Saturday, April 08, 2017

Author Q&A: Anne D. LeClaire

Anne D. LeClaire is a new-to-me author. Her latest book, The Halo Effect, is now available. Last week I shared a book spotlight along with some early praise for the novel - you can read that here. Today I have a conversation that Anne has prepared that I found to be quite interesting. I read the book and posted my review earlier this week - you can find my review here. Do let me know if you'll be picking up this book - it was unlike anything I have ever read and I'd love to discuss it with you!


A Conversation with Anne D. LeClaire

In your new novel The Halo Effect, grief-stricken father Will Light is commissioned to paint a series of saints' portraits for the town's cathedral in the midst of dealing with his daughter's murder. What inspired the idea? 
I never know where an idea will come from. Sometimes they come from dreams as did two of my novels, sometimes a newspaper article can be the spark. The inspiration for The Halo Effect came from a documentary I watched one day about the tapestries of the saints in the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. These immense tapestries were created by digitally transforming oil paintings by the artist John Nava into a program from which master weavers in Bruges, Belgium could create the finished fresco-like tapestries. Nava, in the custom of artists over centuries, had used townspeople for some of the paintings. I found the portraits of the actual people who posed – a fisherman, a young boy, a barista, a sculptor, men and women of all ages and ethnicities – and their juxtaposition with the finished tapestries haunting. The evening after I saw the documentary, I attended the symphony and as I gazed around the concert hall, I began to see the faces of those around me as saints. I started to think of Nava and how spending months and months seeing ordinary people as saints must have affected him, how he must have been changed by the experience. One morning I woke and was struck with this premise, the magical “What If . . .” of storytellers: What if an artist had begun to paint his townspeople as saints and, unknown to him, one of them was the person who had murdered his daughter.

A major theme in this book is that of grief, and how processing grief is a deeply personal experience. What would you say to readers who might not agree with Will's rage? Or his wife Sophie's activism?
I have long been interested in grief and how we process it. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each individual experiences grief in profoundly personal ways and we never know how we will react when swept up by sorrow and deep loss of what our timetable for mourning will be.  

I once read a quote by Oscar Wilde, “Where there is grief, there is sacred ground.” This thought, that in sorrow we are traversing holy territory where deep soul work is being done has been a guiding principle as I wrote the book. A parallel theme for me was how violence affects a community, a family, and individuals and what is the cost of violence in our society. 

You switch between three perspectives: Will, Father Gervase, and Rain LaBrea. How did you decide to write Will in first-person but the priest and Rain in third? Of all the people affected by Lucy's murder, why did you want to tell these characters' stories? 
From the first imaginings of the novel, I knew it was Will’s story and so the first-person narrative seemed right for him because of the intimacy it creates between him and the reader. I knew the dark recesses of his heart had to be revealed and his voice could do that most effectively. I thought the entire story would be in his voice, but as often happens, the characters make some of the decision and both Rain and Father Gervase wanted a say. In fact, from the opening line of Chapter One – “First they sent the priest” – it was clear to me that Father Gervase would become a central figure.

These three not only propelled the plot but also informed the themes. In different stages of their lives - a grieving father, an aging priest and a teenage girl - they allowed me to reveal more fully Lucy's character and that of Port Fortune as well as explore different experiences of grief and the complicated relationship between grief and guilt. 

Will, Father Gervase, and Rain are all dealing with some kind of ailment that straddles the physical and the emotional. Will's hearing loss, Father Gervase's lack of focus and light headedness, and Rain's self-injury. What did these different personal struggles represent to you?
In the first scene, Will misheard a word that Father Gervase spoke and it struck me as humorous. Then I thought of it as a symptom of his withdrawing, and only later, while in the midst of writing, did I learn that soldiers returning from war often experienced this and it was a symptom of PTSD. Father Gervase’s struggles were in part a result of aging. Rain’s cutting was a way to gain some form of control over her fear and in a way to assuage her guilt.

Would you say The Halo Effect is a hopeful book? What message do you hope it leaves with its readers?
I find it tremendously hopeful and life affirming. We do go on. We go on in the face of unimaginable loss. Mired in the deepest despair, there are lifelines that can save us. Art, poetry, faith, friendship, the decision, as in the case of Sophie, to find meaning in tragedy.

In Edgar Lee Masters’ classic, Spoon River Anthology, the character of Lucinda Matlock says, “It takes life to love life.” To choose to love life, despite all the losses and sorrows and messiness, is an act of courage and gives me enormous hope. I was interested to read that Nava believed the theme of the tapestries to be one of hope.

And lastly, what is the halo effect?
The term “halo effect” was coined by the psychologist Edward Thorndike meaning how an observer’s impressions form a cognitive bias that influences feeling and thoughts and the perception of others. I thought about John Nava painting the portraits of his fellow townspeople, working month after month, seeing them as saints, and wondered if that altered his feelings and thoughts and perceptions, if he began to see in the faces of others in his daily life the possibility of goodness. A sort of Halo Effect.

***  Thank you Lake Union Publishing for sharing this conversation with Anne and Anne, thank you for taking time to answer all these questions - they were so insightful!!! I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of your books! 

The Halo Effect  by Anne D. LeClaire
Lake Union Publishing

April 1, 2017 
Trade Paperback ISBN: 9781503943186
E-book ISBN: B01K4TXXH8


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