Lisa Duffy is the author of The Salt House, named by Real Simple as a Best Book of the Month upon its June release, as well as Bustle’s 17 Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017 and This Is Home, a favorite book club pick. Lisa received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts. Her writing can be found in numerous publications, including Writer’s Digest. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children. My Kind of People is her third novel.
A conversation with Lisa Duffy
Can you tell me something about you that your readers might not know?
I always wanted to be a singer/musician. My father taught me how to play guitar when I was about ten. He was talented—sang and played guitar for friends and family all the time. Some clubs here and there. I practiced and practiced, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I wanted the stage, lights, all of it, and really, my talent was more suited for playing as a hobby, singing to my dog. Which is what I do now. He falls asleep in minutes if that tells you anything.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
I’d say Italy, but I don’t think I’d get any writing done. I’ve always wanted to take a train for an extended period of time. The kind you can sleep on with lounge cars and what not. It would be great to write while the world passes outside the window, and then go out to dinner in a different city each night.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I’m not that clever. It’s more likely that I finish the draft and find things that have been kept from me. Surprise: here’s a whole section that doesn’t work at all!
Picture this: You feel uninspired and you’ve sat at the computer for an hour without conquering any words. How do you get your creativity flowing?
I’m not a believer in the ebb and flow of creativity. If it’s time to work, I sit and do it, even if there aren’t many words. Some days are good. Others aren’t. But if you sit more days than not, the work gets done. I’m also pretty good at knowing when I need a break between drafts. If I’m feeling spent, I’ll switch to the many other things that are part of the job. Social media, promotional tasks, website updates, interviews—things like that.
Writing ‘My Kind of People’
Where did you come up with the idea for your new book?
With every book, I wish I had a straightforward answer to how I came up with the idea. But it’s never like that. It’s more of several characters or stories that come together, slowly and often frustratingly vague in my mind, until I spend enough time with them to understand who needs to tell the story and what they have to say.
This particular book began years ago when I wrote a short story in graduate creative writing class. The story itself didn’t really work, but there was a scene between a married couple that never left my mind. It was this intimate moment between a middle-aged husband and wife that goes awkwardly off the rails. I had a wonderful teacher back then who encouraged us to always cannibalize our own work. Meaning—don’t let any of your words go to waste. If something doesn’t work in one place, maybe play with it in another form.
I took that advice and took that scene and began to write more about this couple and they emerged as two people who live on a street called Winding Way on a New England island. I wanted to explore their roles in the larger community and how it led to the difficulties in their marriage. It sort of grew from there to include neighbors on the same street, and how they’re all thrown together after a tragedy in their community. And the awkward intimate moment is in chapter two of the novel.
Ichabod Island sounds wonderful. Tell us a bit about the setting of ‘My Kind of People’.
Ichabod is a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. It has a decent number of year-round residents, enough for its own K-12 school system, and many people who were born on the island and never left. The novel begins when the summer crowd is arriving, and seasonal shops and restaurant are opening, and rental properties are filling up. I wanted this setting, this stretch of land in the ocean, to be polarizing—every character has distinct feelings about Ichabod and their role as a resident or a tourist. I wanted to explore how a piece of land can bring people together. And also tear them apart.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Research for this book was sort of all over the place. Everything from vegetation on New England islands to ferry schedules and architecture in various decades to grief counseling and mental illness.
Have you traveled to an Island before? If so, describe your experiences.
I’ve been to my share of Caribbean islands, but my favorite islands are around New England, from Maine down to the islands off the Cape. My more recent experience was this past October, we took the kids and some of their friends to Nantucket for a couple of days. A storm came in and we barely got off the island. I think we were on the last ferry out and the swells were pretty bad. People getting sick. Some crying. Some laughing. It was a boat ride to remember.
What was your hardest scene to write in the book?
The entire first draft is the hardest thing to write. I’m not saying that to be cute or clever. It’s true. There isn’t one scene that’s harder than the other. They’re all difficult.
Describe your book in three words.
Friendship. Family. Community.
What’s next for Lisa Duffy
How are making use of your time now in lockdown?
I’m busy as ever as My Kind of People releases on May 12th, so there’s a lot of promotional work going on for it. The literary world has pivoted so amazingly fast to online events, and bookstores have been incredible in getting books to readers and supporting authors with books launching during the stay-at-home order. And my three kids are home (two from college) and one doing online course work for high school, so I have a lot more hands to help out around the house and take the dog out.
Are you working on a new book? Can you tell my readers a little about it, a blurb, potential release date, etc?
I am working on my fourth book, but it’s still too early to say much about it other than it’s set on Cape Ann and centers around a family event—one that doesn’t exactly bring out the best in everyone involved.
About ‘My Kind of People’
From the author of The Salt House and This Is Home comes a profound novel about the power of community and a small town’s long-buried secrets as a group of New England islanders come together for a recently orphaned girl.
On Ichabod Island, a jagged strip of land thirteen miles off the coast of Massachusetts, ten-year-old Sky becomes an orphan for the second time after a tragic accident claims the lives of her adoptive parents.
Grieving the death of his best friends, Leo’s life is turned upside down when he finds himself the guardian of young Sky. Back on the island and struggling to balance his new responsibilities and his marriage to his husband, Leo is supported by a powerful community of neighbors, many of them harboring secrets of their own.
Maggie, who helps with Sky’s childcare, has hit a breaking point with her police chief husband, who becomes embroiled in a local scandal. Her best friend Agnes, the island busybody, invites Sky’s estranged grandmother to stay for the summer, straining already precarious relationships. Their neighbor Joe struggles with whether to tell all was not well in Sky’s house in the months leading up to the accident. And among them all is a mysterious woman, drawn to Ichabod to fulfill a dying wish.
Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Leary, My Kind of People is a riveting, impassioned novel about the resilience of community and what connects us all in the face of tragedy.Amazon