HITTING SHELVES #33: Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

Marrow Island

Marrow Island comes out today!

It’s the story of a rugged island in Washington state that was devastated in a huge earthquake. Lucie Bowen was a child when the island was evacuated, and now, twenty years later, her best friend Katie convinces her to come back and see how a group of environmental activists known as “the Colony” has repopulated the ecosystem. But Lucie discovers that the island may have a sinister effect on everyone there.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Marrow Island?

I’m just realizing, as I sit here writing this, that the pub date of Marrow Island is almost eight years to the day I woke up from the crazy post-partum dream that inspired the book. My son was an infant, I was high on new mom bonding hormones, and when I slept, I had wild dreams. I’ve always had long, complicated, vivid dreams, but this one clearly laid out the premise of a story: a natural disaster, an island rendered uninhabitable, a colony lead by a nun. There were other details that didn’t make it into the book (proper New York bagels figured in one strange episode) but the premise was there, and so was the mood. I wrote it all down that morning. I knew it would be my next book, though I was still working on Glaciers for Tin House at the time. I started the research for what I was then calling Islands, and kept a notebook of scraps of thought, news items, sketches, evocative phrases, names of people and things…

It wasn’t until four years later, Glaciers selling well, book tour over, that I began Marrow as it is now. I had written garbage first chapters, and at least thirty pages of what would end up being character development. I was a single mom by then, stressed out about money, not sure I would ever write the book. I had a wonderful agent by then, and editors interested in “whatever she’s working on next,” and as delicious as that validation was, it didn’t help my creative process a bit.

Alexis M. Smith
Alexis M. Smith

So, my friend Laura recommended I go on a retreat at a vacation trailer park by the ocean called The Sou’Wester Lodge; they gave a discount to artists who stayed during the week in the off-season. I called them up and explained the situation: single mom writer; more or less broke; could get three nights max away from my kid. They hooked me up with an artist discount, and when I pulled up to the Lodge for the first time, I knew I had found my people: clam-digging gear to borrow and an honor-system general store that sells vinyl records and homemade soap alongside candy bars. The place was nearly deserted; it was a Monday in November on the coast of Washington. I wrote the first fifty pages of the book—the prologue, the first island chapter, and the first forest chapter—on a sagging sofa in a 1953 Zelmar Cruiser, rain hammering the metal roof so hard that even my noise-canceling headphones couldn’t block it out.

Got that? Four years’ gestation, born in a camper trailer on the Pacific Ocean.

It took me another three years to finish writing it (I returned to The Sou’Wester many times, chasing those salty muses), several months of editing, designing, etc., and here we are: I’m now a married person; my son just turned eight.

I wish I could say I were celebrating at The Sou’Wester, in the 1953 Zelmar Cruiser. But I’m broke again, waiting to get the last little chunk of my advance so I can pay off my taxes and some of my credit card before book tour starts and I charge it right back up again. Instead, some friends are meeting me at a neighborhood bar for happy hour cocktails. I’ll probably be in bed with my wife by nine, doing the crossword.

Get the book here.

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