I read a lot. I read for fun, I read when I'm editing people's manuscripts. I read and review books for other authors. So I'm not exactly new at this game. But I just read one of the most remarkable books I've read in a very long time. Does that sound hyperbolic? I assure you, it's not. Dispirited by Luisa Perkins is an eerie and elegant story of courage, sacrifice, and redemption. To me, that is the book's core or spirit. Its body or physical form is a ghost story with some truly harrowing moments as well as some romance.
There is a villain in this story and he is evil. Very evil and he does evil things, and tries to do more. There was one part where he nearly hurts an innocent character (but is thwarted) that I found disturbing and had to skim over. And there are other parts that were quite sad and poignant. More than once, this daddy had teary eyes. If you are sensitive, you should approach this with some care.
That being said, it's a book with rare potency and I enjoyed it.
One of the joys of this book is that it works on many levels. A creepy ghost story. A romance. An adventure. Luisa is a polymath who knows a lot about many things and she draws freely on her wide ranging knowledge in writing. References to fairy tales, Impressionist art, Jane Austen and French grammar flow effortlessly through the narrative.
I was intrigued by the moral universe of the story. Without ever being preachy or didactic, Luisa manages to deliver an effective meditation on the balance between body and soul, flesh and spirit. She aptly manages to point out exactly why things like drugs or porn can be bad for us. But this is not heavy-handed or obtrusive. She also deals well with important themes like courage, love, and redemption.
Most of all, Luisa is simply a wonderful writer. She writes in elegant, lyrical prose, full of rich descriptions and sensory images--sights and smells and sounds and textures that will seem real and vivid. Every page contains at least one real gem--sometimes more.
If you would like to visit Luisa, you may go to her blog.
If you would like order Dispirited, you may do so here.
Luisa's next project is a novelization of the web-based series, The Book of Jer3miah, which will be published in October by Shadow Mountain.
Luisa was kind enough to answer some of my questions (I edited a few things for length and clarity) about her work.
Braden: What were some of the experiences, people, places, beliefs, etc. that inspired you as you worked on this? I sensed that there was a very strong connection you had to the places in your story. It seemed more than something conjured up from your imagination.
Luisa: You have good instincts. Most of the places in the book are indeed based on real sites within a mile or so of our house. I live in the Hudson Highlands of New York, and they are breathtakingly beautiful and rich in history. The Native Americans, the Dutch, and then the English who lived here all had legends about this area. I see stories in every old stone wall, every crag, every ancient oak tree. I have many more stories I plan to set in Kashkawan (my fictionalization of the Hudson Highlands).
Braden: At least since Socrates and Plato, there has been disagreement about just how much evil and darkness an artist should show in order to portray an accurate depiction. How do you address this balance as a writer?
Luisa: There is opposition in all things, and fiction should reflect that. Brigham Young said, "It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading [the scriptures]. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil, and its consequences." I think a safe and efficient way to study evil and its consequences is by writing and reading fiction. How do I draw the line? I always pray before and after I write.There's some pretty dark stuff in Dispirited, but I found it necessary to add urgency to my protagonist's quest. I don't think a story is compelling if there is no darkness in it. Real life is full of evil and its consequences. Stories can portray it honestly without being gratuitous or graphic. (The Bible is plenty gruesome. Have you ever read Genesis 19? Sheesh.)
Braden: The language is exquisite and every page contains a gem or more of description. What was your process? How long did you revise?
Luisa: You are very kind; thank you. I actually write very quickly--but sometimes a long time will go by between drafts. That was the case with this book. My process is both very visual and very emotional. I envision the scene I want to write, then I describe what I see and hear and feel. When I'm writing a romantic scene, I get a little twitterpated. When it's a suspenseful scene, my heart pounds and my breathing quickens. And when I write the sad parts, I cry and cry. It can be exhausting, but very fulfilling. When I revise, I look for balance. For example, if a scene needs more dread, sometimes I'll re-read a book that excels at evoking dread in me as a reader, and I'll dissect it: how much dialogue and blocking and exposition are in the scene, and how do they alternate? What kind of words are used? Then I'll go back to my own scene and try to imitate that balance.
Braden: You have a large family. Tell us about your writing journey and when and how you find time?
Luisa: I've been writing since I was very small. My first novel came out 18 years ago, when our oldest child was three months old. After that, I took some time to finish my Bachelor's Degree through BYU's Independent Study program. I graduated in 1999, when our third child was a few months old. Once I finished school, I planned to jump right back into fiction writing--but I ended up putting it on hold for about six years. I wrote song lyrics and essays during that break, but no long-form fiction. In the meantime, we had two more children. Finally, when our fifth was about two, I realized my life was never going to get LESS busy, and I started writing novels again. I'm so glad I did. I feel like I'm a better wife and mother when I am exercising my creativity. I have more in my "bucket" to give. Now we have six children, and the youngest is about to turn four. I write when the older kids are in school. My little one plays or reads or naps while I'm on the computer; she's very accommodating.