What I’m Reading Wednesday

14 May


When my husband and I took a weekend trip to Leavenworth, Wash., last month we stopped by one of my favorite shops: A Book For All Seasons,  a cute and quaint independent bookstore. We were looking through the literature section when my husband pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to me.

“If I was going to pick out a book for you, it would be this one,” he said.

The book was “The House Girl” by Seattle author Tara Conklin. I opened to the first page and read the powerful opening sentence:

“Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.”

And I was hooked.

The story weaves multiple narratives together spanning nearly 150 years. It tells the story of Josephine, a house slave in 1852, and Lina, an ambitious New York lawyer close to present day who seeks to find justice and solve a mystery involving Josephine.

Conklin is a writer and lawyer, but these days she’s writing full-time. “The House Girl” is an unforgettable story rich with history and sympathetic characters.

Q and A with Tara Conklin:

Q: I read you wrote “The House Girl” as separate stories and then combined them in the split-narrative. What inspired you to write the initial story of Caleb Harper, which then bloomed into a novel?

A: I was reading a biography of Virginia Woolf and came across the term “slave doctor.” Those words made me stop — I wondered what would drive someone to occupy such a conflicted role, to dedicate your life to healing and yet your patients were destined only for more harm. From that initial spark of curiosity, I wrote the story of Dr. Caleb Harper and then I just kept writing.

Q: The book’s topic of slavery took place more than 150 years ago. Was it easy to research what you needed to on the topic? How much time was spent researching?

A: It was fairly easy to find the information that I needed — I read a lot of slave narratives, history books of the time period and primary documents, many of which I found online. The history of slavery and the experiences of enslaved people do not make for easy reading, however, and at a certain point I had to stop researching because the horror of the time period started to overwhelm me. I researched simultaneously as I was writing the historical sections, which took approximately three years (off and on) to complete.

Q: In the story Lina is asked why she became a lawyer. As a litigator yourself, why did you become a lawyer?

A: Ah, this is a very complicated question! Right before law school, I worked with a group of lawyers at a human rights organization and was inspired by what they did. At that point in my life, I also was very attracted to the idea of financial and professional stability. Growing up, money was always an issue in my family and I spent most of my 20s traveling around and working at odd, temporary jobs. The idea of earning a good salary, in a job that was usable and stable, seemed too good to be true. Plus I knew that litigators ended up doing a lot of writing and research, which have always been my loves and strengths. Law seemed like a good fit for me, and it was for many years.

Q: During your research did you come across anything that inspired other book ideas or projects?

A: I came across so many inspiring and heartbreaking stories, but my current work in progress deals with a completely different time period and set of characters. I might return to the antebellum south in future work, but for now I’m excited to explore new people and places.

Q: What is your next project?

A: I’m currently working on my second novel — it’s very much in the early stages, but it’s shaping up to be a contemporary drama about four siblings.

Q: I read you’re an avid coffee drinker living in Seattle. What’s your drink of choice?

A: A 12 ounce Americano with an inch of steamed 2 percent — otherwise known as a mezzo (although whenever I use that term outside of Seattle, people just look at me funny).


Tara Conklin


One Response to “What I’m Reading Wednesday”

  1. girlparker May 15, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    Great Q&A. Have this book on my shelf and can’t wait to dive in.

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