine Lacey. Photo by Jesse Ball.

Catherine Lacey. Photo by Jesse Ball.

Catherine Lacey is at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, on Wednesday, November 7, at 7:00 pm, reading from her new short story collection, Certain American States.

On Tuesday, November 13, poet Kevin Goodan reads from his new collection, Anaphora, at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire. The reading begins at 5:30 pm.

Jeremy Holt visits Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont, on Tuesday, November 13, at 7:00 pm for his graphic novel, After Houdini.

Robin MacArthur will be at The Bennington Free Library in Bennington, Vermont, on Thursday, November 15, at 7:00 pm, in support of the paperback release of her fabulous novel, Heart Spring Mountain.

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Kim Adrian

Poet Sidney Wade will be at the Fleming Museum of Art in Burlington, Vermont, for the Painted Word Poetry Series on Thursday, November 29, at 6:00 pm.

As part of the UNH Writers Series, Kim Adrian, author of the memoir The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet, will be reading at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire, on Thursday, November 29, at 5:00 pm.

Visit our calendar for detailed information about these events and more!

 

Worth a Drive

Edward Carey visits The Odyssey Bookshop in Hadley, Massachusetts, on Thursday, November 8, at 7:00 pm to read from his new novel, Little, about Madam Tussaud. The event is free but registration is requested.

 

Worth a Listen

We're Looking Forward to These November Releases

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Calls For Submission and Upcoming Deadlines

The AVA Gallery in Lebanon, New Hampshire is looking for its next batch of true-life storytellers for its December 13 Mudroom event. The theme is “Holiday Disasters.” Storytellers of all ages and from all towns in the Upper Valley and beyond are welcome to submit their stories for consideration by November 23. In your submission, include a brief summary of the story (no more than 300 words) and a short bio (no more than 150 words). For more information and to submit your story, please visit the AVA Gallery’s Mudroom page.

Marble House Project is a multi-disciplinary artist residency program in Dorset, Vermont, that fosters collaboration and the exchange of ideas by providing an environment for artists across disciplines to live and work side by side. The three-week Artist Residency is open to artists in all creative fields, including but not limited to visual arts, writing, choreography, music composition and performance. Applications for 2019 residencies are open through December 16. The application fee is $32. For more information, please visit the Residency Applications page.

Bloodroot Literary Magazine is accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for their 2019 Digital Edition through December 31. Submission guidelines are available on the Bloodroot website.

The Frost Place is accepting submissions for their annual Chapbook Competition. The competition is open to any poet writing in English. The submission fee is $28. Submissions will be accepted through January 5, 2019. For more information, please visit the Chapbook Competition page.

Applications are now open for the Dartmouth Poet in Residence program at The Frost Place. This is a six-to-eight-week residency in poet Robert Frost’s former farmhouse in Franconia, New Hampshire. The residency begins July 1 and ends August 15, and includes an award of $1,000 from The Frost Place and an award of $1,000 from Dartmouth College. The recipient will have an opportunity to give a series of public readings across the region, including at Dartmouth College and The Frost Place. Applications will be accepted through January 5, 2019. For more information, please visit the Residency page.  

Every summer, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, awards residency Fellowships to artists in seven disciplines, including literature. A Fellowship consists of exclusive use of a private studio, accommodations and three prepared meals a day for two weeks to two months. The deadline for the 2019 Summer MacDowell Literature Fellowship is January 15, 2019. The application fee is $30. For more information, please visit the Residency Application page.


Upcoming Workshops and Classes

Do you have an interview project in mind but don’t quite know where to begin or how to proceed? The Vermont Folklife Center is offering an “Oral History: An Introduction” workshop that can help you move your project forward. The workshop will be held on November 3, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Dorset Historical Society in Dorset, Vermont. Tuition is $95-$50. For more information and to register, please visit the Vermont Folklife Center Workshop page.

The pressure’s on if you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month, the creative writing project that challenges participants to write a 50,000 word manuscript in November. Take some of that pressure off with the free “NaNoWriMo Expressive Writing” workshop, lead by Joni B. Cole on November 5, at the Norwich Public Library in Norwich, Vermont, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. This workshop invites you to write from a prompt to develop a character….add a plot twist…or discover a scene that’s just been waiting to burst onto the page. For more information, please visit the Writer’s Center of WRJ Workshops page.

Looking for quality instruction, feedback, and inspiration in a beautiful Vermont setting? This half-day retreat on November 10, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, offers all that and more. You’ll have the opportunity to share pages of a new or revised work for personalized feedback, learn tips and techniques to get started and stay motivated, and reap the benefits of gathering within a supportive creative community. Both nervous beginners and seasoned authors are welcome. Tuition is $115 and must be paid in full prior to the retreat. For more information, or to register (required), please visit the Writer’s Center of WRJ Workshops page.

NaNoWriMo too easy? Become a Centurion by earning 100 poetry, essay, or short-story rejections in twelve months. Lead by R. W. W. Greene, this two-hour workshop hosted by the New Hampshire Writers’ Project will “take you through the steps of submitting your work, the mystery of rejectomancy, and the best methods of recuperation from a ‘thanks but no thanks.’” The workshop will be held on November 17, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, at The Ford House on the campus of SNHU in Manchester, New Hampshire. $50 for NHWP members; $75 for non-members. For more information, please visit the NHWP Workshops page.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for the documentation of voices, memories, and histories. It can also be a catalyst for activism and social change. In this “Storytelling for Social Change” workshop—held on December 1, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Saint Albans Museum in Saint Albans, Vermont—we will explore the ethics and techniques of oral history, ethnography, and storytelling as activist research methodologies. Attendees will be invited to take a critical and analytical look at the history of documentary work, and will learn the basics of skills such as interviewing, story circle facilitation, and ethnographic observation. We will also cover the technical aspects of storytelling, providing an introduction to tools for minimal-resource and mobile audio recording. Tuition is $95-$50. For more information or to register, please visit the Vermont Folklife Center Workshop page.