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Monday, April 24, 2017

An Interview with Joanne O'Sullivan, author of Between Two Skies

Joanne O'Sullivan stops by The Hiding Spot today to discuss her powerful new YA novel, Between Two Skies, inspiration, process, and more!

I was struck by the immediacy of the setting in Between Two Skies; I was transported to Bayou Perdu, falling in love with the small town before Hurricane Katrina and decimated by its destruction after. Can you speak about creating the sense of place and its importance to Evangeline?  
I grew up in a very bland suburb of Atlanta where most people were transplants from somewhere else and often didn’t stay around long. Everything was shiny and new and development was booming, but I craved exactly the opposite: someplace with history, where people had roots and deep relationships. One of the reasons I chose to go to college in New Orleans was that sense of history and tradition I experienced there. While so much has been written about what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, I haven’t seen as much about the coastal towns that were devastated. But Katrina was just one blow for this area. Five years later, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated the region and every hour a football-field-size area of marshland is lost to erosion. The life of the fishing and shrimping communities here is, sadly, very much a dying way of life. Bayou Perdu (which means Lost Bayou) is a kind of paradise lost; lost to Evangeline because life can never return to the way it was before the storm, but also in a real sense this is a way of life that’s disappearing and I wanted to capture it before it’s gone forever. 
I found Evangeline’s relationship with her grandmother, also named Evangeline, especially compelling. You can you speak about this relationship – and the importance of the name Evangeline? 
The name Evangeline comes from the eponymous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem about a girl who is cast out of Acadia (now Nova Scotia) during the British expulsion of the French in the late 1700s. The poem is iconic in Louisiana and so the name Evangeline is iconic there, too. In Evangeline’s family, she says there has been a girl with her name in the family every generation for over 100 years, so it’s a way to strongly connect her with her Louisiana heritage, making her displacement even more painful. While Evangeline doesn’t feel this heritage is important to her mother (who goes by Vangie), it’s something she shares with her grandmother, who grew up in a Cajun part of Louisiana and speaks Cajun French. Evangeline has issues with her mother, but she feels her grandmother is someone who always understands and supports her. I never knew either of my grandmothers, so this relationship is also a little bit of wish fulfillment! 
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end?
I have a beginning and an end in mind when I start. I always write a prologue that is essentially told from the point of view at the end of the story, knowing I can take it out later. But that provides me with some direction. Unfortunately, I’m not much of an outliner or plotter: I like to let things evolve organically and like to be surprised while I’m writing. But I am trying to learn to embrace more structure. 
Inspiration comes in many forms. Share three people, places, or things that inspire your creativity.
I’m always inspired by music. There are several songs titled Evangeline, including ones my Emmylou Harris, Matthew Sweet and Los Lobos, and I think these contributed to my thinking about my character. Like Evangeline, I’m always inspired when I’m in nature: when my head is clear and I can think expansively beyond the day-to-day. Finally, I get inspiration from other authors and makers. In my work as a journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to interview creative people in fields from ceramics to fiber arts. I love to hear about their processes and what drives them and feel inspired by their work. 
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book that provided you with a hiding spot. 
Such a great question and a great theme for your blog! When I was a kid, the library was definitely my escape hatch from a place where I didn’t feel I fit in. I was a big fan of the Narnia books and read them over and over and fervently hoped that any wardrobe I came across led to another world. There’s also an English author who’s now out of print who I adored as a pre-teen: Ruth M. Arthur. All her books involved magic and girls on summer holiday in creaking old houses in Cornwall, Wales, or Scotland. They were often intergenerational stories. I still aspire to write a book like this! 
What can readers look forward to next? 
I’m working on something humorous, set in the South—a kind of fish out of water story. But I’ve also got a story percolating about a female friendship that’s a little more challenging and on the edgy side.

More About the Book
Hurricane Katrina sets a teenage girl adrift. But a new life — and the promise of love — emerges in this rich, highly readable debut.

Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru — a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.

Purchase a copy of Between Two Skies via the links below:


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