Interview with Anne Korkeakivi

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Today I’m delighted welcome Anne Korkeakivi back to my blog to discuss her latest book Shining Sea! Publishers Weekly writes, “This absorbing generational story, which follows the Gannon family from WWII to the present, explores complex dynamics and captures the mood of different decades in America. Korkeakivi’s cogent insight into family relationships and the impact of personal loss, as well as how the times we live in effect who we are, shines through.” Don’t miss her talk at the American Library in Paris on March 8th! In the meantime, you can find her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

What is the first line of your book?

A crowd of sparrows flies up, peppering the California sky overhead. His heart constricts, and Michael Gannon thinks: Today is the day I am going to die.

What are the themes of Shining Sea?

Shining Sea explores the ripple effect of historical event, especially armed conflict, on society in general and families in particular. The novel opens with the sudden death in 1962 of Michael Gannon, a former POW in the Pacific during WWII. He leaves behind four children and a young widow, who is pregnant with his fifth child; unmoored, they have to navigate the counter-culture of the sixties, the Vietnam War in the seventies, the AIDS epidemic in the eighties, and onward up until the present decade, under the weight of their grief and the weighty legacy of heroism.

Micro-themes emerge—for example, the youngest son, Francis, who possesses exceptional physical beauty, struggles with sexual objectification—but ultimately Shining Sea is a story of resilience and redemption. It’s about the passing down of memory and the making of myth. It’s about the modern American family.

Is sense of place important to you in your work?

Location in my fiction tends to take on the role of an additional character–or, in the case of Shining Sea, characters. The novel opens near the beach in Southern California but travels far and wide: through the dry heat of Arizona, the mud of the original Woodstock festival in upstate New York, the gritty nightlife of London in the ‘80s, the wild shores of Scotland’s Hebrides islands, the rolling farmland in western Massachusetts, the busy sidewalks and Columbia University’s campus in New York City, and always back to Southern California. Paris also has a cameo, as do Northern Ireland, Mallorca, and San Francisco.

Every one of these places possesses a distinct personality in real life, and every one contributes in its own way to the story.

Anne walking on the beach of Colonsay, one of the islands that appears in the novel.

Anne walking on the beach of Colonsay, one of the islands that appears in the novel.

Do you have a schedule when you write?

When I write short nonfiction, my process is quite straightforward: whenever, wherever.

When I’m working on a novel, on the other hand, I’m entering another world, and I don’t want anything reminding me of the current one. And the gestation period resembles that of an elephant. I spend a long time puzzling over my idea, my story, and my characters. As they grow and coalesce in my head, I begin research. By the time I get to tapping out scenes on my computer, the pages fill quickly. Alas, completing that first draft has, to date, typically been followed by a second long period–of deconstruction and revision.

Things have changed since I last interviewed you in 2012. After living several years in Europe, you’ve returned to the States. How are you finding the change?

I’ve lived the majority of my adult life as an expatriate, including ten years in Strasbourg, France, and now seven years in Geneva, Switzerland. Last autumn I had the relatively rare opportunity to spend four solid months—while book-touring Shining Sea—with a home base in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m back in Geneva now, but I was thrilled to have this extended time in my home country.

Living in the US again did take some adjustment; for one thing, I had to bridle an instinct to say “bonjour” to everyone I passed when I was out on a run or walked into a bakery. That was the easy stuff. Suffice to say that the 2016 electoral season wasn’t a serene time in the United States of America.

What is the role of the writer in the era of Trump?

Speak out, speak up, and very importantly speak truthfully. The disinformation being disseminated is dangerous. We all need to support reliable journalism.

We also need greater dialogue. For this, writers have a whole box of tools at their disposal and that includes fictionists, whose work can open up new worlds to their readers. Make people think, make people care. Connect the metaphorical dots for them if you have the opportunity. When I bring Shining Sea to the American Library in Paris on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, I’ll talk about the novel and writing and war in society but also plan to link certain elements in the story to a larger discussion of women in literature and in our world. I look forward to a lively evening.

What books are on your nightstand?

I like that you ask what’s on my nightstand rather than what’s on my e-reader. I do prefer to read paperbound books, and my nightstand and the bookshelves above it are always stacked. At the moment I am visiting a classic, Nightwood by Djuna Barnes. I just finished the short-story collection Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana, and next up will likely be My Driver by Maggie Gee. Both are set in Uganda, which I have plans to visit this spring. Vying for attention, though, are The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse by Anne Carson, and Écoute la pluie by Michèle Lesbre.

What’s next?

A new novel! But, first, the paperback edition of Shining Sea will come out on August 8th. I’m particularly excited about bringing it “home” to California and Arizona, which appears to be on the agenda for next September. I’m also looking forward to meeting more book clubs after the paperback comes out; I accept book-group invitations whenever I can and not simply for the wine: speaking with readers is fun, and sometimes revelatory.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing a number of nonfiction pieces, for TIME, Literary Hub, The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and on Medium. I still have a few more ideas I’d like to tackle. I’m also fine-tuning the details on a weekend creative-writing workshop I’ve been asked to give. And I’m responding to interviews like this one. Thank you for inviting me on your blog, Janet!

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