Annie Harnett on what living in a cemetery meant for her novel ‹ Literary Hub
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On using ghosts as narrators:
Annie Hartnet: Ernest Harold Baines introduced himself [in ] as a ghost, and I didn’t have to worry about the rules until I added ghosts. I wanted to write a John Irving type omniscient narrator who knows everything but what I got was an omniscient narrator who had too much personality, an omniscient narrator who knew everything but was still cracking jokes.
My friend Lucas Mann said, who’s talking? And I said, don’t worry. I do not care! And then I was at McDowell, and I thought I had to address Lucas’ concern, someone should talk. And that’s where Thornton Wilder wrote Our cityand so it clicked for me that it would make sense in the book where I already had a ghost, that the [occupants of the cemetery] would tell. The novel is so much about the town of Everton, New Hampshire, and who would care about the things that obsessed me – the town in 2014 and the town 100 years ago – as much as the town’s dead.
Living in a cemetery:
Maris Kreizman: I love how when you get a ghost to talk in the novel, you introduce him with his birthday and the day he died.
Annie Hartnet: It comes from living in a cemetery. So I lived in the cemetery before I really had the idea of writing a book that would take place in the cemetery. I lived with my dog Harvey in this gardener’s house and walked him every day. And since I wait for him to relieve himself, I read the tombstones every day. I was always trying to pay attention to when people were living and dying so I could just think about them. I was a writer baby trying to think of stories all the time. So it was something I wanted to do because it’s part of their names, it’s right there.
To always go too far in his writings:
Annie Hartnet: I realized that if the dead in town could hear anyone’s thoughts, I could have a lot of fun with it. Very early on I had the point of view of Moses the dog, at one point there was a whole chapter. My agent or my editor said it was too much dog. But it took me a long time, until I had been riding for a while, to think, why doesn’t the fox have a view? It was so easy for me to jump into the dog’s head.
Obviously here’s what he thinks, he’s coming to a new area and he’s like, great place, smells good. But the fox was a lot more like, there’s a fox and he does all these crazy things, but you’ll never know what he’s thinking. And then I realized that, of course, I could also have his point of view and wouldn’t it be fun to have the point of view of [an animal who’s half wild and half domesticated]. I always go too far and have to edit back. So, originally the fox comes from Russia, where there are domesticated foxes. And so this fox originally arrived speaking tons and tons of Russian swear words.
Annie Hartnet is the author of Rabbit Cakewho was among the Kirkus Reviews‘s Best Books of 2017 and finalist for the New England Book Award. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Associates of the Boston Public Library. She studied philosophy at Hamilton College, holds an MA from Middlebury College and an MFA from the University of Alabama. When she started writing unlikely animals, she lived in the house of the caretaker of a cemetery. She now lives in a small town in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter and beloved border collie, Mr. Willie Nelson.