Grace bears a strange gift that is also a burden, something we might call acute intuition, but which her small town at the tail end of the 1960’s sees as a kind of witchcraft and her father deems a sacrilege. As the era of small-town American innocence starts to come to an end, it’s the darker forces that push Grace’s mother into postpartum depression and permeate the town with a wider sense of loss when one of its young girls go missing.
Blurbs about THIS I KNOW
“Simply magical writing. Eldonna Edwards is a true storyteller. She tossed me straight into her book and there I stayed until the last word on the last page.” – Bestselling author Cathy Lamb
“In this outstanding debut, Eldonna Edwards has created an enchanting, loveable narrator by the name Grace Carter, who shares all she sees about her world and beyond. Rendered in a voice at once singular and exquisite and with an old soul sense of wisdom, I was captivated by this story of a girl and her unique gift, her love of family, the pain of loss, the sting of indifference, and the simple joy of acceptance, but most of all by Grace, and her purity of heart.” -- Donna Everhart, USA TODAY Bestselling Author of THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE
An Interview with Eldonna Edwards
Eldonna Edwards’ debut upmarket fiction novel, THIS I KNOW, was published on April 24th, 2018 by Kensington. Since the publication, I have interviewed Eldonna about her novel and her writing process.
Question - Please describe what the book is about.
Eldonna Edwards - Eleven-year-old Grace Carter has a talent for hiding things. She’s had plenty of practice, burying thoughts and feelings that might anger her strict Evangelical pastor father, and concealing the deep intuition she carries inside. The Knowing, as Grace calls it, offers glimpses of people’s pasts and futures. It enables her to see into the depth of her mother’s sadness, and even allows Grace to talk to Isaac, her twin brother who died at birth. To her wise, loving Aunt Pearl, the Knowing is a family gift; to her daddy, it’s close to witchcraft.
Grace can’t see into someone’s thoughts without their permission. But it doesn’t take her special talent to know that her small community is harboring its share of secrets. A young girl has gone missing. Within Grace’s own family too, the cracks are widening, as her sisters Hope, Joy, and Chastity enjoy the normal life that eludes Grace. It’s Grace’s kinship with other outsiders that keeps her afloat—Lyle, a gentle, homeless man, and Lola, a free-spirited new girl at school. But when her mother lapses into deep depression after bringing home a new baby, Grace will face a life-changing choice— ignore her gift and become the obedient daughter her father demands, or find the courage to make herself heard, even it means standing apart . . .
Question - Share a teaser from your book.
EE - I make people nervous, even Daddy. Especially Daddy. I know this by how they look away, as if their darkest secrets will be exposed like tea leaves scattered in the snow. The truth is, I can’t know another’s thoughts without their permission. I have to be invited. It’s one of the rules that goes along with having what I sometimes think is a curse but what Aunt Pearl calls a gift. I’d give anything to be normal like the rest of my sisters.
If you asked when I first realized I had the Knowing, I wouldn’t be able to say. It started like a seed and then grew bit by bit, just slow enough not to notice. I guess I was born with it. Maybe it was just supposed to be a regular amount of intuition. Maybe when Isaac died I ended up with a double dose, like dots sliding off dominos placed end to end on a crooked table.
Even Billy Wolf—the meanest kid in Cherry Hill—won’t give me the full Evil Eye. He aims it at my shoes or my chest or lately at my crotch, yet he still looks away sooner than he does with other kids. It’s hard to imagine out-creeping Billy.
I know things, such as when the telephone’s going to ring. Sometimes I hear and see things, too. Like the red bulge inside the back of Hope’s head that no one else sees or the lilies under the snow that I can smell long before they bloom. And that I really do hear my brother’s voice. We talk to each other all the time.
Question - Where did you get the idea?
EE - Every story begins with "What if...?" and here's where truth and fiction part ways. What if my dad had been a bit of a tyrant rather than the loving, compassionate, imperfect man that he was? What if instead of a rebellious teen with a wild imagination, one of his children was born with something that challenged his deeply-held convictions? What if his beautiful wife fell into a deep depression after popping out all those kids? (I'm number five of seven in my family.) What if I swapped some of the characteristics of my family, my townspeople, and our many congregations and molded them into fictional characters who remind us that despite our differences, we all just want to be loved and accepted?
Question - What’s the story behind the title?
EE - The title is taken from a children’s hymn Jesus Loves Me. I chose the title and my publisher loved it.
Question - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
EE - Grace feels responsible for a tragedy that occurs in her small town and makes a deal with God in exchange for needed forgiveness.
Question - Tell us about your favorite character.
EE - Other than my protagonist, it would be Aunt Pearl. She lives several states away in Mississippi but is the one adult who doesn’t shame Grace for her uncanny gift of intuition. They have a very special bond that extends beyond the realm of family.
Question - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
EE - Definitely Isaac. We’d have a long philosophical conversation about the afterlife and what happens after we die.
Question - Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?
EE - The answer is yes and no. Aside from Aunt Pearl, who I based on my beloved Aunt Ruth, and Joy Carter, a darn close replica of my older sister, Anita, the characters are a collage of every person I've ever met, read about, seen in film or just dreamed up in this overactive brain.
Question - How long did you take to write this book? (You can share about the timeline from drafting to publication)
EE - I started writing this book about seventeen years ago. I put it aside while raising my last child as a single parent. After publishing a memoir in 2014 about donating a kidney to a stranger, I blew the dust off the ms and started revising it with the help of my beau, who is an amazing editor. I queried several agents in the fall of 2015 and signed with one that November. She pitched my book to her list of editors and sold it to John Scognamiglio in a two-book deal. He subsequently selected THIS I KNOW for his new hardcover imprint.
Question - What kind of research did you do for this book?
EE - Most of the research had to do with music of the era, news headlines and Bible stories. Although I grew up as a preacher’s kid, my memory of verses and passages is cloudy at best. I’m embarrassed to admit I bought “The Idiot’s Guide to The Life of Christ” to add to my research library.
Question - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
EE - I extracted a scene where Grace experiences a dream-like vision of Native Americans who lived in the area before it was settled by whites. My agent believed that it felt out of place and a little too political for this book. I ultimately agreed with her and pulled it from the book.
Question - Are you a plotter or a pantser?
EE - Definitely a pantser! I have a general idea of where I’m headed and how the book will end but I much prefer organic story-telling to using a formula. I tend to do things backwards. I write the book and then I go back and outline what I’ve written to make sure the plot and the emotional arc are in sync.
Question - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
EE - Beginnings. I love the excitement of starting a new story and meeting new characters.
Question - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
EE - Distractions. From social media to the telephone to running a business to the smell of something cooking, I’m easily lured away and find it difficult to get back in the “zone” once I’ve pulled away.
Question - Can you share your writing routine?
EE - I own a vintage 1957 Siesta trailer aka “glamper” that I’ve turned into a cozy writing space. I write best in the mornings after I’ve had my espresso and caught up on the news.
Question - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
EE - So far, no. But ask me again when I’m ready to start book three. I’m feeling a little stuck and having a hard time discerning which idea is the next best one.
Question - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
EE - Write it all down because you will forget it later, usually by the time you find a piece of paper to record it.
Question - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
EE - Two. One nearly-complete women’s fiction ms and one upmarket story about fifteen percent complete that might end up being my next book.
Question - Do you have any writing quirks?
EE - I need absolute quiet to write. I don’t understand how people can write with music on or in busy coffee shops!
Question - Tell us about yourself
EE - I owned an operated a busy massage therapy business for twenty-five years. I still run the business but I no longer practice. I live with my beau who is a brilliant editor and my sixteen-year-old lab-mix Bella, a rescue. A former Michigan native, I moved to the beautiful central California coast in 1997.
Question - How did you get into writing?
EE - I wrote my first poem at the age of nine. It was simply titled Mother. I don’t remember the words but I do remember the impact it had. Not just on my mom, but on me after writing it. I soon discovered that language was a powerful vehicle not only for self-expression, but for self-healing. I kept journals throughout my teens and adulthood and went on to become a journaling workshop facilitator before delving into memoir and fiction.
Question - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
EE - I enjoy tennis, hiking, reading, film, laughter, farmer’s markets and live plays.
Question - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
EE - I’ve published a memoir, several essays, and I blog about life, relationships and the writing process.
Question - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
EE - Most people don’t know that I was featured in a documentary about living donation title “Perfect Strangers” that aired on PBS.
Question - Which book influenced you the most?
EE - All of them.
Question - - What are you working on right now?
EE - I’m currently in the revision phase of a book about a young boy raised in a spiritual commune set in Northern California in the 1970’s.
Question - What’s your favorite writing advice?
EE - Be open to constructive criticism. We tend to become very attached to our words but well-intentioned feedback can help stretch your creative muscles and improve your story.
Question - The book you’re currently reading
EE - Listening to One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain. Haunting story. Stunning prose. Exquisite narration by the author.
Question - Why did you choose to set your novel in the 60’s/70’s instead of a contemporary setting?
EE - Having been born just a wee bit too late to experience the cultural revolution of the 60’s, I’ve always felt a little like a left-behind flower child. The music was so good, the civil rights movement was blowing up, and people started pushing back against the war machine. I think it’s a fascinating time in our cultural history.
Question - What was your hardest scene to write? Which scene was your favorite?
EE - Hands down, the sexual assault. I am fortunate not to have experienced this in my lifetime, but people very close to me have. I cried through the whole scene and it shook me to my core. I had to let the book sit for a while before I could come back to it.
The scene I most enjoyed writing is when Grace’s sisters convince her to dress up as a fortune teller and charge the neighborhood kids to get their questions answered. What child doesn’t love turning a refrigerator box into a store, a space-ship or a fortune-teller booth? This scene allowed me delve into our insecurities that begin at an early age. Do my parents love me? Will I find my soul mate? Will I overcome these awkward years to enjoy a successful life?
Eldonna Edwards’ Biography
Eldonna Edwards is the subject of the award-winning documentary Perfect Strangers and author of the memoir Lost in Transplantation, both of which follow her choice to donate a kidney to an anonymous person in need. Her debut novel, This I Know, won the Lillian Dean Award for fiction based on its opening chapters. Also a veteran massage therapist and former journaling instructor, Eldonna is a born storyteller who “cut her teeth” on the back of Southern Baptist pews in her provincial Midwest hometown where her father was a preacher. The voice in this novel comes straight from the heart. Eldonna currently lives on the central California coast with her long-time partner.
Links to Eldonna Edwards