We are delighted today to be talking with debut author, Kathleen Barber, about her novel Are You Sleeping.
Please describe what your book is about.
A woman whose father was murdered thirteen years ago suddenly finds his death (and, by extension, her family) the subject of a popular podcast. When an unexpected death forces what’s left of her scattered family back together, she’s forced to confront her past and the lies upon which she built her future.
Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.
“The truth is complicated.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Jo. The truth is never complicated. It’s just the truth. Circumstances may be complicated, but the truth is always black-and-white.”
[N.B. This is one of my favorite lines from the book, and it’s on the back of the UK cover.]
What do you want people to know about your book?
I have been writing about these characters – Josie, Lanie, and Adam – for literally decades. I have written so many terrible drafts of their story (including one draft as a NaNo novel in 2009), and so I’m so, so happy to have finally found their plot.
What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?
Not exactly while I was writing the novel, but just before it: I had been listening to Serial, and by “listening,” I mean that I had been listening to the podcasts, visiting the website to look at the supporting materials, searching for Serial-related hashtags on Twitter, frequenting the Serial subreddit, and so forth. When I caught myself conducting a Google image search to see what some of the people involved looked like, I was sort of horrified. I realized I had been thinking about them as characters in an entertaining drama, rather than very real people who were part of a very real tragedy. I generally think of myself as an empathetic person who is concerned with other people’s feelings, and so I realized that if I was doing that, surely many other people were too. And so the first draft of the current version of ARE YOU SLEEPING basically started as a way for me to work through my own Serial obsession.
What was your timeline from drafting to publication?
As noted above, I’ve been playing with these characters for decades. However, once I found their plot, things moved fairly quickly: I began drafting in October 2014 and began querying in April 2015. I got some feedback from agents and spent most of 2015 revising, and then I signed with my agent in February 2016. More revisions followed, and she sold the book in April 2016. Publication followed 16 months later in August 2017!
What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?
Inventing characters is hands-down my favorite part of writing. I’m really not sure why; it’s just been something that I’ve always enjoyed. I mean, when I used to play The Sims, I always invented really long, complicated backstories for my Sims and would keep track of their affairs in a notebook (when, really, I should have been making sure that they weren’t setting the kitchen on fire again).
Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?
[see above, in the “what did you learn” section]
When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?
In the shower, obviously! Sometimes public transportation, or the elliptical. Really, anywhere that I don’t have access to my computer or a pen. My muse is a slippery little devil.
Share something people may be surprised to know about you?
My husband and I spent the better part of 2014 backpacking across Africa and parts of the Middle East. (Come to think of it, this is probably how Josie ended up in Tanzania … )
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I love that Jodi Picoult quote: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” It’s so true. It’s so important to just get some words on the page, and to not be too precious about them.
I’m always writing, so hopefully I’ll have something new …
ARE YOU SLEEPING
Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a long-closed murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.
Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason: her father was murdered, her mother ran away to join a cult, and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, went completely off the rails and stole her high school sweetheart. Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.
The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.
When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s carefully constructed world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.