Please welcome Hester Young
to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge
Interviews. The Gates of Evangeline
is published on September 1st by G.P. Putnam's Sons. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Hester
a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Hester: Thanks for so much for inviting me. Amazingly enough, I have been writing since the first grade. I remember a lot of our class time that year was spent learning to read, which I had already taught myself to do. My boredom started to manifest as stomachaches, anything to get out of school. Fortunately, I had a wonderful teacher who saw my interest in writing and used it to transform my school experience. Every day I would blaze through our assignments and then, upon completion, I’d receive writing time as my reward. My mother still has lots of “books”—little yellow stapled pages with blobby drawings and poor spelling—that I wrote back then. I’ve been jotting down bits and pieces of stories ever since.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser or a hybrid? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Hester: I tried to pants it when I first started The Gates of Evangeline, but with mysteries, the things that happen at the end of the book directly affect the way you have to plot the beginning. I eventually broke down and made an outline. Of course, there were still several surprises along the way, characters who evolved in unexpected ways or scenes unfolding in a manner I didn’t anticipate.
The hardest thing for me about writing a novel is keeping the story to myself. I don’t tell anyone what I have planned. I need to feel the ending of my novel burning inside me like a secret or I will lack the motivation to finish.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Hester: It’s hard to pinpoint my influences because so much of that is subconscious. But I was a huge Agatha Christie and Lois Duncan fan starting around the age of ten. In college, I was blown away by The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter’s collection of feminist Gothic fairytales. I love classics in true crime, like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and In Cold Blood. And in terms of contemporary lit, I really enjoy the complex psychological territory that Tana French covers in her Dublin Murder Squad series. Her book Broken Harbour has perhaps the most terrifying—and totally original—setting I’ve ever encountered.
TQ: Describe The Gates of Evangeline in 140 characters or less.
Hester: “After her son’s death, the dreams began. Now Charlie’s dark premonitions are leading her South, to a wealthy family with twisted secrets…”
TQ: Tell us something about The Gates of Evangeline that is not found in the book description.
Hester: The book is dedicated to my grandmother, who passed away in 2009, and to her son, Bobby. Like my protagonist’s son, Bobby was just four years old when he died. Before his death, my grandmother had a recurring nightmare about him falling from a window and one day, while in someone else’s care, he did. In the course of writing the novel, I thought a lot about my grandmother and the son she lost. I’m glad to have created some small thing in their memory.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Gates of Evangeline? What appealed to you about writing in a suspense novel, particularly a Southern Gothic mystery? What is Southern Gothic?
Hester: The inspiration for the novel—and its Southern setting—actually came to me in a dream. I dreamt that I was in a boat drifting through a Louisiana swamp with a little boy. He began to tell me about himself and then said, “Let me tell you how I died.” My novel now opens in a similar fashion.
I certainly didn’t set out to write a Southern Gothic mystery. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever really heard the term “Southern Gothic” until my agent used it to describe my work. In retrospect, I can see how elements of my novel play into the genre: an old plantation home inhabited by a dying matriarch, complex characters with violent secrets, the whisper of the supernatural. I am hardly a Southern writer, however. I chose to explore this world through the lens of a Northern narrator because that is what I can mostly fairly represent.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Gates of Evangeline?
Hester: Three of my husband’s immediate family members were living in Louisiana as I wrote this novel, so it was relatively easy to visit. We made a total of three research trips, each about a week long, during which I’d gather experiences I could use for the book: plantation home and swamp tours, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and just hanging around one particular town that I loosely based the fictional Chicory on. I was amazed by the variety of accents I heard—Louisiana is very linguistically diverse.
Back at home, I spent a lot of time reading about Louisiana accents, listening to recordings and watching videos of different regions, and learning about the phonological features of certain dialects. (Yes, I am a huge nerd.) Southern voices in all their many shades are warm and musical to me in a way that northeastern accents are decidedly not. Though I’m from Boston and currently live in New Jersey, I’ll take a Cajun accent any day!
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Did any of your characters surprise you?
Hester: I don’t think I could write a novel if my characters didn’t surprise me. I initially had a different villain and a different love interest in my head. In the end, some characters were worse and some far better people than I’d pegged them for. And my narrator definitely had her own ideas about who she was attracted to. That took the book in an altogether new direction.
The easiest character to write was Charlie, my protagonist. Her voice has always been very clear in my head—a good thing, when I have two more books with her! The hardest was probably Hettie Deveau, the dying mother of the long-missing child. Hettie isn’t especially self-aware, and her addled brain and failing health sort of scramble the woman I know she once was.
TQ: Which question about The Gates of Evangeline do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Hester: Readers often ask me, “How is it writing about a child’s death when you have two children of your own?” Quite simply: it is dark. You have to go to an ugly place. But I think most mothers go there at some time or other. Your baby sleeps too late one morning, and suddenly your heart is pounding, wondering. Your child falls from a structure at the playground and hits his head, and for a brief second, the possibility flashes before you. The scariest part of motherhood, I think, is living with that potential for loss, however unlikely it may be.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite (non-spoilery) lines from The Gates of Evangeline.
Hester: There’s one line of dialogue at the climax of the book that many people seem to like, but I’ll let readers find that little nugget for themselves because it’s definitely a spoiler.
TQ: What's next?
Hester: The Gates of Evangeline is actually the first book in a trilogy. Right now I’m wrapping up the first draft to the sequel, and by spring, I should be wading into the third book. I love the chance to follow my protagonist through different environments and phases of life.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Hester: I appreciate you having me!
The Gates of Evangeline
Charlie Cates 1
G.P. Putnam's Sons, September 1, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
From a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .
When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.
After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined.A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down.
About HesterHester Young
holds a Master’s degree in English with a Creative Writing concentration from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Hawai’i Review. Before turning to writing full time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. She lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey. Website