Book Report: Local author's book is out of this world
In "Everything We Lost," ($15.99, HarperCollins), protagonist Lucy Durant may or may not be involved in her brother's disappearance 10 years ago. She sets out to uncover just what happened to Nolan, her UFO-obsessed brother, the night he walked into the desert and never returned.
This is the setting for Portland author Valerie Geary's new book, a paranormal mystery about UFOs, conspiracies, and a missing person case that's gone cold. As Lucy uncovers memories long buried, she must contend with her mother and other "believers" in the town, all of whom think that Nolan was abducted by aliens.
Geary answered questions about the book from her Portland home:
Tribune: How does "Everything We Lost" differ from "Crooked River," your first book?
Geary: "Crooked River" was more of a mystery in the true sense of the genre, while in "Everything We Lost," I break some of the mystery rules. But both books have family and coming-of-age themes. Without giving away too much away, the ending of my new book is unlike a traditional mystery. The reader has to come up with their own conclusions.
Tribune: Who are some of your favorite writers?
Geary: I've always been a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, both as a writer and because of the way that she presents herself. I've also enjoyed Tana French and more recently Megan Abbott.
Tribune: The setting for your book is Bishop, California. You capture the lonely mood and the desert's arid expanses so well. Did you grow up there?
Geary: I actually grew up in Albany, Oregon, around a lot of trees. I picked Bishop because it's an open space, and I thought it would be more terrifying if someone were to just disappear in a wide-open space. And I wanted a place that had a lot of stars and an observatory. As I was writing the book, I took a tour to Bishop, where there is a college and observatory. It took a while for me to feel like I had gotten the places just right. This book was more difficult than my first one for that reason. "Crooked River" was really a part of me.
Tribune: The point of view shifts between Nolan, who believes in extraterrestrial life and becomes increasingly paranoid as the story unfolds and his skeptical sister, Lucy, a teen who wants to fit in at at any cost. Who did you identify with most as you wrote the book?
Geary: Both characters presented challenges for me, and yet they each resonated for me, too. I grew up in a very religious house and had some pretty extraordinary beliefs. So, I was able to connect with Nolan, who has some pretty out-there ideas. And, I was also able to connect with Lucy the skeptic, the one who hasn't always made the best choices. I wanted readers to be able to connect with both of them.
Tribune: Do you have a favorite moment in the book?
Geary: I think one of my favorite moments is toward the end when Lucy returns to that place where she and her brother spent so much time hanging out and stargazing when they were younger.
Tribune: Talk a bit more about your upbringing as an evangelical Christian. Was the decision to leave your faith-based community sudden or gradual?
Geary: Both. Something traumatic happened that had me question the power of prayer. But, the actual questioning process played out over several years. It's still hard for me because I have loved ones who do believe very strongly. So, part of why I wrote this book is to explore these kinds of closely held beliefs.
Tribune: Did you visit or interview any Portland UFOlogists in the course of writing the book?
Geary: I went to a couple of Oregon MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) meetings. It's a nationwide organization with local chapters. It's interesting, because they take a more scientific approach, with a very strict set of standards. They ask that people not come there just to debunk their ideas. I went a couple of times, and I told the guy leading the meetings that I was researching a book. The meetings reminded me a lot of church meetings, filled with people gathering to question their beliefs. And the people at these MUFON meetings are pretty private because of the way their beliefs are portrayed. I also attended an astronomer's club in Oregon City.
Tribune: What's next?
Geary: This month I'm taking a breather. I usually start a new book soon after I finish one, and I'm about to begin working on something new. The setting is back in Oregon, and it's a wilderness survival story.
Valerie Geary reads from "Everything We Lost" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 S.W. Cedar Hills Blvd.
She'll also present her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, at Broadway Books, 1714 N.E. Broadway, with Alexis M. Smith, who is promoting the paperback edition of her book "Marrow Island."