Columnist Andrea McGuigan speaks with local school teacher Barbara Taylor about her first book, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, published via Kaylie Jones Books, an imprint of Akashic Books.
I started writing Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night in January of 2007, as a graduate student in the Wilkes Creative Writing MFA program and completed the first draft in June of 2008. After that, I revised for another six months. My agent sent that second draft out to at least twenty publishers. The feedback was great, but ultimately, no one picked up the book. At that point, I put the novel in a drawer and started writing the next book in what I intend to be a trilogy. Shortly after completing a draft of book two, Kaylie Jones, my mentor from Wilkes, came up with a brilliant idea for restructuring the first novel. I spent another nine months revising. In the meantime, Kaylie started her own imprint, Kaylie Jones Books, with Akashic Books and I’m proud to say I’m the second book in her print series.
Can you tell us about the plot, which includes some local history?
My novel is about eight-year-old Violet who’s blamed for the death of her nine-year-old sister, Daisy. It opens on September 4, 1913, two months after the Fourth of July tragedy and takes place in Scranton during the time of coal mining, vaudeville and evangelism. Owen, the girls’ father, “turns to drink” and abandons his family. Their mother Grace falls victim to the seductive powers of Grief, an imagined figure who has seduced her off-and-on since childhood. Violet forms an unlikely friendship with Stanley Adamski, a motherless outcast who works in the mines as a breaker boy. During an unexpected blizzard, Grace goes into premature labor at home and is forced to rely on Violet, while Owen is “off being saved” at a Billy Sunday Revival.
I understand you were working with some autobiographical material here.
Since the novel is a period piece, I blended real life incidents with fiction. For example, the death of Daisy is based on a family tragedy. My grandmother’s oldest sister, Pearl, was burned in a sparkler accident on July 4, 1918, the same day as her baptism. According to the story, she sang hymns for three days while she lay dying. That story always haunted me and it seemed a natural place to turn for the novel. Also, my grandmother used to tell me that she was born during the “Billy Sunday Snowstorm” in March of 1914, where more than 2,400 people were stranded overnight with the charismatic preacher. To this day, people in Scranton claim to know someone who was saved that night. I love how the story has taken on a legendary quality and I knew I wanted to include it in my novel. When I started writing the novel, my grandmother’s sister, Louise, was the only sibling still living. I thought I owed it to her to ask her permission to use the story. When she gave me her blessing, I started to write.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the book or any upcoming events tied to its publication?
I was floored when my publisher informed me that Publishers Weekly named Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night as a “Top Summer Read” for 2014. The article generated a great deal of interest in the book. As far as events are concerned, I’m excited to launch the book at the Lackawanna Historical Society’s Catlin House on July 16 at 7 p.m. The staff is wonderful and the venue is beautiful. What a great way to kick off the book tour!
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