[When Meg Mitchell Moore’s wrote The Arrivals (presentation/review), she focused on adult children going home to a safe haven for love and comfort. However in So Far Away — available in bookstores today — the author turns her attention to characters searching/yearning for home, family, or a sense of belonging.
Described in one sentence, the novel is about: The lives of a wayward teenager and a lonely archivist are unexpectedly joined through the discovery of an old diary.
The following synopsis provides a bit more detail:
Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents’ ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. She discovers a dusty old diary in her family’s basement and is inspired to unlock its secrets.
Kathleen Lynch, an archivist at the Massachusetts State Archives, has her own painful secrets: she’s a widow estranged from her only daughter. Natalie’s research brings her to Kathleen, who in Natalie sees traces of the daughter she has lost.
What could the life of an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? In the pages of the diary, they will learn that their fears and frustrations are timeless.
And here is a sampling of Praise:
“This sweet and thoughtful novel is both tense and elegiac, exploring the damage we inflict on ourselves and each other, and the strength it takes to heal.” (Publishers Weekly )
“So Far Away is the moving story of three very different women whose lives improbably intersect. Meg Mitchell Moore effortlessly moves among a teenage cyber-bullying victim, a mother who longs for her lost daughter, and a 1920s Irish domestic with a shocking secret. The result is a powerful page-turner about love, loss, motherhood, and friendship.” (J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Maine and Commencement)
“Meg Mitchell Moore has taken the hot button topic of cyber bullying and crafted a story so compellingly real you will never forget her thirteen-year-old heroine, Natalie Gallagher. Moore’s pitch-perfect rendering of this girl’s voice is nothing short of stunning.” (Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss)
TRUTH: So Far Away captured my heart from the first page and the story of Natalie, Kathleen, and Bridgett never let it go. With genuine characters, experiencing painful, profound feelings throughout an intertwined — yet not complicated — storyline, the novel reflects both the past and present. But read on and allow Meg to explain much more in the following interview.
M.M.M.: I started thinking about this story after I had completed The Arrivals and while I was sending out queries to find an agent. I sold So Far Away as part of a two-book deal with The Arrivals, and I had written nothing but a descriptive paragraph at that point. It changed a lot in the course of the writing but whenever I was stuck I went back to that original paragraph to see if the original theme was still viable.
TDW: How much — if any — did the suicide of Phoebe Prince spark your writing?
M.M.M. Consciously, it didn’t. Subconsciously, maybe. That story was certainly in the news as I wrote the first draft, especially in Massachusetts. I had already decided to make Natalie a victim of cyberbullying before Phoebe Prince’s tragedy occurred, and it retrospect I set the story in the same year, but that was more because I was tying in a different historical event (that I will not reveal here) and had to set the book in a certain time to do that. I do think all of the terrible, heartbreaking suicides related to bullying influenced my story in one way or another.
TDW: The voices and entire storyline are dark yet not depressing. In other words it made me care about all the characters, not just Natalie and Kathleen. How did you manage to avoid being “too dark?”
M.M.M.: Thank you! I think that is a fine line and I’m happy that you think I found it. I tried to use humor where appropriate to keep the story from getting too dark. That dark humor is something I think of as a very Boston trait (witness any movie starring Ben Affleck) and I tried to create characters who were going through difficult times but still might be able to appreciate something funny or sarcastic.
TDW: Victims of cyberbullying, runaways, even immigrant outcasts were all characters on the outside looking in. These were also prominent young adult characters based in an adult novel and I wondered if this had always been your intention?
M.M.M.: I think that theme built itself as the story went on. There are several times where I write about girls in trouble, girls in danger, etc., and looking back I think a lot of that really came out in the revision process. As the mother of three young girls those fears are sort of always lurking in the back of my mind anyway.
TDW: The journal was a brilliant element, not just as a means to connect Natalie with Kathleen, but to connect Natalie with her past and another brave young ancestor. How early did the idea of Bridget and the journal come to you?
M.M.M.: Thank you! That’s a funny story. I originally set Bridget’s story in 1925/1926 and told it from the third person. I alluded to the journal but never actually wrote it. Early readers including my agent and my editor kept gently “suggesting” that I really needed to write the journal, but I resisted for a long time; I thought Bridget’s story would lose its urgency and sense of history if I told it in journal form. Of course they were exactly right, it just took me a little time to come around and to force myself to do the work required to write the journal.
TDW: I thought of So Far Away as a tale of people helping people by pulling them out of their own troubles. Would you agree?
M.M.M.: Absolutely. If fact, the working title for a long time was Solace and I still consider that a major theme, that solace can come from unexpected or unlikely sources.
TDW: What is So Far Away? Love, worthiness, a sense of belonging and/or all that along with more?
M.M.M.: I think the title refers to so many different themes in the book. For starters, Bridget is far from her home in Ireland and I wanted her nostalgia about that to be nearly palpable. Other characters are far from the people they loved, or emotionally far from people who might even be in the same room.
TDW: The descriptions of Boston were amazingly detailed. Now that you’re moving, will this novel be your ode to Boston?
M.M.M.: Thank you! That’s very perceptive, and I think it has become that. We didn’t know we were leaving the east coast until the book was complete, in fact it was going through copyediting when we found out, and in retrospect I like to think of the novel as an ode and a goodbye to a town (Newburyport) and a city (Boston) that have both meant a lot to me over the years. There are a lot of descriptions of driving up and down Route One north of Boston, which is a drive I do often, and one that I find so rich with odd details and strange businesses—it feels very particularly Boston to me. If there is another place like it in all the world I don’t know what it is.
TDW: What are you most proud of in So Far Away?
M.M.M.: I am most proud of the work that went into it, which hopefully doesn’t show too much. The stories of the three main characters were always very clear in my mind but knitting them together was absolute torture and took many, many revisions. I’m proud that I stuck with it until it felt right and true.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EST tonight! The winner will be notified by email tomorrow.