SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Today I'm delighted to introduce Lisa Alber, author of Kilmoon and her just-published Whispers in the Mist.
LISA ALBER: Thanks for having me, Susan! I always enjoy joining the Jungle Reds gang for a day.
In my relatively short time as a novelist (my second novel, WHISPERS IN THE MIST, came out a few weeks ago—woohoo!), I’ve come to the conclusion that reading is a conversation we have with ourselves; how we react to what we read isn’t so much about the story as about ourselves.
I hadn’t thought about this until I went to Ireland this past spring for novel research. One day to my delight I happened on a big horse fair and got to talking to the owner of a Connemara pony. He was charming fellow, one of the loquacious Irish. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the conversation, but then he asked my name, and I asked his name, and then my mind got blown.
“Wait,” I said, “you’re W—D—, the matchmaker?” I couldn’t believe it. Of all the horse owners in all of Ireland, I happened to be talking to the man who was one of the inspirations for my first novel (and thus the series). Oh. My. God. I immediately fell into a flurry of words, telling him about the County Clare mysteries and assuring him that my rendition of matchmaking had nothing to do with reality.
I pulled out a copy of KILMOON that I carried with me everywhere. He seemed a little—bemused? Wary? Skeptical? But, also curious. Maybe a smidgen impressed. So, feeling a tad foolish, I signed over the copy to him. He asked for my phone number.
Sure, why not? I thought.
I walked away thoroughly tickled by the encounter, so tickled that I had to tell Lou the owner of my favorite café, Ginger Lou’s, and later Kevin the barman at my favorite pub, Cooley’s. I got an earful about the matchmaker along the lines of:
“He’d buy and sell you as soon as look at you.” “He’s a pretty tricky character.” “An old gigolo.” “You couldn’t be matchmaker without doing a bit of quality control.”
Fascinating, I thought. W—D—, matchmaker, was or is a total player. Huh.
Fast forward a week. I received a text message: You said i may not like the book i said i might so when good to meet up w--
Whoa! I hadn’t expected to hear from W—, and here he’d read the bbook surprisingly fast. The next day we met up at Ginger Lou’s. Only now I was unaccountably nervous. My matchmaker is the only character I’ve written who is remotely based on reality, and however remotely, the fact remained that I’d gotten the idea for him from W—D—. If W— was a tricky character, did he want money? If he was an old gigolo, did he want—something?
WHAT DID HE WANT?
The suspense about killed me, and Lou was nothing but laughing at me. “Oh ay, he probably just wants to get the leg over.” (“The leg over” – I love the Irish!)
The next day, W— was charming as could be as we sipped tea and ate dessert (with Lou smirking in the background). He didn’t say much about the novel, only that I certainly “can write.” We chatted about all kinds of things, including his large extended family, many kids, and grandchildren. I couldn’t figure him out.
Toward the end of the conversation, he finally said, “There’s one thing I want to ask you though.” Uh-oh, here we go. “Your character, Merrit—is she based on anyone?”
Merrit is one of my series protagonists. She’s from California and is the illegitimate daughter of the local matchmaker. It took me a second to realize what W— was asking: Was Merrit based on ME? Was I his daughter? Whoa! Without letting on that I understood what he was really asking, I assured him that she’s not based on anyone real.
You can see why I got to reflecting about the meanings our stories can have for people, meanings that we could never in a million years predict, meanings that don’t reflect the stories themselves, meanings that have nothing to do with us, the authors. It’s an amazing thing, not to mention a little mind-boggling.
Ultimately, I suppose that’s why storytelling is so powerful. Stories have their own lives. I just hadn’t considered this for the stories I write. I mean, I’m just doing my thing—having my own conversation with myself as I write.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Lisa, wow, what an amazing story. He must have been completely freaked out that you might be his real-life daughter, based on Merrit!
Reds and lovely readers, when you read, how much of yourselves to you bring to the book? Do you think novels are a collaboration between writer and reader? Tell us in the comments!
ABOUT WHISPERS IN THE MIST:
There’s a whisper in the mists
In Lisfenora, Ireland, a strange fog has rolled in off the Atlantic. Along with the fog comes tales of the Grey Man, a predatory faery of local lore who snatches innocent souls into his deadly gloom.
And with the mists come murder
When a teenage boy dies in Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern’s arms, Danny finds himself pursuing his own grey man, a killer who becomes more elusive the closer Danny gets to the truth. A mute woman may be the key to solving the murder and helping Danny heal his own broken life, but first she must unlock the memories from her past.
Lisa Alber writes the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, was nominated for the Rosebud Award of Best First Novel. Kirkus calls her second novel, Whispers in the Mist, a “worthy successor to Kilmoon in tone, mood, complexity, and keen insight into human failures and triumphs.” She balances writing her third novel (Midnight Ink, August 2017) with gardening, dog-walking, and goofing off. She lives in Portland, OR. You can find Lisa online at lisaalber.com, Facebook and Twitter.
KILMOON link: https://www.amazon.com/Kilmoon-County-Clare-Mystery-Alber/dp/0989544605