been a fan of Linda Merlino and her work since I first
came across her novel, Belly of the Whale
(2008). Reading that novel was, for me, a discovery of a fresh voice in
literature that should be heard.
sent me the galleys for her newest novel, Room of Tears, published by Imajin Books
in July 2013, I once again became immersed in the story she had created, and I
wrote the book blurb for the novel:
"I've just put
down Room of Tears, Linda Merlino's second novel, and I am still sitting in
that pool of shimmering light that a good book tosses over us, a translucent
mantle that momentarily suspends the reader in time and space and life as we
know it. A little something like being caught in a drop of suddenly solidified
amber, I imagine. Merlino's writing is that gorgeous, and her skill at telling
a story that transports the reader from disbelief to a state of astounded
belief is matched by few, perhaps not any. Room of Tears does all of these things
to us, its readers. It requires courage and extraordinary skill to build a
story on the backdrop of the nation's tragedy of 9/11, but Merlino has built an
original story that moves us through the still-fresh pain to a place of hope in
the future. She makes us believe. She makes us believe in miracles." —Zinta
Aistars, founder and editor-in-chief
of The Smoking Poet
Description of Room
tragedies come heroes and miracles…
a.m. on September 11, 2001, Diane O’Connor’s life as
a firefighter’s wife changes forever shattering her faith. She writes daily of
her sadness and four decades later she still keeps a note she wrote on 9/11 to
her husband, Billy, hanging on her kitchen cabinet in Queens, the paper
yellowed with age.
summer of 2041, Diane invites Friar Antonio Ortiz to
her home. He is a man destined to become counsel to the first American pope—her
son, Peter. Antonio asks no questions and arrives in secret, promising to wait
nineteen years until Peter’s papal election before passing Diane's journal to
him. Only then will Billy’s story be told, along with answers to Peter’s
questions about his father’s last days.
trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-927792-10-0
Zinta: Linda, Room of Tears has been off the presses
since July. What kind of reception has your newest work received? You’ve chosen
to write about a topic that has been important in recent American history, and
we just saw its anniversary date again just a short while ago. It’s not an easy
subject to address, and sensitive to very many.
Linda: Room of Tears has been well
received. Most readers understand that
the book is meant to be a stand-alone novel, despite being written on the
delicate canvas of 9/11. Early reviews drew praise for honoring those lost in
9/11-calling Room of Tears a tribute
book which was very flattering, but in doing this sidestepped the real story of
the lost firefighter’s son becoming the first American pope. Most publishers
and some agents backed off
from anything that hinted of religion, even homogenized religion, preferring to
focus on the tragedy of the World Trade Center. Ironically 9/11 sprung from
a clash of
ideologies and the beliefs of what awaits in the hereafter. September 11, 2001
is indelible. Everyone remembers where they were – what
they were doing. I wanted to take that
core knowing and push the buttons on it – try to raise the level of
consciousness to a place where a reader could poke into the corners of the
unknown and find solace – answers –miracles.
Room of Tears takes readers on
a journey spread across six decades where memories can grow dim and through a
fictional future asks those same readers to never forget.
Zinta: How did
you come up with the idea for this novel? Did you read other works about 9/11
to see how other authors had handled it?
Linda: One seed
for the story came from reading suppressed articles about the people who
escaped the burning towers by leaping from the buildings – especially the North
Tower. People in the South Tower were
told to stay at their desks but when they saw men and women falling past their
windows they fled. The people who jumped
were the unsung, first heroes – but their actions were misunderstood and their
stories never told. A second seed came
in 2005 when Pope John Paul II died leaving a hole in the religious world,
particularly for Catholics. The pope is
a universal, public figure whose power reaches across the abyss of politics and
organized religion. Pairing the two events
and conceiving the idea of an American pope I reached into the spectral
possibilities of a higher power’s plan arising from devastating loss. These
two seeds and the chance encounter with
a firefighter’s wife gave me the courage to pursue what often seemed like a
only a few works of fiction that mention 9/11 –
like my book they use 9/11 as the backdrop.
The most widely read books available are non-fiction. I chose
to read the non-fiction Firehouse by
David Halberstam and a few others suggested
to me by my “angel” firefighter’s wife whose husband survived 9/11 because he
had a doctor’s appointment that day.
Zinta: What kind
of research did you do as you wrote the book? I recently visited the 9/11
Memorial in New York City and it is a very moving place to be. For all the
material around us about that day, I learned things I didn’t know prior to my
visit. If you’ve been there, what was that like for you?
research was overwhelming at times bringing me to a halt for days. I have not
yet visited the 9/11 Memorial but
I watched many documentaries and news features of its beginnings – its progress
- and its completion. My plan is to
visit the memorial before the end of the year.
Zinta: Was anyone
close to you involved on that day?
Linda: I know several people who lost loved ones
– husbands-sons-brothers. The one person
lost most significant to me was a wonderful woman I met in 1977 when I first
moved to Connecticut. As a newcomer I became involved with a local museum and
she became my mentor, guiding me in those early days with so much
kindness. In some ways she became an
adopted mother as my own mother lived at a distance. On September 11, 2001 she
and her husband
were on board hijacked flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon killing all
fifty-nine passengers, crew and terrorists as well as one hundred twenty-five
people on the ground.
written, you were no doubt faced with selling the manuscript about a topic
already addressed by many in many ways. What challenges did that present?
Linda: As I
mentioned before many publishers and agents were uncomfortable with a
manuscript that had any mention of the Vatican.
Considering the DaVinci Code
is a hugely popular novel I wasn’t convinced not to argue the point. My
agent who read the manuscript gave me many
solid pieces of advice. She was not put
off by the American pope idea but focused on the concept of being more genre
specific – such as religious/paranormal.
I couldn’t bring myself to agree – the story is literary fiction not
genre specific. Fortunately for me I
have an incredible Indie publisher, Imajin Books, who loves my writing and
re-released my first novel, now titled Hudson
Catalina, and was thrilled to accept Room
of Tears without questions.
said that you are a fan of Joseph Campbell (so am I), and that he has inspired
your work. How is that?
Linda: The Power of Myth and The
Hero with a Thousands Faces are dog eared
with my reading and re-reading. Mr.
Campbell’s simple approach to life through mythology offers me the wisdom
needed to tackle daily life. Follow your
bliss he said – and through my writing I do just that…
inspiration you’ve often spoken of for your writing—your children. Did they
inspire you for this novel, too?
children, now grown with their own children, have always been my number one
fans. Each supports me in their own way urging
me to stay on my path and follow my dream.
I dedicated Room of Tears to
my grandchildren – how amazing is that?
Zinta: What do
you hope your readers find in reading your work?
Linda: If nothing else, may readers find hope
within the pages of my work and the incentive to be whatever they dreamed they
could be – no matter their age or circumstance.
Zinta: Are you
planning special events, book tours and such, for Room of Tears?
Linda: As I
answer these questions I am preparing for a midnight radio interview on WBZ
1030 Boston Radio. I am also speaking at
a writer’s conference this weekend and have library events stacking up in the
Linda, we fans want to know: what are you working on now?
Linda: My next
project will veer off the literary fiction spectrum and venture into the young
adult fiction world. My family has asked
that I write a story about Thanksmas. Our
invented every-other-year holiday that combines both Thanksgiving and Christmas
created to allow adult children and their partners to have guilt free holidays.
We gather as a family and have the BEST time
– so good that Thanksmas has become our favorite. My story will be fiction
– but Thanksmas is
Zinta: Thank you,
Linda. Always a pleasure to have you visit, always a pleasure to learn about a