Hilary here, with a special guest: Sara J. Henry, author of the about-to-be released LEARNING TO SWIM (which will be published by Crown on Tuesday). It's a novel that I've been dying to get my hands on since I had the pleasure of meeting Sara at Bouchercon last October. Moreover, this debut has received incredible advance praise from the likes of Reed Farrel Coleman (who called it "A compelling tale of mystery’s holy trinity: love, loss, and betrayal") and Daniel Woodrell (who said "An auspicious debut. Fresh setting, well-realized characters, cleanly written, with a mysterious and suspenseful story").
Here's how Sara describes her book: "While standing on the deck of the Lake Champlain ferry bound for Vermont, Troy Chance sees a small boy tossed over the side of a ferry going the opposite direction. Without thinking, she jumps to his rescue, setting off a chain of events that see her embroiled in a kidnapping plot with tendrils in the Adirondacks and Vermont as well as Ottawa and Montreal." Want a preview? The first chapter is available online.
Here's the question I put to Sara:
"Your protagonist is out on the town. Describe the place. The pick up. What does she observe? Where does she sit and why?"
My protagonist, Troy Chance, would have to have a damned good reason to get her out on the town. She lives in a tiny resort town, where the average tourist earns probably five times the salary of the average local.
She’s a freelance writer in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, scratching out a living, and used to be the sports editor on the daily paper in the next small town up the road. Like me. She lives in a big house in Lake Placid she shares with a bunch of athlete roommates at the end on Main Street. Like I used to. And she doesn’t drink much:
“I’ve never seen the logic in drinking to excess—it makes people act stupid and feel bad later. But plenty of people who live here drink hard and regularly, and plenty of vacationers seem to think it’s a requirement for stepping foot in town. More than once I’ve hollered out my bedroom window at two a.m. at visiting firemen here for a convention and so drunk they couldn’t find their way back to their motel. Maybe horse show people got plastered as well, but they didn’t wander the streets being loud about it. Maybe they sat around in their trim riding jodhpurs and neat buttoned shirts and got quietly, desperately, privately drunk.”
She’s been to all the local bars – Mud Puddles, Rumors, the Pub and Brewery, Zigzags – where you get charged one price if you’re recognized as local and another if you’re not. She mostly finds them loud and crowded, with people drinking away money they can’t afford to spend and too obviously trying to find someone to go home with in those last desperate moments before closing. And she’s all too aware that in this town you may open the newspaper the next day to see a headline about someone dying in a head-on collision because he was so drunk he was choking on his own vomit at the time.
Far too many people here find ways to die before they should:
“It wasn’t all that rare for vacationers to get stranded in a sudden snowstorm on what they had thought would be a pleasant afternoon hike and freeze to death before anyone could find them. Far too often locals would drink too much on a Saturday night and drive off the road and die in a deep ravine. And sometimes, in the middle of a jobless, loveless winter, someone would write a note, put his mouth around a shotgun barrel, and toe down the trigger. Or just go out for a long walk and never be found. Someone cried for them, or maybe no one did. Someone cleaned up the mess, and life went on.”
So out on the town for Troy is more likely going to be a run around the lake at night, circling the lakeside homes and the expensive inn, going through town, passing the creaking toboggan run that shoots shrieking passengers out onto the frozen surface of the lake. Or once in a while dining at the Caribbean Cowboy or Desperadoes or Pete’s up on Main Street with one of her friends. Or going to watch skaters up at the Olypmpic Center, slipping into the stale cold air of the arena, where sounds resonate, watching the skaters on the ice, seeing their bodies twist with effort and hearing their blades bite the ice.
Because this is small-town Adirondacks. This is what you do, if you’re someone like Troy.
Thanks for stopping by today, Sara, and best of luck with the launch!