Saturday, August 11, 2012

Guest Author Cornelia Read

I met Cornelia Read on an airplane heading for my first Bouchercon. I was wearing a shirt that read "Read Banned Books" that I think caught her attention, and we began to chat. I didn't have a contract yet and I was on my way to try to interest some editors and to get some pre-contract blurbs for my manuscript. Cornelia was the first to offer me one--and it was a doozy. 

So here she is today, with another fabulous book. But I'll let her tell you in her own words.


Though it is a novel and not a memoir, Valley of Ashes is heavily autobiographical, as are my three previous books (A Field of Darkness, The Crazy School, and Invisible Boy). The darkest of the subjects which the story explores—infidelity, suicide, death by fire, and autism—are, unfortunately, things with which I have had close personal experience.

My father, Frederick Harvey Read, committed suicide in May of 2010, while I was finishing the first draft of this manuscript.


The novel’s protagonist, Madeline Dare, relates the story of an event which I think may have precipitated my father’s lifelong struggles with mental illness: Dad’s having witnessed his best friend Hazy’s death when they were children.

My grandfather, William Augustus Read, owned an Autogyro which was an early form of helicopter. He kept it in a private hangar on the family property in Purchase, New York. Hazy and my father Fred were playing in the hangar one day, shooting “strike-anywhere” kitchen matches at the hangar’s concrete floor with their slingshots, trying to make them light on contact with the floor’s rough surface.

One of these matches bounced into a large barrel of varnish, which exploded in flames all over Hazy.

My father Freddy and I. Oyster Bay, 1967? Valley of Ashes is dedicated to Dad and to my great friend Rick Dage, whose own suicide I learned of ten minutes before my literary agent called me in 2005 to tell me that we had a publisher for my first novel. The character Cary in Valley of Ashes is loosely based on Rick.
Dad urged him to roll on the ground to extinguish the flames, but Hazy’s sister yelled for him to run to a nearby brook. He died before reaching the water.

My mother told me that shortly before she and Dad were married in 1961, he took her to visit Hazy’s grave, explaining that he still felt responsible for his friend’s death. For months afterward, he said, every time he heard a police car’s siren, he thought they were coming to the family estate in Purchase to take him to jail. He was eight years old when Hazy died.

While talking about my former husband’s infidelity and my daughter Lila’s diagnosis with autism are serious spoilers for readers of Valley of Ashes, both are things that have had a powerful impact on my life.  

Lila, 1999
I fudged the real-life timeline on a comment Madeline’s husband Dean makes to her during the course of this novel: “You need to give up this writing shit, because you’ve never made any money at it and I deserve a homemaker.” My actual husband said that to me several months after my first novel was published in 2006. That was the moment I decided he was going to be my ex-husband. Which has worked out pretty well, considering. Especially since I now out-earn him. Heh.

I hope very much that this novel, though dark, might offer some hope to women struggling who struggle to balance the care of small children with their own aspirations—especially when those children have special needs. As such, this novel very much embodies my favorite F-word: feminism, since Madeline is not only a wife and mother, but also a kick-ass hero therein.

I also hope that any woman who’s dealt with a cheating spouse enjoys reading the scene where Madeline beats the crap out of her husband’s mistress, not least because it was so damn fun for me to write. (Okay, I did not do that in real life. I am way more wimpy than Madeline is. Also, the real-life skanky mistress chick wasn’t a serial arsonist and murderer. At least as far as I know.)

Cornelia Read is the author of the mysteries A Field of Darkness, The Crazy School, and Invisible Boy. She has been nominated for an Edgar® and six other awards, but actually managed to win the Shamus for best short story and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Read’s fourth novel, Valley of Ashes, is due out from Grand Central Publishing on August 14th. She lives in Upstate Manhattan. www.CorneliaRead.com

95 comments:

Dru said...

I'm looking forward to reading this book.

lil Gluckstern said...

Cornelia, you are a treasure, so open and honest. I can't wait to read your book, and one could say you have had a deeply touching life. Your writings come alive because of how much you put yourself into them. Thank you.

Cornelia Read said...

Dru, thank you!

and Lil, I am honored that you think that.

Tom said...

This Tuesday? Hot damn, kid!!! We'll be waiting in line for the store to open!

julie has opinions said...

Your writing touches the heart and engages the brain. I am very grateful for your gift and your honesty.

Julie Re

Dwight Moody said...

Cornelia, this is a great blog and the book is sure to be a great read. Looking forward to owning a copy.

Andi Shechter said...

I adore your writing. The amazing humor, stand out characterizations, fascinating topics. The last lines of this book will never leave me. You so beyond rock, my friend.
Your fan, Andi

Cornelia Read said...

Tom, you are wonderful, thank you!

Julie, those are such kind things to say. I'm grateful that you feel that way.

Dwight, dear Counsel, I hope all is going great for you and yours.

Andi, I adore you... and you so beyond paper scissors in addition to rock...

Gaylin said...

I'll have to wait a bit longer to read Valley, new book releases are always delayed in Canada.

Cornelia, I love your books and look forward to another good read.

I love your honesty when you write about your life & your family. Thank you.

Diana Chambers said...

Wonderful piece, Cornelia. You are a noir chick come to life!

Diana Chambers said...

PS Cornelia, My previous comment was a little jokey so I want to say how much admire your honesty, humor and passion. There is no one like you!

Rae said...

Nice to see you in the blogosphere again, Miss C ;-)

Julia Buckley said...

Cornelia,

I'm so sorry to hear of all these traumatic events that you (and your father) endured. And I'm so glad that your immense talent allowed you some catharsis through a verbal ass-kicking. :)

Looking forward to Valley of Ashes.

Coco Ihle said...

Cornelia,

Even though fictionalized,I'm so glad you have decided to share these horrific adversities that you've faced. Strength and endurance are qualities more of us have than know it. Knowing you (personally) have not only survived, but thrived, gives us all hope.

I'm eager to learn how Madeline deals with infidelity and career aspirations.:-)

I wish you loads of success with VALLEY OF ASHES! You go girl!!!

mbh said...

It is 424 am and I'm finally, after so long anticipated and impatient wait, getting to read Ashes.
Your willingness to be honest about so many things, dark, awful, painful, true things, and the excellence of your writing, storytelling and art, blow me away.
Fyi, I feel so lucky to have met you, and adore you and your writing!
Rock, indeed.

Marilyn DeLalio said...

Staying up until the wee hours of the morning is unusual for me but I was so into this book that I had to postpone sleep. The book was well
plotted and well researched. I give it 5 stars for content and style while wishing there were far fewer four letter word.
I wish you luck and happiness.

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