To celebrate June, Audiobook Month, Audible is giving an audiobook copy of The Hollow Ground written by Natalie S. Harnett, and narrated by Luci Christian, to one reader of my blog. Here is a clip of this evocative story:
And here is the description of The Hollow Ground from Amazon:
“‘We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet.’
The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced 11-year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the black lung-stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the “curse” laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades-old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.
Inspired by real-life events in Centralia and Carbondale, where devastating coal mine fires irrevocably changed the lives of residents, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Lovers of literary fiction will find in Harnett’s young, determined protagonist a character as heartbreakingly captivating as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Q & A with The Hollow Ground’s author, Natalie S. Harnett
Mary: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Natalie: From at least the 3rd grade. I remember when my teacher chose a classmate’s poem
over mine to pin on the bulletin board. I remember thinking, “But I’m the one who’s going to be a writer, not her.” (That classmate, in fact, wanted to be a doctor and became one!)
Mary: Who are your favorite authors?
Natalie: Flannery O’Connor and Richard Yates are big ones. But so are Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood. Also Junot Diaz and Gary Shteyngart. I also have a thing for the Existentialists.
Mary: What do you like most about being a writer?
Natalie: I get immense pleasure from discovering a truth that I didn’t realize I knew. Or maybe I didn’t know it until I discovered it while writing. It could be a truth about a character’s motivations or a life situation. Writing is such a process of self and philosophical and psychological discovery. I love that.
Mary: When you began writing The Hollow Ground, did you consider setting it in a decade other than the 1960s?
Natalie: I did. I think I originally planned the late 70s/early 80s. But once I researched the fires, I wanted to be as historically accurate as possible. So I followed the timeline of the Carbondale, PA coal mine fire dig out.
Mary: In The Hollow Ground, “Auntie” tells “Brigid”, “If you only think about what’s bad, well then, life’s bad.” Is one of the themes of The Hollow Ground whether people are more controlled by internal or external forces?
Natalie: Absolutely! And the external forces they face from this fire are extreme, so they are continually challenged regarding the way they think/feel about their lives, themselves and each other.
Mary: Were you involved in choosing the narrator for The Hollow Ground?
Natalie: No, but I think Luci Christian did an absolutely wonderful job. She really brought the story to life. It’s the first time I’ve had another creative person interact with my work. Writing is otherwise so solitary. It was really thrilling first to have the audiobook made and then to be so happy with how it turned out.
Mary: Do you have a preference for audiobooks, eBooks, or paper?
Natalie: I will always feel something very tender, special, almost sacred for a paper book. But one of the reasons I love audiobooks so much is because I’m able to listen to way more books than I could ever read. I listen in the car, doing housework, exercising. I love that they enable me to multi-task and give my eyes and neck a rest from reading.
Mary: I love your quote from William Butler Yeats at the beginning of The Hollow Ground. Have you ever thought about writing a novel based on the romance between Yeats and Maude Gonne?
Natalie: I haven’t thought about basing a book on that romance, but I like the idea!
Mary: What is your next book about?
Natalie: I’m working on a novel set in the 1950s that is inspired by my great grandmother’s and her servant’s lives. My great grandmother was a diamond dealer, and she came over from Amsterdam under very shady circumstances. Her servant was a white woman who was basically her slave. That servant was never paid a dime, never had a day off and, once she became too old to work, my great grandmother gave her away to my grandmother.
Their story has haunted me since I was a little kid, and it’s been a very powerful experience writing about them. What’s also been a powerful experience is writing about Queens, NY, where the novel is set. My family has lived in Queens for over a century, and the novel is filled with snippets of family history (which includes my great grandfather’s speakeasy). It’s also influenced by Queens and NYC history. I just finished the second draft and have really enjoyed it. It was a lot of hard work but this novel came easier to me than other writing has in the past.
I’ll be looking forward to more books by talented Natalie S. Harnett. And Luci Christian is a fabulous narrator. To enter to win this giveaway, just leave a comment about something you’re looking forward to doing this summer. The winner will receive a promo code from Audible that will allow the downloading of an audiobook copy of The Hollow Ground without any necessity for purchase. You don’t need to join Audible to win this free audiobook copy. I will announce the winner on June 10. I’m wishing you all a splendid summer!