Monday night I went to Tuscan Market and Wine Bar for another author event featuring Sophie Littlefield, author of the fantastic novel, Garden of Stones. She was an absolute delight, so warm and friendly, even declaring at one point that the audience could ask her anything. I love these events because they offer personal access to the author between when the doors open and the formal Q&A discussion begins. So I was able to talk with Sophie for a while, then I had a great conversation with her publicist.
Highlights of the discussion:
- At one point she had lived in Chicago and Evanston, so she enjoys coming back to the area and interacting with her fellow Polskis.
- Writing is in her family. Her father is a historian and her brother, Mike Cooper writes financial thrillers.
- She had stories rejected by Seventeen and The New Yorker. She did sell a piece in college for $30 and it paid for a bikini for her to take on spring break.
- GoS is her first foray into historical fiction. Her previous books are mysteries and young adult.
- It was a friend who made her aware of Japanese intern camps during WWII during a road trip. She then immersed herself in the subject, plastering her office with photographs from the time.
- Her agent didn’t want her to make a departure from her niche and strongly discouraged writing this book. There was also some concern about a white woman writing from the perspective of a Japanese-American. But her editor supported the project and she went ahead with it.
- When asked whether there was any redeeming value to the internment policy, she noted that apologies and reparations were made. But the attitude at the time was that Americans felt they were doing the right thing in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Better safe than sorry, right? In the ensuing discussion, someone pointed out that by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, America had been so thoroughly infiltrated by the Germans that they assumed the same was true of the Japanese. When Sophie stated that no spies were found among the internees, I asked about Lucy’s neighbors being taken out of their homes before they were sent to Manzanar. She said that initially Japanese patriarchs were separated from their families, taken to existing facilities, and basically disappeared into the system.
***WARNING – SPOILER ALERTS***
- Sophie was asked how she felt writing about a mother who would disfigure her own daughter. She referred to her own daughter, being an extremely tall young lady (like her mother) and worrying about this harming her self esteem. If she could have, she would have shrunk her daughter two inches or so. Then she got serious and commented that it is often necessary to hurt in order to help, noting that people do insane things for their children.
- In the novel, it is inferred that Lucy’s mom was abused as a teenager in Japan. When Sophie wrote her first draft, she went into detail about this, but ended up cutting it from the final version. I (and the rest of the crowd) agreed that the ambiguity about the abuse worked.
- We all raved about the twist ending.
- When asked whether there was a connection between Garvey and his taxidermy and Lucy being deformed, Sophie said that she meant it to be a transformative aspect of Lucy’s story. Then she admitted that she had read a book about taxidermy and became a little obsessed with the idea and that’s why she included it. (I then recommended Kingdom Under Glass to her).
- Sophie’s next book, House of Glass is being released in March. It’s a fictional retelling of the tragic Connecticut home invasion.
- While writing just after her divorce, her editor and agent made her tone down her “unresolved feelings about marriage.” Apparently her hostility to ex-husband was apparent in her writing.
It was a delightful evening and I’m so pleased to have met Sophie. And I cannot recommend her book enough.
A random sidenote on the gentleman in the picture… The manager of the wine bar went to BEA last year where she introduced me to this wonderful man, Dan. He manages a local Barnes & Nobel and told me about a signing he’s hosting next weekend. Long story short, I went to college with the author. So I’ll have more details on that connection after her signing. Stay tuned!