Both the name and the location of the motel are fictional.
One summer, years ago, while traveling with my son, I stayed at a similar motel, but that was in Virginia, not Tennessee. On the other side of I-81, to the west, loomed very high mountains. By dinnertime the sun had already disappeared. The light was eerie. The sun had set, but not really. After dinner we went swimming, and there was a frog in the pool. My son, too, remembers it as a magical evening. He’s a herpetologist now. Maybe that frog cast a spell on him.
Hmmm. Could Jonathan be a stand-in for your son?
Jonathan’s a fictional character. To some extent, I suppose, he’s based on a boy I sat across from at dinner one night. I remember thinking: this kid has been adopted into the wrong family. But Jonathan’s an orphan, with a very different family history.
I see. And if I ask about the true stories, you’ll tell me they’re fiction, too?
They’re short stories, yes.
Short stories, on a dead man’s computer, which help Vrai and Jonathan ID the person responsible for two deaths.
So you did get beyond the title page! And since you know that I’m a librarian, or was, and that I grew up in Knoxville and wound up working in a library in Baltimore, I’ll bet you’re dying to ask me if I’m Vrai. In terms of hometown and chosen profession, yes, Vrai and I are similar. But she’s far more courageous than I am. She might even enjoy being interviewed. For most of the novel, Vrai’s an art history librarian. I’ve never had an art history course in my life. I was a psych major.
Small world. I majored in psychology, too.
Why am I not surprised?
In the novel, Gussie’s the psychology librarian. So you’re more Gussie than Vrai?
I’m nothing like Gussie. I have an MLS. I never kept goldfish in my office. I wasn’t sexually harassed, the way she was. Besides, Gussie was of Greek heritage. I’m Scottish on both sides of my family.
Why don’t you ask me about the Blizzard of 1993, the reason Vrai and Jonathan become stranded at the Smoky View Motel? You’ll love my answer. That storm was completely real.
I think I’d rather know more about your family. Would you like to talk about them?
Sure, why not? My ancestors came over from Scotland and ended up in East Tennessee. I’ve always wondered if the Smokies felt like home to them. Same blue mists. I was in Scotland when I was seventeen, and I remember a moment, in the mountains–the highlands, I should say–when I had the strange sensation that I was home. I’ve since learned that, back when the continents were still one big landmass, the Appalachians extended into what is now Scotland. So, in a way, I was home. Not surprisingly, some of my favorite authors are Scottish.
You seem prone to magical mountain moments, and yet you choose to live in Baltimore, where the elevation must be close to zero.
Something’s not quite right here. You’ve obviously read my novel. Why aren’t we talking about it? Were the characters believable to you? Did you like the ending?
To me–and I’m certainly no expert–the ending seemed more like a beginning. Jonathan pulled a fast one on Vrai, didn’t he?
Yeah, Jonathan surprised even me in those final scenes. I mean, I knew what he was up to, but he pulled it off with such aplomb.
But he’s your creation. You wrote those scenes.
Now I understand. I’ve been glimpsing a small photo, like the ones accompanying comments on Facebook. This isn’t a self-interview. You’re a guy, with light brown hair. And my goodness, what happened to your nose? A sports injury, I think. Yes, you encountered a sharp elbow during a basketball game, which your team lost, and a few years later, when someone punched you out, there wasn’t much more the surgeon could do for you.
I’ve become one of your fictional characters? Then get me outta here.
A former librarian at Johns Hopkins University, JILL MCCROSKEY COUPE has an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. She lives in Baltimore. Visit her online at https://jillmcoupe.wordpress.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/jillmccroskeycoupe.