Q&A: Shannon Kirk, Author of IN THE VINES
Thomas & Mercer; July 17, 2018
At long last, one of summer’s most fresh - and twisted - psychological thrillers is on sale! IN THE VINES by Shannon Kirk releases today (7/17/18) from Thomas & Mercer, and I'll just keep it short and sweet: this is one you need to read. In her deranged story of family secrets, Kirk weaves a mystery that will leave readers breathless; this book is equal parts frantic drama and lush writing, and the resulting combination is an absolute winner. IN THE VINES is bound to be one of the most unique reads on your summer TBR—and today on CBTB, I’m thrilled to welcome author Shannon Kirk to give us the inside scoop on her scorching summer suspense novel!
In our Q&A, Shannon and I discuss everything from the moment the concept for IN THE VINES popped into her head to the leading ladies that drive this story to the influence of our current political moment on Shannon’s fiction writing. (Bonus: you’ll also get a sneak peek at what Shannon’s working on next… and it sounds amazing.) In short: it's a fantastic conversation—I loved learning more about one of my favorite summer 2018 suspense releases from Shannon, and hope you'll enjoy reading her responses as much as I have. Many thanks to Shannon for taking the time to answer my questions about IN THE VINES so thoughtfully! Read on to learn more about her brand-new release and to catch our Q&A.
About IN THE VINES:
Mary Olivia Pentecost, known as Mop, was born into one of the wealthiest families in the country—and one of the most guarded. Now, two years after her mother’s mysterious death, Mop is seeking closure on the disquieting tragedy by returning to the New England seaside estate of her cloistered Aunty Liv—once her closest relative and confidante.
But behind the walls of the isolated estate, the shadows of the past are darker than Mop imagined. The puzzles of the family history are not to be shared, but unearthed. With each revelation comes a new, foreboding threat—and for Mop, the grave suspicion that to discover Aunty Liv’s secrets is to become a prisoner of them.
How well do we know the people we love? How well do we want to know them? The answers are as twisted as a tangle of vines in this throat-clutching novel of psychological suspense.
Excerpt of CBTB’s Review:
Author Q&A: Shannon Kirk
Crime by the Book: First things first - thank you so much for stopping by Crime by the Book to discuss your brand-new psychological thriller, IN THE VINES! Could you tell us a bit about your book?
Shannon Kirk: In the Vines is a family saga about love, obsession, and madness. There’s an affair, there’s violence, and all of this darkness is set in a lovely, colorful New England seaside summer.
Mary Olivia Pentecost, known as Mop, was born into one of the wealthiest families in the country—and one of the most guarded. Now, two years after her mother’s mysterious death, Mop is seeking closure to the disquieting tragedy by returning to the New England seaside estate of her cloistered Aunty Liv—once her closest relative and confidante.
But behind the walls of the isolated estate, the shadows of the past are darker than Mop imagined. The puzzles of the family history are not to be shared, but unearthed. With each revelation comes a new foreboding threat. And for Mop, the grave suspicion that by discovering Aunty Liv’s secrets is to become a prisoner of them.
CBTB: When did you first come up with the idea for IN THE VINES? Can you identify one moment when the idea popped into your head, or was it something that percolated and developed over time?
SK: I recall the exact day and location when I came up with the idea for In the Vines. My husband and I had a day without our son, a hot, summer day, so we took off to Rye, New Hampshire. I rented a hotel room so I could write, and he took surf lessons. I intended to work on the sequel to my debut, Method 15/33, but somewhere in the drive to Rye, I don’t know, but the poem in Chapter 1 hit me like a wrecking ball. The one that starts: I am the mistress. Say it. Say it….. So as soon as I got into the hotel room, I scratched out the whole poem and I sat a moment, staring at the ocean, watching the kids in the hotel pool down below, thinking, what the hell is that all about? The voice of the poem in my mind was an Aunt, who of course becomes Aunty Liv. And it went from there. I wrote two whole chapters that very first day, and thereby set to the side the sequel I’d been working on.
CBTB: If you had to describe your book in three adjectives, which would you choose?
SK: Intense. Unrelenting. Dramatic.
"I find domestic thrillers compelling because there’s always something in them that I can identify with. Something. Always." - Shannon Kirk
CBTB: Let’s start at the beginning: with the story’s two female leads, Mop and Aunty Liv. How would you describe these women to someone meeting them for the first time? And, I have to ask, do you have a personal favorite between the two?
SK: I love these questions, because I LOVE both Aunty Liv and Mop. To describe them to people just meeting them, first off, both are exceedingly wealthy from old money, but neither allow wealth to define them. Aunty Liv, in her mid-forties, single and childless, works as a nurse despite her wealth so as to remain clinical and consumed in a profession; this is her way of suppressing the mental illness she suffers from past traumas. She is obsessive in general and excessively protective of those she loves, and yet, she also has a tendency to be quite selfish.
To describe Mop. I wish I could share with you the lengthy character description I gave my editor, but that’s basically a dissertation, so I’ll try to sum it up. Mop is intended to signify strength, and the very fact that she accepts the challenge to fight to regain her own strength, her own identity, that is strength in and of itself. Mop is this specific type of girl I’ve always wanted to try to translate onto the page—she’s this young woman, always somewhere in her 20’s, that I see out in the wild real world, maybe once a year. It could be anywhere. A city, a park, a store, but it’s this one specific type of rare girl. Whenever I see this person, I always think: I would like to be friends with her. She has excellent posture. If you were to get to know her, you’d likely find out she’s into some solitary extreme sport, one that allows for hours of contemplation and concentration. She is always dressed perfectly in high-quality clothes (perhaps from the better consignment stores) that are both practical and fashionable, tailored just perfectly so. Her hair is about shoulder–length, with a natural bounce, and it’s dark. There’s something in the way she assesses her surroundings and assesses you, a very non-judgmental, but certainly evaluating assessment. Like she’s intellectualizing every single molecule around her, but completely unbothered by the world and by her own analytical mind. There’s a telling thing in her eyes that if you catch it, if you’re watching, reveals she views everyone equally, and it’s not in a condescending way. In a totally natural way. She would never speak in high, baby-talk tones to the elderly or a child. She is well-read. She doesn’t hang with a gaggle of girls. You think she might be asexual, above all that, but when you get to know her, you’d likely find she is very sexual and monogamous. Usually in a long-term relationship with someone who is equally as independent and tolerates her insistence on traveling the world, solo sometimes. She questions everything. Everything. She rejects all dogma as man-made nonsense in which you can’t invest. Nature would be the only thing she reveres.
If you’re making me choose between the two characters, and this is a close call, Mop is my favorite. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Mop.
CBTB: There’s nothing like a creepy house filled with family secrets to make a crime novel complete, and IN THE VINES sure has one. What do you think makes these domestic thrillers so compelling? If you had to hypothesize, why do we love reading about messed up families so much?
SK: I find domestic thrillers compelling because there’s always something in them that I can identify with. Something. Always. As for why we love reading about messed up families, well, again, I think we all can identify, even it dramatizes our own lives, with the characters and their situations. And also, we can maybe feel like we have at least some things more put together than the characters, who in these novels typically commit huge mistakes. Or maybe we feel stronger than them in some way. Or maybe we see how they overcome some situation we fear or identify with, and that gives us hope.
"living in this era of a constant, breathtaking, daily barrage of breaking and shocking news, I thought, what the hell can I do to top all this in fiction?" - Shannon Kirk
CBTB: IN THE VINES is - in the best possible way - an absolutely insane, deranged story. You pulled out all the stops here, and I loved it! What can you share with us about how you got in the mindset to write such a twisted story?
SK: First off, thank you for saying it’s insane and deranged! I love that! I aimed for that! And yes, I did try to pull out all the stops. Basically, I wrote In the Vines during the 2016 presidential election cycle and the aftermath of all that; so, in living in this era of a constant, breathtaking, daily barrage of breaking and shocking news, I thought, what the hell can I do to top all this in fiction? How can I make fiction fiction anymore? And, frankly, I needed an outlet into which to pour all of my stress over the real world. I didn’t want to have to confine myself in my imagination, so I gave myself the freedom to throw everything crazy I could come up with onto the page. You should see some of the details my editor (wisely) had me tone down or delete. Yeah. Nuts.
My mindset while writing In the Vines was perhaps, I guess, a reaction to Trumpism. Look, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me or reads my Twitter feed, I’m distraught over this administration. It runs against everything I’ve tried to do as an attorney and as a citizen. There absolutely are, scattered throughout In the Vines, political references: Citizens United, the “awful presidential cycle,” the falseness of a binary political choice, the 1%, an unsavory character being called a deplorable, a few critical references to how people don’t pay attention to the lessons of Michael Lewis (Boomerang, The Big Short, etc.) or read the book The Panama Papers. The entire poem in the beginning, In the Sink, that poem correlates, of course, to the mental disintegration of Aunty Liv and thus sets the tone of the novel. But, if I’m being honest, I wrote the poem about myself in the days following the November 2016 election.
So, that was my mindset while writing In the Vines.
CBTB: When you’re not writing crime fiction, do you read crime fiction as well? If so, could you share a few books you’ve recently read and loved? (And if not - what do you prefer to read instead?)
SK: Yes, I read crime fiction. I read any and all genres. My favorite of all is magical realism. And I do love non-fiction as well. A few crime fiction novels I’ve read of late that are FABULOUS are Hank Philippi Ryan’s upcoming Trust Me, David Jackson’s Don’t Make a Sound, and now I’m reading and loving because it’s amazing, Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts. Lisa Jewell’s recent Then She Was Gone was absolutely riveting (and I did the audiobook on this one, highly recommend). True-Crime books that stand out of late are: Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (just amazing), Kirk W. Johnson’s The Feather Thief (which I found so compelling I had to read and also audiobook while driving because I couldn’t walk away from the story), and Monica Hesse’s American Fire (which I finished in a day).
"follow your own rules and do not ever give up. Ever." - Shannon Kirk
CBTB: What advice would you give to any aspiring writers who might be reading this Q&A?
SK: The same advice I always give: follow your own rules and do not ever give up. Ever.
CBTB: What are you working on next?
SK: *Squeeeeeeeee* OMG, I’m sooooooo excited about what I’m working on. It’s a psychological thriller called Gretchen. I cannot tell you how excited I am working on this novel. It starts off with a mother and teen daughter on the run. But this is no typical mother and daughter on the run tale. This is so much more twisted than that.
The thing about Gretchen is that this too, just like In the Vines, hit me like a wrecking ball out of nowhere. I was actively working on a different book, called Dragon Whores (which, of course, is a working title and would never actually keep that title upon publication). But then, BAM, I’m sitting there one day and Gretchen crashed into my brain, the whole storyline clear as day in my mind, every single chapter, and the two twists too. I have to write Gretchen. I have no choice.
Many, many thanks to Shannon for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully! IN THE VINES is on sale today, 7/17/18, from Thomas & Mercer. (Side note: who else is already looking forward to reading her next book, Gretchen, too?!)
Hardcover: 268 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer; Reprint edition (July 17, 2018)
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