Valerie Nieman just won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for her new novel In the Lonely Backwater. It’s North Carolina’s prize for best fiction of the year. Huzzah! So well deserved.
A sentence from the book:
“Me, I’m a creature like a bear or raccoon, I can live lots of ways. Daughter of Andrew, cleaner of boats, sailor of Bellatrix that I built from a derelict, roamer of woods, scientist, stalker of plants and animals, teller of tales.”
In the Lonely Backwater
Pub date May 10, 2022
Publisher Regal House/Fitzroy Books
- In a single sentence, describe your story or collection.
A whip-smart outsider, 17-year-old Maggie uses science to make sense of a chaotic world with a missing mother and alcoholic father — until gorgeous cousin Charisse’s body is found at the marina they operate and Maggie, prime suspect, is caught between a stalker and a persistent detective.
- Where do you write? What’s on the wall? Is there a cat on the keyboard? A dog at your feet?
I write in a pea-green room, surrounded by books and mementoes of a life spent engaged with words and with nature. I face a wall and not the windows, as I can so easily be pulled away by the flash of a bird or wind turning the leaves in the trees.
- What inspired you to start? A face, an event, a place? How long did it take to write?
The book started around 2008 and was “finished” in 2012, but then had numerous rounds with agents, revisions through the good guidance of friends, until it came clear and was placed with Regal House in 2020. Many elements went into the story, but one very specific moment: when I found this inscription in my senior yearbook: “I hope all our misunderstandings are cleared up. Always remember our great class and me! Love _____.” I don’t remember what had happened, but the various bits and pieces coalesced and the story began to form.
- How do you keep going when it’s hard–what’s your secret? Your support system? Your writing snack? Coffee or tea?
I keep going because I don’t know any other way to live. I’ve written for most of my life, through tough times and disappointment and some glorious breakthroughs. Coffee–dark chocolate–the occasional dram of Laphroaig–and time spent hiking, fly-fishing, and being on or close to water.
- Tell us about two favorite writers you’ve studied for craft.
Fred Chappell was an early and constant inspiration to write the stories that came to me, whatever their genre, and to value the Appalachian roots of my work: “I Am One of You Forever,” as one of his books is titled. I’m an admirer of Ursula LeGuin and Margaret Atwood.
- What are people saying about your book? Blurb, review, your best friend.
“In the Lonely Backwater is not only a page-turning thriller but also a complex psychological portrait of a young woman dealing with guilt, betrayal, and secrecy. Equally compelling is Nieman’s deep sense of the wonderment of the natural world.”—Dawn Raffel, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Couney
“It’s fantastic! I love your characters, Maggie, her dad, her friends. And the dialogue! It’s so good that I feel I’m right there hiding around in the woods listening in.”—Pete Mock, McIntyre’s Fine Books
“Beautifully written and perfectly paced, In the Lonely Backwater is a great choice for book clubs.”—Donna Meredith in the Southern Literary Review
- Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
I wandered Iona, visiting the bay where St. Columba came ashore, standing at the mound of Reilig Òdhrain, where Macbeth and a host of other Scottish and Norse kings and chieftains are buried.
- What’s the question you’d like me to ask? Answer it!
Do you consider yourself a novelist or poet?
Both! Equally! Right now I’m working on two novels (not very much with the book tour preparations) and seeing if the 75-80 pages of poetry in my desk drawer form a new collection. There’s a mysterious “something” that goes into making a poetry book, which usually involves laying out all the poems on the floor and then moving them into place. I have a large table so will forego the floor-crawling this time.