Monday, July 6, 2020

TBR: Lost Girls by Ellen Birkett Morris

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

The title story of Lost Girls was inspired by the kidnapping of a girl in my community when I was 18. That story and the others reflect the range of women’s experiences, and the truth about the challenges and joys of being a woman, chiefly among them being seen, acknowledged, remembered and heard.

Which story did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?

I enjoyed writing “Religion” the most. I started with the premise that the groups we belong to, no matter how warm and wonderful, can be like cults. From there I had a lonely virgin wander into a breast feeder’s group and become so enchanted that she stays. It was fun finding the comic potential of the story, but also doing a deep dive on loneliness and desire. The story unfolded in a way that was surprising.

“Inheritance” was the toughest to write. I had a girl whose family was so poor that her parents were allowing her to be violated for money. She was also a sin eater, who ritually consumed the sins of the wealthy. It is a story about power and oppression and sexual violence and I had to make sure the reader wouldn’t look away.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

I had trouble figuring out which of my stories really formed a cohesive collection. I spent a lot of time shopping a collection of loosely linked stories with a male protagonist before I realized that I had a very compelling group of stories that showed the range of experiences of women and girls.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Isak Dinesen by way of Lee Martin, who is a fantastic writer, teacher and supporter of other writers.  “I try to write a little every day, without hope, without despair. The thing that gives me the most joy is the writing.”

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Writing is all about discovery and surprise. I was surprised and delighted that I was able to convey the experiences of so many different kinds of women with love and empathy toward their struggles and triumphs. Elizabeth Strout talks about the importance of not judging your characters. I think that nonjudgmental approach helps you really get inside your characters and explore their motivations.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title of the book came from a short piece I wrote that was inspired by the disappearance of a girl in my neighborhood when I was eighteen.  There are so many women and girls that experience trauma. I hope these stories honor, remember and see them, and illuminate their stories through a fictional lens.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

Pie from the apples Eve harvests in “After the Fall.” Here is a recipe:

I use premade crust to cut down on the work and add a little ginger for zing.




DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.