Please welcome Emily Arsenault, our August featured author!
Emily Arsenault Interview
NMR: Congratulations on your new title In Search of the Rose Notes! Can you begin by telling us a bit where you got the idea for this novel?
It came from a few different places. For a long time, I had this vague idea in my head of a character who reluctantly returns to her hometown to face some dark adolescent memories—but I wasn’t sure which direction to take it until I experimented with different mysteries and plotlines. The friendship between Nora and Charlotte is very loosely based on a friendship I had with a girl in my neighborhood. The Time-Life aspect comes from my own interest in the series as a kid (I never had the books, but I saw the commercials and wanted them desperately).
NMR: You’ve done an excellent job of capturing that young age between innocence and angst; what inspired you to go so in-depthly into this particular time in life?
This was a very memorable time for me, so it felt natural to write a book about it. It was a really bittersweet time—age 11-12, and everything changed for me after that year. I often think about how a few pivotal things that happened at that age (nothing like Nora’s experience, by the way) changed the whole course of my school years—perhaps my whole life.
NMR: It seems like more than one of your characters felt a great deal of alienation during their teen years; do you think this is more common than not - something that is perhaps often felt but seldom talked about?
I think it’s pretty common, although it’s certainly possible for someone to make it though those years without feeling that way. I think that once people move beyond that stage, they’re eager to forget about it, and tend not to talk about it. Nora is like that. She is happy now as an adult. It’s painful to remember how alone she felt during those years. You get the sense that she’s never talked about it much—or even thought about it much—since she left town for college.
NMR: I thought it was wonderful that you brought in the Time-Life series of Mysteries of the Unknown; what kid wasn’t fascinated by such things at that age? What led you to include these as such a central part of your story?
There were two main reasons for including them. One was that I always wanted those books when I was a kid, and buying them as “research” for this novel satisfied an old childhood desire. The other reason was that I felt the material from the series lightened up the book. On one level it’s a fairly dark tale about a lonely adolescence, so I felt the Time-Life material—which can often be humorous, especially in the hands of eleven-year-olds—provided some comic relief.
NMR: You also explore the friendships in childhood that don’t often survive past that age of innocence. Why do you think this is? Do we really change that much, or is there something else at play here?
In Nora’s case, she finds her inner turmoil so consuming that friendship with Charlotte becomes difficult to maintain—she is too frightened to articulate her feelings. Charlotte is—understandably, as she is only eleven—not mature enough to realize this or help her.
But I don’t think the fading of these friendships always happens so quickly or painfully as it does in the novel. Some of those friendships evolve and survive into adulthood. Sometimes childhood friends simply grow up and realize they don’t actually have much in common. Also, as you grow up, you want to experiment with the person you are, and it can be difficult to try that with your oldest friends. Old friends can sometimes feel very limiting at that stage.
NMR: You mention on your website that you wrote your first novel in 5th grade, over 100 pages! You also admit that it was pretty bad. Nonetheless, did you think then that this was something you wanted to grow up and do for a living?
Yes, it was always something I wanted to do. But I never studied creative writing formally and, past age 17 or so, I rarely told many people about my writing ambitions. It was always in the back of my head—even as I tried different careers—as the thing I really wanted to do. For I long time, I was afraid to pursue it seriously. I knew the odds of being published were slim and I was anxious about rejection quashing my enjoyment of the actual writing.
NMR: How much encouragement did you receive to continue on this path?
I received a lot of encouragement, especially when I was very young. Teachers were always telling me I was a good writer, and I’m still very grateful for that. It meant a great deal to me at the time.
NMR: And finally, can you give us a hint of what’s coming next for you?
Sure. I’m working on my third novel. I can’t say a great deal about the plot, but I’ve been doing a great deal of research on women in country music—particularly Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton. The book has information about these fascinating women woven into the mystery, in a book-within-the-book called Tammyland.
Emily Arsenault is also the author of The Broken Teaglass, which was selected as a New York Times Notable Mystery in 2009. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband. For more info: www.emilyarsenault.com