Author Conversation #4: Alice C. Early

I first heard about Alice Early as part of a casual conversation with my (then) brand-new agent: “I’ve got another client who lives on Martha’s Vineyard,” April told me. “She’s cool. I’ll e-introduce you.”

Soon after that, I found myself on a phone call with Alice—and two authors who’d never met (and who both hate talking on the phone) chatted for an hour and a half. By the end of that first conversation last June, we’d become friends—and agreed to trade manuscripts; with her book scheduled for publication two months earlier than mine, she was deep into final edits.

(Of course, we were both blissfully unaware of how much the world would have changed by April, 2020.)

Just because you like the person doesn’t mean you enjoy her books, even if they are #coastalfiction… but The Moon Always Rising (Alice’s debut novel) turned out to be as intriguing as the woman herself. I made a few suggestions and she took them well. She also helped out with a few key suggestions about Ferry to Cooperation Island—a truly symbiotic relationship.

Alice Early The Moon Always Rising
Alice’s brand-new first novel is almost as good as a real-life Caribbean escape.

The Moon Always Rising came out officially two days ago and is now available wherever books are sold—so even though we can only celebrate virtually, you can finally see what I’ve been raving about. Here’s a taste of what inspired the story, and a glimpse into the author herself. Welcome Alice!

What first sparked The Moon Always Rising?

The very first idea for what eventually became The Moon Always Rising (let’s call her MOON for short) came from a story my husband Larry told me over 20 years ago about an Anguillan conch fisherman everyone called “Ivor the Diver.” By the time I visited Anguilla with Larry, Ivor was long gone, but his shack still stood at the north tip of Sandy Ground beach next to a pile of conch shells higher than its roof. In 2017, Hurricane Irma swept away the slumping remains of the house and most of the conch pile.

Ruminations about Ivor and the perils he faced diving alone for conch were the roots of my character Finney, the Anguillan fisherman who marries a woman from Nevis and gives up his island homeland for hers. Finney and my protagonist Eleanor “Els” Gordon are both in self-imposed exile; the friendship they develop is central to making Nevis her home.

People often ask about how I got the notion of having a ghost/jumbie haunt Els’s home in MOON. That story is more personal. When I moved in with Larry (a widower), his hand-built home contained many artifacts of his late wife, whom I’d never met. We’ve since made that home very much “ours,” but in the beginning I was surrounded by enough possessions, letters, artwork, even clothing she’d left behind that her “presence” was palpable. Mining that experience helped me create Els, who buys the abandoned Nevis plantation house left intact by the previous owner, Jack Griggs, a suspected suicide. The possessions Jack leaves behind help Els both to unravel Jack’s mysteries and to understand Nevis.

Why did you choose Nevis as the main setting?

Annually since 1996, Larry and I have spent part of the winter on Nevis: since 2004 we’ve divided our Caribbean sojourns between Nevis and Anguilla. From our first visit, I became captivated by the rich history and culture of Nevis. Foodie that I am, a dive into local cuisine followed soon thereafter. Back then, the grocery stores were few and intermittently stocked, so I visited the farmers’ market and small shops and learned from the vendors about traditional foods and how to cook them as well as the plants used in bush medicine. All this time the stunning beauty of Nevis and the diversity of her people were working their spells. I filled a yellow pad every year with notes, impressions, sketches and mini-scenes. Years later all that went into the pot that became the first draft of MOON. The novel couldn’t have been set anywhere else.

Who’s your favorite character?

Jack Griggs and his jumbie, no question. Jack is partly an amalgam of long-dead or disappeared men I’ve known on the Vineyard or Nevis, but most of him is pure make-believe. Though I studied Caribbean folklore and superstition about ghosts and jumbies, I didn’t want to be restricted by them. Jack’s my ghost, I figured, and I could write him any way that suited my story. I made him a rapscallion, a womanizing drunkard with a learned, yearning, passionate and sort of pathetic underbelly. I wanted him to be believable and I needed him to be a catalyst to Els’s forward motion. He wheedles, he charms, he rants, he pouts, but he’s also spot-on about her denial and fears and at his most annoying to Els when he forces her to confront herself.

Which character was the easiest to write?

Jack again. But also Giulietta, Els’s estranged mother. My own mother died while I was writing MOON. She was in no way similar to the narcissistic Giulietta, but mother-daughter bonds and the importance of a mother’s love was ever-present in my mind at the time. Once I realized that Els’s problems stem from both being abandoned by her mother at the age of two and from the family’s refusal ever to speak about that mother or allow any contact, Giulietta’s motivations took wing. She harbors a secret that could destroy any chance at a relationship with Els.  I wanted her to be artistic and a drama queen, self-consumed and spiteful, but desperate for forgiveness. I’m sure I’ll return to mother-daughter relationships in future works because they are so fraught and fascinating, universal and excruciatingly specific.

Why do islands and the coast “speak” to you?

I’m sort of an island woman. Now I live on Martha’s Vineyard. Before that, I lived on Manhattan. I’ve rarely lived beyond cycling distance of salt water. I love the grace and awkwardness of small town life, which is only exacerbated by the boundaries of an island. Something in me finds being so encircled comforting. I’m experienced enough in the sea’s moods and furies to know that’s not always a safe thing, but the presence, the constant movement, the pull of moon on tides is part of my blood stream, I guess.

What’s most exciting about seeing this book in print?

Besides EVERYTHING? I think it’s finally having the story in readers’ hands that excites me most, instead of just rattling around in my own brain. Once I realized I was writing a novel (versus making private notes), the whole point had to be about sharing. To put myself and my work out there. That was and is terrifying, but may be the most affirming thing I’ve ever done. I’m finding reader reactions fascinating, whether they like my work or not. They see things I didn’t intend (or did I, unconsciously?). They give me issues to ponder. They teach me about my characters and my storytelling. It’s a rich conversation, kind of addicting.

Thanks Alice, and here’s to MOON!

Read chapter one and link to online buying options on Alice’s website

Read previous author conversations

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2 Replies to “Author Conversation #4: Alice C. Early”

  1. Congratulations Alice, and The Moon Always Rising, well done. Great to hear the insight from the author on how the book came about. Story inside the story, fun.

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