Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Robin Cannon.
Ms. Cannon is the author of Rye Hill (Goose River Press, $14.95)—the follow-up to her debut novel, Tilly Fig (2014). She received her BA and MS degrees from Fordham University in New York City and her Sixth Year Degree in Education Administration from Southern CT State University in New Haven, CT. Ms. Cannon has been a schoolteacher in the West Haven Public School District for nearly thirty years.
Rye Hill was published earlier this month. Mark Zaretsky of the New Haven Register praised, “Rye Hill is a nicely written period piece about crossing borders and jumping cultures in a time when (and a place where) people generally kept to their own. It’s about hypocrisy during a dangerous, even now difficult-to-look-at time. It’s about that which unites us as well as divides us; about that which is implied as well as stated. It’s about the value and strength of friendship and faith in the not-too-distant days of the Jim Crow American south. Most importantly, it’s well worth a read.” Further, author Mary Simses (The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café) noted, “…a really nice job of creating the characters, describing the settings, and leading the reader into Skeet’s world…and there’s plenty of beautiful writing there.”
From the publisher:
“The spirituals always signified that something important was going on; something extraordinary that needed God’s special attention.” A young boy seeks friendship in a forbidden place where he learns valuable lessons in acceptance, forgiveness, and the indomitable human spirit. Young Skeet LeMay and his parents are migrant workers who move from one place to the next in search of work. After they settle on a large farm where Skeet’s father has been hired to pick peaches in the orchard, the young boy witnesses something horrific and perverse, changing his life forever. Caught between a bitter father who is despic-able to the core and a gentle, loving mother who has ac-quiesced to her husband’s abusive ways, Skeet must di-rect his own fate as he embarks on a journey to Rye Hill, following the one thing his father never had…a moral compass. “I was off to find that colored boy. I didn’t know what I would say to him or what he would say back, but I was so inclined to make his acquaintance that no one, not even Pa, could stop me now.”
Now, Robin Cannon offers readers an intimate glimpse between the lines of Rye Hill …
1) What inspired the idea for RYE HILL – and how did you find the process of writing this book to compare to that of your first?
Writing RYE HILL was something I knew I had to do because the fabric of Skeet’s character was woven with controversial possibilities from the start in my first book, TILLY FIG. I couldn’t just leave him there. TILLY FIG was meant to be about this little girl and her mother’s secret but to me, Skeet emerged as the standout character in the book because of the kind of life he lived with a father who was so abusive and scandalous. People are always so interested in backstories. We see it all the time on TV…backstories of this actor or actress, this show or movie. So, I thought that writing Skeet’s backstory was the natural thing to do. It gave me the opportunity to develop the characters of both he and his father, and explain how they both got to the point where they were in TILLY FIG…so broken, so terribly sad in one sense. But in another sense, Skeet was a fighter, a survivor who always emerged with this indomitable spirit that just couldn’t be squelched by anyone, not even his father. So, I felt his character deserved more attention. The writing flowed for me much easier than it did during the writing of the first book…the words just came. It wasn’t difficult to develop the story or the characters because there was so much more to say. It was fun, but also very emotional. I choked up more than once while writing about these characters and had some sleepless nights as I came to terms with each of them and who they were. They are a part of me now.
2) How does this work serve as a companion piece to TILLY FIG – and how might reading it give your audience a better understanding of their beloved characters?
This book serves as a great companion piece to the first book because it explains how Skeet and his father got to the place where they were in TILLY FIG…which was not a very good place. It explains the family history, so you’ll read it and say, ‘OK, that’s what happened, that’s how these people came to be so broken and in such despair.’ But, it’s not all bad. Skeet and his friends have some pretty good times together…there are a few laughs and some poignant moments too.
3) The story takes place during times of turmoil. How can fiction give us a better understanding of history – and in what ways does having a child protagonist influence the lens through which we view things?
It is much safer to write a piece of fiction than nonfiction, even though we know that the point in American history in which the story takes place is, unfortunately, all too real. The fiction of RYE HILL allows the reader to see some awful truths from a time we might want to forget, but never should, in an exaggerated, ‘bigger than life’ sort of way. It gets the point of history across, yet is entertaining at the same time, keeping the reader engaged. And seeing those truths through the eyes of a child protagonist makes them even more vivid and real because children are so honest and innocent about things, not having yet developed the guard that adults tend to cloak themselves in after having been around the block many more times. Children know nothing other than to ‘tell it the way it is’, so having a child protagonist ensures the honesty and innocence of it all, two things a reader can’t resist in a character.
4) There is an element of mystery that runs throughout the narrative. What are the challenges of creating and maintaining this type of suspense?
Maintaining the elements of mystery and suspense is always challenging, but lots of fun. The writer has to be really careful not to give too much away too quickly, or the reader will guess what’s coming…and that, to me, is the worst thing that can happen to a book. It’s a matter of going back and checking to make sure you are keeping those elements alive until the right moment in the plot. I don’t ever want a reader of my work to be able to anticipate what is going to happen next, so I love coming up with twists and turns. Mystery and suspense are born of that, keeping the storyline unpredictable and fresh with every page. To me, if the reader can anticipate a character’s next step or a plot’s next turn, then the book is over before it begins. We all appreciate a good twist!
5) Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
My intention is to write a third book and make this a trilogy. I have an outline, but haven’t made any firm decisions yet. I’ll leave it at that! Stay tuned…
With thanks to Robin Cannon for her generosity of time and thought.