1- Have you ever been in a Minnesota winter?
I haven’t. My family spent a month every summer at White Earth Lake, in the Detroit Lakes region of Minnesota, and my descriptions of the Minnesota summer in The Lost Girls draw on those memories. For the winter scenes, I relied on my cousin, who is raising his three children on a lake near Bemidji, MN, to tell me about his (very cold!) experiences.
2- Soda, pop, coke, or other -- what word do you use for that drink? Which would Justine and Lucy use?
I use soda, like the native Marylander I am, but when we went to White Earth I called it pop, which was what all my Midwestern relatives called it, and the word Lucy would surely use. Poor Justine, in her desperation to belong in every place she lived as a child, would use whatever word the locals used wherever she happened to be.
3- What kind of law did you practice, and has it helped you to write your book?
I practiced antitrust law. That doesn’t sound like it would have much to do writing a novel, but I do think my law career did help me write this book. What you’re essentially doing as a lawyer is telling your client’s story, trying to make them relatable, understandable, and, if necessary, forgivable. It’s much the same in fiction writing, especially when your characters are as flawed as mine are!
4- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?
Lucy is a world-class rock skipper, but Matthew is even better.
5- Is there any diversity we can look forward to in your book?
Yes. The hunting lodge at the lake is owned by a half-Chippewa family: a white man, a Chippewa woman, and their two biracial sons. This family has an uneasy relationship with the prosperous white families that summer there in 1935, and the boys, Matthew and Abe, figure very prominently in the story of what happened to Emily. They also play big roles in Justine’s mother’s story and in Justine’s story in 1999.
6- Do you feel that your setting is a character onto itself? Why or why not?
Absolutely, and that was my intent. The lake and the lake house are so steeped in this family’s history that they become sentient, sorrowful observers of the tragedies that unfold there, and I used a lot of anthropomorphic descriptions to try to make them feel that way to readers. (The house, for example, is “slump-shouldered,” and “seemed to lean forward, as though the effort of holding itself up had made it weary.”) Many of my favorite writers, like Marilynne Robinson and Annie Proulx, make their settings into characters. It’s something I think has the power to deeply enrich a story, so it was important to me to bring this Minnesota locale to life.
7- Have you enjoyed being a part of the Debutante Ball?
I’ve loved it! Before joining the Ball, I knew no one who had actually published a book (except for my writing teachers). It’s a confusing, stressful, exciting, and wonderful journey, with wild highs and crashing lows, and going through it with these four women gave me an emotional support system that helped me navigate it with (most of) my sanity intact. Plus they’re delightful people whom I’m now thrilled to count as friends!
8- Does your family have a strong bond, and did that influence the book?
My family has a very strong bond. I had a near-idyllic, middle-class upbringing in the D.C. suburbs with two loving parents, a sister, a brother, and none of the tensions that poison the Evans family. However, I lost my brother to cancer when he was only 30. That experience did influence The Lost Girls, especially the story of Lucy and how she and her family cope with their grief when Emily disappears.
9- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?
I love compelling characters, so if I read a blurb and think a book has people inside it that I’d like to get to know, it’s coming home with me no matter what the genre!
10- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?
After spending six years writing this book, I was going to see it published one way or another, but I also knew I’d rather go the traditional route if I could. I’ve met many people who are self-published and love the autonomy and bigger slice of the pie that comes with it, but I’m not comfortable with promotion and marketing, and my social media skills are an embarrassment to my children (I still don’t get the difference between Instagram and Snapchat). So I’m glad my agent was able to find a home for The Lost Girls at William Morrow.
11- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Why yes, here’s a blurb:
A haunting debut novel that examines the price of loyalty, the burden of regret, the meaning of salvation, and the sacrifices we make for those we love, told in the voices of two unforgettable women linked by a decades-old family mystery at a beautiful, decaying lake house.
In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys her mother, who spends the rest of her life at the lake house, hoping in vain that her favorite daughter will walk out of the woods. Emily’s two older sisters stay, too, each keeping her own private, decades-long vigil for the lost child.
Sixty years later Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before she dies, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person to whom it might matter: her grandniece, Justine.
For Justine, the lake house offers a chance to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the stable home she never had. But it’s not the sanctuary she hoped for. The long Minnesota winter has begun. The house is cold and dilapidated, the frozen lake is silent and forbidding, and her only neighbor is a strange old man who seems to know more than he’s telling about the summer of 1935.
Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives with designs on her inheritance, and the man she left behind launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house steeped in the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.
And here’s a bio:
Heather Young grew up in Maryland, but she's also strongly rooted in the Midwest: her parents grew up in small Iowa towns, met at the University of Iowa, and brought their children to Minnesota every summer. It's this emotional connection that Heather drew upon to create the characters, events, and settings in THE LOST GIRLS.
Heather received an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives just outside San Francisco with her two teenaged children and her husband. When she's not writing, she loves biking, hiking, skiing, and reading books she wishes she'd written.