As a public service to our fellow reading readers, we will now sound the SPOLER horn. You’ve been warned.
City Paper: [As someone who is not African American], were you nervous about writing Eula? Or were you confident in this character you’d created?
Susan Crandall: That was one of the reasons we — well, Starla and I — stayed together in a point of view. I really felt like I could display Starla’s interpretation of Eula’s world, but I didn’t think I could actually walk in Eula’s shoes, because that’s so remote from anything I’ve ever experienced personally. I used Starla as a filter for that.
CP: What made you want to make the jump into Southern lit, being from Indiana?
SC: I’ve always enjoyed reading Southern lit, and I’ve done a lot of traveling in the South. It’s got such a rich culture, and especially during that time period [the 1960s] there was plenty of conflict … that was what really drew me to this area in the first place. I have another book that’s set in Mississippi, so my trip there for Whistling Past the Graveyard was my second research trip. I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of Mississippi.
CP: You’ve written mystery and suspense novels in addition to several other genres. Did that influence the way you wrote this book?
SC: I think everything I’ve written influences the next thing I write. I think you always learn something. It definitely helps me with amping up the tension, having written mystery and suspense in the past, so I did put those skills to work for Starla’s journey.
CP: How difficult was it for you to disappoint Starla toward the end of the novel?
SC: It was very difficult to do that to her. I know when my sister read it, she wrote me an email saying “Oh my gosh, that was so harsh!” But it needed to be harsh, because that was Starla’s reality, and that was the point when she began to understand the falseness of this whole world she’d created in her mind that she so wanted to be true. She had to face that before she could go on and find the maternal love that she had been seeking all these years, and she finds it not in her mother obviously, but in Eula.