A. J. Kiesling answers questions about her writing style, her writing habits, and about her new book Skizzer.
Tell us about Skizzer .
The story centers on two sisters, Claire (the main character) and Becca, her younger sibling. At the outset, Becca has disappeared--up and leaving her husband with just a cursory note offering no real explanation. Claire drives to North Carolina to pursue a hunch that Becca might have fled to the town where they grew up, perhaps taking refuge with their elderly Aunt Jess. She stops at a place where they used to play as children--an old estate the local kids called haunted--and finds a letter addressed to "Skizzer" inside a sister-secret box she and Becca left there more than twenty years earlier. The letter says "something both terrible and wonderful has happened" and that Becca needs time to herself, urging Claire not to look for her. But of course that's exactly what Claire and her distraught brother-in-law do. The story weaves between the present and the past through flashbacks to the girls' growing up years in North Carolina. The search for Becca ultimately takes Claire and her brother-in-law to England, to a town that imprinted the girls heavily in their youth. The theme of the story is that the people we think we know best don't always turn out to be who we thought they were.
How did you come up with the idea and name for Skizzer?
The idea for Skizzer is mostly fiction, but the word "skizzer" itself very much has roots in my life story. I grew up in a large family with five children, and my next nearest sibling in age--my sister--was almost like my twin. My mother tells me that when we were little bitty girls, I would call her my "skizzer," being unable to say "sister" properly as a toddler. So the word and the family story stuck in my mind over the years. About twenty years ago, when I first thought about writing a novel, a germ of an idea took shape. I knew I wanted to write a book about sisters, as that was always such a powerful influence in my life, and the name Skizzer came to me but nothing more. With that inspiration came a renewed invigoration to write the story, but over the years I stopped and started it several times, always dropping it in frustration. I didn ’t feel ready, as if something inside me needed to season, or that I needed to accumulate more experiences before I could make what I felt inside resonate with readers on the page. Fast-forward several years, and I started writing Skizzer again, but all I had was an opening scene—this vivid scene that I couldn’t get out of my head, but I couldn ’t see anything beyond it. Still, I started writing it, in third person, but for some reason the story felt clunky. I let it rest for a few months and then had another inspired moment: “Maybe I should try writing the story in first-person,” I mused. And when I did, the story of Skizzer and especially the character of Claire sprang to life.