Set in a fantastical 18th century world where rain falls up and color storms wash the land with bright hues, “Bell Weather” is, at its core, the story of a spirited young woman fighting for the freedom to choose her own path. Although Molly tells the townsfolk of Root almost nothing of her past, readers learn about her childhood with an overbearing governess, a cold father, and a brilliant, cunning brother who will stop at nothing to ensure that he and Molly are together and unbridled. Mahoney has created a marvelous world that readers will want to visit again and again.
I loved “Bell Weather”—it pulled me out of a slow reading slump—and, to my great pleasure, author Dennis Mahoney agreed to exchange emails with me.
AS: The world you've created in Bell Weather is sensational, each little detail (I love the combustible gourds) adding to an atmosphere both fantastical and believable. How did you conceive Floria?
DM: First off, thanks for the blog invitation, Amelia. Floria unfolded leaf by leaf. I was initially drawn to the atmosphere of colonial America—the mythologized wonders of the New World, along with the very real dangers and struggles of that era. I like removing my characters’ safety nets and the 18th-century wilderness felt like a fertile place to imperil them. But I also wanted to give my imagination free rein. A reimagined version of the 1700s with supernatural weather, and fantastic flora and fauna, allowed me to make the world my own. Floria became a familiar place where everything was warped or colorized.
AS: You make the writing of “Bell Weather” sound exciting. How did working on your second novel differ from your first? Was one more enjoyable than the other? The subjects are so starkly different, I imagine you’d have had to adjust your mindset.
DM: It’s amazing how quickly the thrill of writing and finishing a book wears off. I get a few weeks tops at this point, and then I need to start something new. I realized a long time ago that writing is a day job like any other—one I’m lucky to have—and that I ought to enjoy the work as much as possible. Bad days happen, and sometimes writing twists me up or makes me anxious, but I do love the process. “Bell Weather” was more satisfying to write than “Fellow Mortals” because I invested more in it, and it gave back as much as I put in. But my mindset for both was basically the same. I just try to tell a good story with characters I care about.
AS: Are you currently working on anything? And additionally, do you see yourself returning to the world of “Bell Weather”?
DM: I’m deep into a “Bell Weather” sequel about Molly’s continuing evolution and adventures. She goes through a lot in the first book, from birth to young womanhood, so the second book will show her progressing toward a more mature identity. The native tribes—especially the mysterious Kraw—play a major role. But I also suddenly countered my prepublication jitters with a brand new novel, which I started last week. It’s a full one-eighty: a short, present-day thriller with only four characters. I might try to finish that one over the summer, using it as a palette cleanser before returning the world of “Bell Weather.”
AS: Excellent! I’m looking forward to more Molly and Tom. What more trouble could she possibly get into?? Don’t answer—I want to be surprised. And a thriller? I understand the need for a palette cleanser—I can’t read too many of one type in a row—are your reading habits as varied as your writing?
DM: My reading and viewing habits are pretty varied. I’ve always liked a mix of literary/arty/snooty and poppy/blockbustery stuff. Any mix of those elements gets bonus points, like a propulsive lit novel, or a well crafted genre piece. What about you? Varied tastes? Anything I absolutely must read this year?
AS: I can see how those elements combined in “Bell Weather.” My own reading habits are similarly diverse, which I think is why I found Bell Weather” so appealing. It was an absolute pleasure to read! I highly recommend Hanya Yanagihara's “A Little Life” for whenever you're ready for an emotional roller coaster. And for delightfully strange: “Of Things Gone Astray” by Janina Matthewson. We're so looking forward to having you here at Northshire Bookstore - I'll leave future questions for your event. Any final words before signing off?
DM: Thanks again for the Q&A, and thanks for the recommendations. I’ll see you again in July! I’m looking forward to browsing some Northshire vinyl.