Q&A With “FIERCE LITTLE THING” Author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore @flatironbooks @mirandaBW
“It’s time to come Home. All five of you. Or else.”
Saskia was a damaged, lonely teenager when she arrived at the lakeside commune called Home. She was entranced by the tang of sourdough starter; the midnight call of the loons; the triumph of foraging wild mushrooms from the forest floor. But most of all she was taken with Abraham, Home’s charismatic leader, the North Star to Saskia and the four other teens who lived there, her best and only friends.
Two decades later, Saskia is shuttered in her Connecticut estate, estranged from the others. Her carefully walled life is torn open by threatening letters. Unless she and her former friends return to the land in rural Maine, the terrible thing they did as teenagers—their last-ditch attempt to save Home—will be revealed.
From vastly different lives, the five return to confront their blackmailer and reckon with the horror that split them apart. How far will they go to bury their secret forever
- How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I published my first book nearly twenty years ago, so I’ve been lucky to have a career as a published author almost as long as I’ve dared call myself a writer. However, the first book I ever wrote is still sitting in a drawer (the first novel I published was actually the second novel I wrote). So my most important lessons from those early days are 1) publishing a book is not a measure of its worth, and 2) in order to do this job, you have to be very persistent! I’ve discovered that having a writing career is a funny combination of endless hope and incredible self-doubt—and as long as you push through and keep writing, something good usually ends up happening, even if that means you put that book into a drawer and write another one.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I think of research as the vital scaffolding you need in order to make the building of a novel stable—aka I need to do research, but I also need for it to not to take over my life; in the end, the stability of my novel is the ultimate goal. In the case of FIERCE LITTLE THING, I know next to nothing about foraging wild plants, but I knew the character Marta would need to teach the protagonist Saskia everything she knew about this skill. So that meant reading a ton about which plants in Maine are edible, and then speaking to someone who could give me the brass tacks about their experience foraging mushrooms in the area local to where my book is set. In general, I prefer research that includes someone telling me about their experience; not only does this offer a lot more nuance than I could ever glean from a text, but there are always specific details that emerge that end up helping me understand more about my characters, and help bring them to life on the page.
- How do you select the names of your characters?
Naming characters is one of my favorite parts of writing a book! I know this is unhelpful, but some character names just come to me—I always knew Saskia would be Saskia, for example, and I don’t have a compelling reason why, besides the fact that it fit who she was in my mind. But sometimes there is calculation; in the case of Teresa and Tomas, for example, a mother and son who I wanted to be sure were linked in the mind of the reader, giving them names with the same letter helped accomplish this. In general, I knew the characters in this book were living on the fringes of society even before they joined Home, so they would be the type of people to both have taken or been given slightly old-fashioned/unusual names—Marta, Ephraim, Butterfly—and who’d give their children slightly unusual names—Saskia, Xavier, Cornelia. And in the case of Abraham, I wanted to be sure to draw an affiliation to Abraham in the Bible, a man who is willing to kill his own son to prove himself to God, and I loved the homage to the character Abe in Lauren Groff’s Arcadia, which was influential to me as I conceived FIERCE LITTLE THING.
- What is your favorite childhood book?
As a child in Senegal, I read and loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, mainly because her family’s lifestyle really resembled a lot of the ways my family was living at that time, in a small village with no running water or electricity. When it came time to read those books with my kids, I welcomed the chance to discuss the deeply problematic racism in those books—especially the conceit that the land the Wilder family settled on could, in any way, be theirs.
- How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The actual writing of FIERCE LITTLE THING took about three years, start to finish, but I had been thinking about it for much longer. And the book took longer to write than it otherwise might have because of the pandemic, which resulted in suddenly having no childcare and having to move homes!
- What’s the best part about publishing your book?
Readers! I adore the experience of readers encountering my work on their own terms and timeline. It can sometimes be easy to despair about the publishing industry’s conceit that the weeks around publication day are the only ones that “count” (which makes sense, because publishing is a business, so at the end of the day, publishers care about how much money they make). FIERCE LITTLE THING is my fifth book, so I’ve discovered that books have a long and beautiful life beyond our control, beyond that timeline. I can’t tell you how much it moves me when someone emails me having just read my first novel, which I wrote twenty years ago. It’s just such a beautiful thing, and makes me think about legacy in happy ways.
- What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
This hooks right back into your first question—but persistence is key! Persistence and community. You have to pick yourself up and keep going, and if you can’t pick yourself up, you’ll be relying on writers who know and respect you to help get you back on your feet when rejection gets you down. I didn’t get my MFA so I found my community by going to readings and being active on social media. I’ve found that little brings me as much joy as seeing my writer friends thrive in their careers—and celebrating their wins always makes me hopeful.