Anna Quinn’s breathtaking debut novel examines the impact of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile line between past and present. Exquisitely nuanced and profoundly intimate, The Night Child is a story of resilience, hope, and the capacity of the mind, body, and spirit to save itself despite all odds. We’re very excited to feature her here on WWWB!
Tell us about the beginning, where are you from?
I was born in Illinois. Moved to the Pacific Northwest with my family when I was ten. I’ll never forget the moment when I first saw all the water, all the blue! As a child, I couldn’t articulate the feeling with words, but my body danced around a great deal and my heart sensed an essential belonging—I was home.
How did your childhood impact the writer you’ve become?
My childhood was filled with books, writing, music, nature, church and sadly, abuse. I was fortunate that my mother taught me to read and write early on, which gave me a tremendous freedom. I learned to tell myself stories and to write myself out of old stories and into new ones. Music—whether it was listening to records with my father every Sunday after church, or the emotional intensity of church music, or that I took accordion lessons (my choice) for years, taught me early on that music can change you viscerally—the way it can make your eyes water, shake your arms and legs, the rhythm and passion and story of it, the way it can carry you away—is something I attempt to create in my writing.
And nature? Nature was my lifeline to calm—I’d become so absorbed by the smells and colors, the range of sounds and motion—from the way leaves whispered—the tiniest shift of movement, the crash and pound of the ocean—that I’d forget everything else. And trauma? It’s there, always, in the pulse of my writing.
You describe yourself as a Haiku writer. How has that evolved? Was that something you consciously taught yourself to do?
Ha, that’s a term my poet husband uses to describe my writing, but yeah, I am a minimalist for sure. I am drawn to the immediacy of a moment, condensing its meaning, using as few words as possible to convey the essence or tenor of an image, to not only look at an image but observe the space around it—my favorite part of writing really. I love using space, whether to create a breath or to shape emotion without words.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever had, and the worst?
The thing I need to tell myself often is to stand by my writing—to write what I want and write it without apology. I used to apologize often. I’d write something from the marrow of my bones, my heart, and I’d put it out there and apologize for it. Then, one time at an open-mic, before I read, I said, “I’m sorry, but this is very dark. I’m sorry. Next time, I promise to bring something uplifting, possibly even funny.” And then, after I read, a woman, maybe eighty years old came up to me, her eyes watering, and said, “Thank you, honey. You said what I’ve been trying to say my entire life. Thank you.” That night I stopped apologizing. Well, almost.
The worse advice I’ve heard, for me at least, is to write to an audience. It’s not that I don’t think of the reader when I’m working on a later draft, but if in the early stages, I stopped to think, Oh what would my book club think? What would Aunt Mildred in Kansas think? What would my social media friends think? What would my agent think? What would Virginia Woolf think? How about David Sedaris? I’d totally constrict.
I’d waste all my precious time figuring out when to jump and how high and which hoop. Man, that’s a fucking exhausting trip and the neediness seeps into your writing and then your writing sucks. Worse, I’d fall out of the present and probably lose what I most wanted to find out. The flow state of writing is something I desperately love, and that only happens when I diminish pressure. Ha, I have enough trouble getting out of my own way. In the end though, I do hope someone likes my writing.
You teach writing. Can people learn how to write? What is the most difficult thing to teach people?
Well, hell yes! Anyone can learn to write if they want to. Honestly, I kind of wish everyone would write. Or paint. Or play music. Or sing. Dance. Anything creative. Because of the release, the shifting of energy. The freedom. We’re happier and calmer and more open when we create. I’m not sure I teach writing as much as help writers write what they most want to say, in the way they most want to say it.
The difficult aspects are usually about anxiety. When we doubt ourselves, doubt that our words matter, compare ourselves to other writers, try to write what we think other people think we should write, we can become stuck, sometimes for years. So, yeah, we have to believe our words are worthy and be good to ourselves. Writing is no small thing—it’s tough work, emotionally and intellectually, and if we’re growing—constantly moving out of our comfort zone into vulnerability (uh-oh, I just used a banned word, yikes!), we have to be willing to be uncomfortable.
Anyway, this is where a good writing group or partner can be everything. When writers listen to each other, help each other fight uncertainty and perfectionism, and collaborate, confidence evolves—and confidence is everything, right? And this may sound corny, but one thing my therapist would often ask me during anxious times was, “What does your writing need?” This question shifted the focus from me to the words on the table.
You write in a little tugboat (I love that) but do you feel you need a specific space where you write or can you write anywhere?
I can write images in most places—you know, what I see, hear, taste, smell—I’m always scribbling something down. But because I’m intensely hypersensitive to sounds, smells and activity, I need to get away from the world and sit in a quiet, familiar refuge, where I won’t be interrupted for hours and hours on end. I love the tugboat because it’s embracing like a womb and unless it’s stormy, it’s always rocking me gently.
It took you a year to submit The Night Child. Why was that?
Trusting my writing enough to make it public is one of the greatest dares of my life. For lots of reasons. I wrote a little about that here: https://annamquinn.com/2017/04/28/393. The final nudge for me in submitting The Night Child, came from the brilliant writer, Lidia Yuknavitch. She’d edited the final manuscript and at the end of her notes, she’d written, “You must put this out into the world.” I trusted her and pressed “send” and yes, my heart was racing and I was biting my lip while I did so.
Your book came forth from a memoir you had written. Are you considering going back to the memoir at some stage in the future? Probably not. The themes of the memoir, yes—I’ll probably be drawn to writing the shape and sounds of identity, exploitation and resilience the rest of my life, but that particular memoir, I doubt it. It carried me as far as it could, it’s tired now, worn out. I want to move forward into new stories, unfamiliar energy.
You are a bookshop owner. In this day and age, more and more people are choosing to read ebooks. Does it affect your business? How do you see the future of bookshops?
Many bookstores are thriving right now and we’re grateful to be one of them. We live in a town of people who have a tremendous appreciation for books, and also, community. People love to come in and talk with each other about books and tell their own stories, Regarding e-books, I think most bookstores are learning to adapt to the e-world. To quote Stephen Fry, “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs are by elevators.
What are you working on at the moment? A novel set in the San Juan Islands. Can’t say too much more about it, but there’s free will versus destiny, and women pushing boundaries, and I’m loving writing it.
Anna Quinn is a writer, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. She is a published poet and essayist with twenty-six years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Anna’s first novel, “The Night Child”, published by Blackstone Publishing, will be released on the 30th of January.
About THE NIGHT CHILD
“The Night Child is a powerful, beautifully written, transformative novel that struck a rare chord with me. When I recall Nora’s journey, I am affected viscerally, as if I were reliving her painful memories alongside her. ‘Must Read’ is not a phrase I use often; I am using it now: you must read this book!”
-Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives a quiet life in Seattle with her husband and six-year-old daughter. But one November day, moments after dismissing her class, a girl’s face appears above the students’ desks—“a wild numinous face with startling blue eyes, a face floating on top of shapeless drapes of purples and blues where arms and legs should have been. Terror rushes through Nora’s body—the kind of raw terror you feel when there’s no way out, when every cell in your body, your entire body, is on fire—when you think you might die.”
Twenty-four hours later, while on Thanksgiving vacation, the face appears again. Shaken and unsteady, Nora meets with neurologists and eventually, a psychiatrist. As the story progresses, a terrible secret is discovered—a secret that pushes Nora toward an even deeper psychological breakdown.
This breathtaking debut novel examines the impact of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile line between past and present. Exquisitely nuanced and profoundly intimate, The Night Child is a story of resilience, hope, and the capacity of the mind, body, and spirit to save itself despite all odds.
Buy THE NIGHT CHILD HERE