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Mercy Train
A poignant look at three generations struggling with loss and love.
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Rae Meadows answers questions about Mercy Train

Created: 06/21/12

Replies: 27

Posted Jun. 21, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
admin

Join Date: 10/11/10

Posts: 369

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Rae Meadows answers questions about Mercy Train

Rae Meadows will be joining us over the next few days to answer questions about her novel, Mercy Train. So, if you have a question you'd like to ask, please post it below.


Posted Jun. 21, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
terrio

Join Date: 08/16/11

Posts: 41

Tell us about Violet

I was most drawn to Violet's story and I wanted to know more about her life after she got off the orphan train. Did you write more of Violet's story and then remove some of it in the editing process, or was it your original intention to leave most of the rest of Violet's story to the reader's imagination?


Posted Jun. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Tell us about Violet

Thank you for your question! Violet was the heart of the novel for me, and her first chapter was the first section I wrote. I had a lot of her untold story in my head, about her life in Wisconsin and as an adult, but I never wrote it down. There are often two kinds of writers: the putter-inners and the taker-outers. I'm in the former. I am a spare writer and I end up filling things in as opposed to editing them out. But it was my intention to leave Violet's story to the reader. I liked the idea of the reader imagining what happened in those intervening years, with glimpses from Iris's memories. I like the idea of the reader wondering how he or she would have felt/done in the same position.


Posted Jun. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
joycew

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 43

What was the significance of Sam following the girl to the motel and waiting?

I did not understand the significance of Sam following the girl to the motel and waiting.


Posted Jun. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
elizabethm

Join Date: 06/05/12

Posts: 35

What kind of research did you do to write about Violet's life in NYC?

What kind of research did you do to write about Violet's life in NYC? I am particularly interested in your research about the opium dens because I have read several other books about NYC during that time period and the opium dens always come up. How prevalent did you find that they were?


Posted Jun. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

What kind of research did you do to write about Violet's life in NYC?

I loved doing research for this book. I looked at photo archives, studied crime maps from the period, and read as many historical accounts that I could. One of the best sources for what life was like at that time in New York City, including the opium dens, were books and pamphlets written by women missionaries who went into downtown neighborhoods to report back on the poverty. I actually don't know how prevalent opium dens were, since they were by nature secret, but they were prevalent enough to come up again and again in reports about the underclass, even though opium use certainly crossed class lines. Thank you so much for the question.


Posted Jun. 22, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

What was the significance of Sam following the girl to the motel and waiting?

Why does Sam follow the prostitute? It's a good question. I wanted to show that Sam had lost her center of gravity. Where most of us might see the prostitute and feel sorry for her, we wouldn't follow her. But we meet Sam on a day that has careened off track. She is avoiding her present life, as well as her memories and guilt, and when she sees the girl, she has a misguided sense that she can help her, and maybe helping her would alleviate some of her anxiety. It's a symptom of Sam being off kilter. I also liked the echo of Violet's world in the modern girl's predicament.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
AntoinetteC

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 12

Change of title?

I saw that you've also published a book called Mothers and Daughters but I think it's the same book as Mercy Train. Why did the book change its name?


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
AntoinetteC

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 12

What are you working on now?

Also, are you working on another book now? If so, I wonder if any of the same characters from Mercy Train will be reappearing or if you think you've finished with their stories?


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lisag

Join Date: 01/12/12

Posts: 298

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What's your writing style?

Hi, Rae,

I'm interested to find you're a writer who goes back and fills in detail rather than paring out the excess, mostly because almost everything I've been instructed about writing falls into the latter method. Last weekend I met author Kevin Brockmeier (A Brief History of the Dead, The Illumination, etc.) and what he said was even more astonishing. He never re-reads his work when he sits down to write, save the last sentence. Then he works, sentence by sentence, until each is perfectly crafted. He doesn't go paragraph by paragraph, or page by page but sentence by sentence. Such micro-writing is pretty much mind-blowing to me, totally revolutionary. Could you imagine working this way or do you believe each writer has one set way of practicing the craft and that's it? Could you envision Brockmeier's style working for you? I want to hear what an experienced writer thinks about this.

Lisa


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lisag

Join Date: 01/12/12

Posts: 298

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Do you develop your characters ahead of starting to write or do they grow with the book?

Me, again!

When you're writing, do you feel as though your characters are leading you, vice versa, or a mix of the two? Your answer to the question about Sam and the prostitute seems to suggest a mixture. I guess what I'm asking is to what extent do you realize the complexity of a character's actions while you're first writing and how much is you coming back to make the character's actions work, to add layers which flesh out a character and suggest hidden meaning?

Lisa - who was an English major... ::;-)::


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Do you develop your characters ahead of starting to write or do they grow with the book?

Hi again, Lisa! When I write I used to think that characters didn't lead me, but I've come to accept that sometimes they do. Or at least when I'm writing, I can go in a different direction than I had planned. When I orginally set out to write this novel, I thought it would be all historical fiction, three different stories, one being Violet's story. And then I got going and I realized the novel I had planned wouldn't work. Since having children, my time is so limited, I've had to relearn how to write, and I'm a lot less organized about developing a story. Sometimes I wing it and see what happens. I do go back then and try to add layers or play up something about a character that has emerged. With Sam, for instance, I always knew she would play a role in Iris's death, but the abortion came about as I worked on her sections. I wish my process was more dependable! The book I'm working on now is the least structured of all, so keep your fingers crossed.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Change of title and upcoming book

Yes, Antoinette, Mercy Train was published in hardback as Mothers and Daughters. I had never seen that done, but I was really happy about the name change. Mercy Train was my original title, but the publisher decided on Mothers and Daughters. To me, this always felt too broad and didn't capture the essence of the book. (When you publish a book, a lot of things are out of your hands!)

I am working on another book now. It's not a continuation of any of the Mercy Train characters--it's always a little sad for me to say good bye to characters I have spent so much time with, but so far when I have finished a novel, I have to move on. I'm writing a family saga that takes place in the Dust Bowl. And like for Mercy Train, the research has been fascinating. It's a more linear narrative, with, I think, a more modern section at the end. We'll see! Just hope my youngest keeps napping.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lisag

Join Date: 01/12/12

Posts: 298

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Well done finding time to write and also mother children!

Rae, I have to tell you I admire your ability to write such quality prose while caring for your children. I have three children - now teenagers - and used mothering as an excuse for being "too busy" to write. The fact is, you find the time to do what you really want to do. Now I still have those kids (!), work part-time as a librarian, review books and write odd pieces here and there and have THAT NOVEL still sitting in my head, waiting for me to get to it, already!

Sigh.

But you're DOING it. I give you loads of credit.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

What's your writing style?

Hi Lisa, Kevin Brockmeier is a wonderful writer and somehow I'm not suprised to hear he is this meticulous. I am not. I write for rhythm in sentences and paragraphs, but I would never finish anything if I worked and worked on sentences as I went along. When I sit down to write, I actually don't reread what I wrote before, but this is in the first draft stage when I just want to get something down in some semblance of a story. For me, nothing feels as good as finished a first draft, even if it's awful. I know that I can go back and tinker and rework until the novel feels more crafted, and at least I have material to work with. Just getting words on the page is the hardest part for me. It can be a struggle. But I like the editing/polishing stages.

I'm take it from your questions that you write as well?


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Well done finding time to write and also mother children!

Hi Lisa, it is tough with children, and you have three! But writing is writing, and it sounds like you keep your hand in. I'm not a write-everday writer. I've come to accept that there will be stretches where I don't write at all. And with kids, my priorities have certainly shifted. My guess is that if you have a novel in your head, it will come out eventually. But believe me, I know how large and looming that can feel. It took me a long time after the birth of my second before I could even think straight, let alone imagine a novel. Unfortunatley it never seems to get any easier! But I cheer you on. Sometimes I just try to slog it out, a page a day. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a great feeling it is to have written, even if the wirting part isn't that fun. Good luck!


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
JoannaM

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 11

Did you always plan to write multiple story-lines?

Loved the book! Which story did you enjoy writing the most and why did you always plan that it would have multiple story-lines?


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
JuliaB

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 12

Are any of the characters modeled on people you know or past family members?

Are any of the characters modeled on people you know or past family members?


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
terrio

Join Date: 08/16/11

Posts: 41

Did you set Sam up as the antithesis of Lilibeth?

I was struck by the fact that Sam could hardly bear to leave Ella for an afternoon, whereas Lilibeth seemed to put Violet on the orphan train all too easily. Did you deliberately set Sam up as Lilibeth's opposite (motherhood coming full circle)?


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
terrio

Join Date: 08/16/11

Posts: 41

Which writers have influenced you the most?

Which writers have had the most influence on you? Is there any particular book that after finishing it you said "I want to do THAT!"


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Did you always plan to write multiple story-lines?

Thank you, Joanna! I set out to write a three part, braided story, but Violet's story was the only one of the original bunch that stuck. After writing some of the other two, both set at the same time period, I found they just didn't work. I had never written historical fiction, so I think I enjoyed writing Violet's story the most. I liked creating her world. Though I also found Iris quite rewarding--she was the last of the three that I wrote--in part because she is so unlike my own mother. (For my initial first draft, I wrote each character separately and then fit them together.) I had the most trouble with Sam, partly because some of the details of her life were like mine, and also because she isn't that likeable at times. In the editing process I had to work on Sam the most.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Are any of the characters modeled on people you know or past family members?

Hi Julia,
I often model characters in some way or another on people I know. (My first novel was chock full of people I know!) In Mercy Train, I modeled the look of Violet on a childhood picture of my grandmother and the photograph of Lilibeth on a picture of my great-grandmother. And I took details of my life to creat Sam--I lived in Madison at the time I wrote the book, I am a potter, and with my first baby, I certainly felt some of what Sam does. But Violet as a character was very fictional. Iris also sprung from my imagination, though she is from the same era as my mom, so I used some period details. Luckily she is completely different than my own mother, so she didn't see herself in the character. That is certainly the danger.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Did you set Sam up as the antithesis of Lilibeth?

Yes, I think you're right that Sam is the antithesis of Lilibeth in both how she mothers and the options she has. One of the things that was important to me in this book was the idea of legacy--what intangibles get passed from generation to generation, particularly from mother to daughter. Violet carries with her the loss of her mother and that affects what kind of mother she is to Iris, and that in turn affects how Iris is a mother to Sam. Sam swings the other way in reaction to her relationship with her mother. She wants to do it differently, though she goes a little far and loses her bearings. I have sympathy for Lilibeth, though, despite her weaknesses, because her choices were so limited as a damaged, uneducated, unskilled woman at the turn of the century.

Thanks for the thoughtful question.


Posted Jun. 23, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

Which writers have influenced you the most?

Hi Terrio--I think I have said those exact words! The book that immediately jumps to mind for me is Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan. If you haven't read it, it is a slim book about the last night before a Red Lobster will be closed for good. What a moving and beautiful little book. It's a great example of how the smallest of premises can pack an emotional wallop. I think O'Nan is a fantastic writer. Some books over the years which have had a big impact on the writer in me: Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson, Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, As I Lay Dying, by William Faulker, Play it as it Lays, by Joan Didion, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway.

I just started reading Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, which I'm looking forward to.


Posted Jun. 25, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lisag

Join Date: 01/12/12

Posts: 298

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RE: Rae Meadows answers questions about Mercy Train

A Night at the Lobster was an incredible book. Agree with you that's a gem. I listened to it, driving back and forth to grad school. It broke my heart but the imagery and the characters were masterfully done. I'd also recommend Sebastian Barry's 'A Long, Long Way.' As far as I'm concerned it's one of the finest novels of modern times. And it's another heartbreaker.

And 'Gilead'... A treasure. I'll have to try Denis Johnson. Haven't gotten to him yet.

Lisa


Posted Jun. 26, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

RE: Rae Meadows answers questions about Mercy Train

Hi Lisa,
I'm going to go out and get A Long, Long Way today. Thanks for the recommendation! I could use a great book to get me going. Take care and keep those fingers typing.
-Rae


Posted Jun. 27, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
JuliaB

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 12

About you mother?

Hi Rae, thanks for answering my earlier question. One more.... I've read the Q&A with you and your mother, she sounds like a really neat person. I know it's difficult to imagine, but do you think you would still have ended up a writer, even if you're mother had not been so supportive?


Posted Jun. 27, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Rae Meadows

Join Date: 06/18/12

Posts: 13

About you mother?

Hi Julie,
My mom is wonderful--thanks for reading that interview. She was/is really supportive, but I think it took a mini-crisis in my twenties to push me to try writing in the first place. I took a class and met an incredible teacher, and from there participated in some of his workshops which then led to an MFA program. I really think it was this teacher--still a good friend--who made me believe it was a possible path for me. Certainly knowing my mom would support me in whatever I chose was helpful, but I think I would have ended up as a writer anyway. (My dad was not in favor of my choice to leave a career path!) I feel very fortunate that I have been able to publish books and have my mom as my cheerleader.


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