Interview with Kate Brandes, Author of the Promise of Pierson Orchard
Today we’re talking with Kate Brandes, author of the Promise of Pierson Orchard, which comes out on April 22 (Earth Day).
Please describe what your novel is about.
This story is Erin Brockovich meets Promised Land, about a Pennsylvania family threatened by betrayal, financial desperation, old flames, fracking, and ultimately finding forgiveness.
Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.
“He moved back over next to LeeAnn, stripped off his shirt, and lay down under the coat beside her and the baby, wrapping around them to offer what body warmth he could. “Your dad’s waiting for the ambulance. They’ll be here very soon,” he said, kissing LeeAnn’s forehead. “I’m here with you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” he said, muttering it over and over, hoping she heard.”
What do you want people to know about your book?
I’ve spent most of my career, not as a writer, but as an environmental scientist. I didn’t start writing creatively until I was in my mid-thirties. I’ve always loved stories about complicated families and relationships. I first learned about fracking (a method of natural gas drilling using deep rock fracturing) through my environmental science career. One of my first thoughts was that it would make a great metaphor in a novel about a fractured family. And that’s how this book began.
What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?
I learned that I could be a creative person. That may sound strange, but before I started writing, I’d never done anything creative. It took me a long time to be able to refer to myself as a writer and to be able to think of myself as a creative being.
What was your timeline from drafting to publication?
It took me seven years from when I first began the novel to get a publishing contract.
What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?
I love rewriting. The first draft is the hardest for me. I like the reshaping that comes afterward because I like to get under the surface of my characters and story.
Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?
When I started my novel, almost no one had heard of fracking. I was fascinated by it early on because of my professional experience with looking at water problems deep underground. But also because I’m from a rural area of Pennsylvania, like the rural places where fracking has taken place in this state. I could see the struggle from the rural perspective that I didn’t think anyone was really talking about it. It’s complicated and I wanted to explore it through fiction.
When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?
Walking. I love a long walk and go farther than most people consider reasonable. But I get the best ideas when I’m on foot, not going too fast.
Share something people may be surprised to know about you?
I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life. Once I was in charge of counting potato bugs in huge plots of potato plants and then mapping their population density in each plot. It was part of someone else’s research, but I was in charge of the data collection.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Love your characters. Especially the bad ones. In order to love them, you have to understand them.
I’m at work on my second novel. It will be another book club fiction novel with an eco-bent. But it’s a completely different story from my first novel.
THE PROMISE OF PIERSON ORCHARD
“Brandes checks off all the boxes for quality fiction: the characters are well- rounded, the settings, such as the apple orchards, the crisp Silver Creek, and the rocky outcrops, are vividly described, and the plot is well-organized and crisply paced. The tension between the characters satisfyingly rises to a crescendo that’s in sync with the larger environmental crisis that threatens the town.”
— KIRKUS REVIEWS
Long before fracking ever came to Minden, Pennsylvania, the fissures in the Pierson family were developing into major fault lines.
Brothers Jack and Wade were very young when their mother, Stella, abandoned them and never returned. Twenty years later, Jack, who recently separated from his wife, LeeAnn, is an orchardist tending to acres of apple trees in his economically depressed home- town. What the townspeople don’t know is that they could be sitting on vast reserves of Marcellus shale, an abundant source of natural gas.
Before long, Green Energy, a fracking company, comes calling and sends in a star salesman with a few local connections: Wade.
In response, Jack reaches out to their mom, now called Stella Brantley, who’s an established environmental lawyer, and convinces her that Minden should be the next battleground for pro bono activist work. The scene is set for confrontation: between the two siblings, between them and their mother, and between the small town and a large corporation.
Available April 2017 with Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing.