Luisa Perkins new novel Dispirited was recently published by Zarahemla Books. It’s a work of supernatural fiction or maybe “contemporary dark fantasy” (that a term Luisa uses on her about page). You can read more about Luisa and her work on her author website Kashkawan.
She is also a frequent commenter here at AMV and other Mormon blogs and an active Twitter user. When I heard about the publication of Dispirited, I had a few questions for her…
The synopsis for Dispirited on the Zarahemla Books website is a bit on the vague side. Could you tell us more about what the novel is about?
A boy named Blake teaches himself how to get out of his body in order to go looking for the spirit of his dead mother. One night when he comes home, he finds that another being has taken over his body in his absence. For years, he watches an impostor live his life. Then his father remarries, and Blake hopes to get help from his new stepsister, Cathy, who has some unusual gifts.
It seems like it has a lot going on. What are the genres and influences that informed your writing of the novel?
Ghost stories. Jane Eyre. The first chapter of Wuthering Heights. Neil Gaiman and Ysabeau Wilce and Charles de Lint.
Magical houses have always fascinated me. John Crowley’s Little, Big, Jane Langton’s The Diamond in the Window, the novels of E. Nesbit—in all those books, the house is almost a character. And Jung’s dream theory of the house representing the self—that became important, too.
The setting was also a big influence on the story. I have always loved the way William Faulkner and Stephen King created fictional places based on their hometowns, then built all these stories around them. The stories themselves may not be directly related, but their connectedness via setting enriches the body of work.
Dispirited is set in a small town called Kashkawan, which means “it is foggy” in Algonquin. It’s based on the town where I live in New York’s Hudson Highlands. Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow is just down the river, and the Catskills are an hour away. Kashkawan has an extensive Dutch history, just like the real Hudson Highlands. My own Dutch-American heritage was also a factor.
Mixing the Mormon and the supernatural can be tricky. How did you approach that aspect of your novel?
For me, that was the easy part. I feel like our religion is inherently speculative. Constructing a somewhat different otherworld didn’t feel like that much of a departure from what I already believe.
This is not your first book. How was the process of writing different from what you’ve done before? Is there anything you learned about yourself as a writer during the whole process?
This book was much harder to write than other things I’ve done. I’ve had the idea for it since I was about 18, and I loved the premise so much that I feared I couldn’t do it justice. Trying to make the book as cool as the story in my head was quite a challenge, if that makes any sense.
What did I learn about myself? I am a better, happier wife and mother when I am writing consistently. I took a lot of time off long-form fiction when we started having children. (Patrick and I have six kids; our oldest is a freshman in college, and our youngest is about to turn four.) I called it “maternity leave,” but now I wonder whether it was a mistake. I finally figured out that I would never be less busy or less tired, so I might as well get going, already.
Why did you decide to submit Dispirited to Zarahemla Books?
I have been a Zarahemla fan for quite awhile. One day after buying an ebook from the website, I looked at the Submission Guidelines and decided to give it a go—and I’m so glad I did. Stephen Carter edited the book, and he was an absolute dream. I got to give tons of input on the gorgeous cover, which NEVER happens in Big Six publishing. And Chris Bigelow has been terrific.
What would you say your biggest Mormon cultural influences are?
Well, it’s probably a cliché, but Orson Scott Card looms large for me. I started subscribing to Omni when I was about 12, and when I read a terrific short story of Card’s that featured an LDS bishop, I freaked out with joy and became an avid fan. Here was someone writing speculative fiction about my people. His books Lost Boys, Treasure Box, and Homebody probably most directly influenced Dispirited.
Then there’s Murray Boren, one of the most gifted LDS composers, who is also a dear friend and sometime collaborator of mine. Murray’s commitment to excellence and intolerance of mediocrity both inspire and intimidate me.
Finally, Glen Nelson, the founder of Mormon Artists Group and another dear friend, has had a big influence on the way I’ve decided to direct my writing. When Glen read Dispirited and liked it, I figured I could die happy.
What about outside the field of Mormon culture?
I’ve mentioned a lot already. More clichés: Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. But also Flannery O’Connor, Mark Helprin, and Peter Straub.
Finally, what can you tell us about any future or forthcoming creative projects?
Jeff Parkin and Jared Cardon, the creators of the web series The Book of Jer3miah, asked me to write the novelization of the first season. It’s being published by Shadow Mountain this August. We hope it does well, so that we can create at least one sequel together. Whatever happens, that project was a ton of fun to do.
At the moment, I’m working on a novel that is retelling of The Magic Flute—set in my fictional Kashkawan among the American “gypsies” known as the Travellers—except my Travellers have otherworldly powers.