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The Maine Ingredient: CJ Hauser on 'The From-Aways' (Q&A)

CJ Hauser's 'The From-Aways' is available now from William Morrow.

Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes CJ Hauser.

Ms. Hauser is the debut novelist of the newly released The From-Aways (William Morrow, $14.99). A New Englander at heart, she hails from Redding, Connecticut, but currently lives in Tallahassee Florida, where she is pursuing Ph.D. at Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House, The Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, and Esquire. Ms. Hauser is a recipient of McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award and the winner of the Jaimy Gordon Prize in Fiction.

The From-Aways was published last Tuesday, and has been received warmly by both critics and contemporaries. Kirkus noted, “Hauser creates a palpable bond linking characters, readers, a community and relevant political issues. Hauser’s style is expressive, clever and compelling, and she offers readers a thoughtful and engaging debut.” Further, Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them, praised, “CJ Hauser’s debut novel … is a charming, salty, and fresh as its setting in small-town Maine. Through her spunky heroines, Leah and Quinn, who have both come to Maine to find roots, Hauser tells an effective story about lobsters, loyalty, and love.”

From the publisher:

Fresh talent CJ Hauser makes her literary debut with an irreverent story of family, love, friendship, and lobsters, in the tradition of J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine and Richard Russo’s Empire Falls.

Two women come to Maine in search of family and find more love, heartbreak, and friendship than they’d ever imagined one little fishing town could hold.

When Leah, a young New York reporter, meets Henry, she falls in love with everything about him: his freckles, green thumb, and tales of a Maine childhood. They marry quickly and Leah convinces Henry to move back to Menamon. As Leah builds a life there, reporting for The Menamon Star and vowing to be less of an emotional screw-up, the newlyweds are shocked to discover that they don’t know each other nearly so well as they thought they did.

When Quinn’s mother dies, she tracks down the famous folk-singer father she’s never known, in Menamon. Scrappy and smart-mouthed, Quinn gets a job at the local paper, an apartment above the town diner, and tries to shore up the courage to meet her father. But falling in love with her roommate, Rosie, was never part of the plan.

These two unruly women’s work relationship at The Star deepens into best-friendship when they stumble onto a story that shakes sleepy Menamon—and holds damaging repercussions for Leah’s husband and Quinn’s roommate both. As the town descends into turmoil, both women must decide what kind of lives they are willing to fight for.

Now, CJ Hauser takes readers inside her journey from short stories to novel …

1) What inspired you to write THE FROM-AWAYS – and how did you know that this would be the idea worthy of a full-length manuscript (as opposed to a short story)?

I think THE FROM-AWAYS may have been born out of homesickness. I was living in New York when wrote it and I was pining for New England something awful. The book became this way for me to imagine myself home (and also to think about what it meant that I was romanticizing home so much). I knew I wanted to write about a motley cast of characters in a very specific New England town, and I wanted readers to have a reading-experience where they felt like they got to hang out with those people, and live in that place. With a story, for me, it’s always about a brief moment, a turning point, a small phenomenon. But the novel is a more lived-in experience. It has to be, for readers to feel like they are escaping into it.

2) Though this book represents your debut novel, you are no stranger to fiction. Tell us: how did you find the process to compare to that of writing shorter works – and what are the specific charms that draw you to each format?

The stories are my girlfriends. The novel is my wife.

3) The setting – Menamon, Maine – is very much a character. How does this backdrop enhance the story – and how did you endeavor to bring it alive for readers?

When I come home, to Redding, Connecticut, where I grew up, I see things kaleidoscopically. Nothing is just a diner, it’s the diner where I stayed up all night with my best friends after one of us got off waiting tables and we built a fort out of sugar packets. Nothing is just a graveyard, it’s the graveyard I held my breath to pass the night we all snuck out of our houses to drink lukewarm beers, and someone caught me not breathing and said, you still do that? You still believe in the goonies? and just like that my childhood was over. Nothing is just a house on the corner, it’s the house where so-and-so used to live, the entomologist’s son who wore those peculiar sweaters and was in love with the postman’s daughter and moved once she got married. There’s such a sense of history and story in a small town, and that’s what I wanted to create in the imaginary fishing village of Menamon, Maine. This wonderful/miserable small-town feeling that everyone in town is linked, to each other, and to this whole entangled history of stories and rumors too.

4) At its heart, the book is about twenty-somethings in pursuit of their place in the world (and the complications that personal and professional relationships can pose to that journey). In your opinion, why is this such an appealing premise – and how do you feel/hope that your book stands apart from similar offerings?

People talk about coming of age stories, the kind that document a character’s awkward teenage years and ascent to adulthood, but I feel like no one ever prepares you for how much more terrible coming-of-age is as yet to come in your twenties. I like to call THE FROM-AWAYS a second-coming of age story. One about characters who are, theoretically, grown-ups, but who still feel like they are little-kid imposters. Who let me have this job? This car? This house? What am I supposed to do with all this now? As David Byrne would say: How did I get here?

I like to think that a lot of readers will see themselves in these women who more often than not are doing a pretty bad job of being grown-ups. Who make bad decisions as well as good and are sometimes selfish and impetuous and silly, despite their deep desire to be kind and responsible and good.

5) In addition to writing, you are currently pursuing your Ph.D. How do you balance responsibilities – and what advice would you give those who want to write but struggle to find the time?

What is that thing Hermione has in the Harry Potter books? A Time-Turner? I need one. We all do.

But honestly, the trick is to find ways for the other parts of your life to feed your writing life. If the hours you’re not writing always feel like a distraction you will always be miserable. You have to make everything feel like it’s part of the process...which is not as hard as it might sound because there’s something so all-consuming about writing a novel that you start seeing “connections” to your book everywhere, like a crazy person. When I’m teaching classes, or taking classes, I always have a notebook that’s just for the project I’m working on because even if I’m sitting in a lecture about Mary Shelley or teaching freshmen about Bob Dylan lyrics I still find myself getting ideas for my book and scribbling them down. I’m also quite lucky to be a teacher: my students crack me up and surprise me and make me think about the world in new ways all the time. Even when they are driving me bananas. (They know they drive me bananas, because I tell them this: GOOD GRIEF YOU ARE ALL DRIVING ME BANANAS!)

6) Leave us with a little teaser: what comes next?

I’m working on a new novel inspired by Shakespeare’s As You Like It, lots of love and mistaken identity in the forest, but with a bit of a Sci-Fi twist...

As of yet, the book is called Touchstone.


With thanks to CJ Hauser for her generosity of time and thought and to Camille Collins, Senior Publicist at William Morrow, for facilitating this interview.

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