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