Monday, January 5, 2009

Breathing Out the Ghost by Kirk Curnutt (with interview)

What had being the parent of a murdered child taught her? Nothing--nothing except the inexhaustibility of her own anger, anger at constantly being reminded of what she'd lived through, what she'd always be living through, and most of all anger at the presumption that she should be over it, that she should have proved that life goes on, if not for her sake then for the sake of those around her. That was never the hard part, Sis thought. Life went on anyway, whether you wanted it to or not. The hard part was being left behind to breathe out the ghost of the one who'd gone on. (Breathing Out the Ghost, page 49)

"Life's not a bitch but a breath, and you and me, the things that bond us, the people we've lost, they're nothing but mist, too, exhalations that were always going to disappear." (Breathing Out the Ghost, page 152-153)

I'm happy to say the first book I finished in the new year was great. Breathing Out the Ghost, dubbed a "noir thriller" on the inside flap, didn't disappoint. Kirk Curnutt expertly weaves together the lives of three people: Colin St. Claire, a man haunted by his young son's disappearance who travels in search of the pedophile he thinks is responsible and turns up in towns where children have recently disappeared in hopes of finding his son; Robert Heim, the private investigator who lost his license in an incident involving Colin and the child molester and lies to his wife to go out one more time in search of the truth about Colin's son; and Sis Pruitt, a woman whose daughter was murdered years ago who comes in contact with Colin and Heim after a local boy goes missing.

Breathing Out the Ghost is a well-written, character-driven novel, and Curnutt appears to be an expert at characterization. When Heim lies to his wife to go in search of Colin, you feel his pull to his family losing out to his need to find justice. When Colin records messages to his missing son while on a drug trip, you feel the depth of his pain. You can feel the tension and pain between Sis and her husband, Pete, and you can understand how hard it is for them to bridge the gap after so many years dealing with the grief on their own.

This book isn't for the faint of heart. There is foul language, and in the scenes involving the pedophile, Dickie, there are graphic descriptions of child molestation. However, Curnutt uses these descriptions not solely for their shock value, but to give the reader a glimpse into the mind of a sick person. While these scenes made the book hard to read, I found the book to be a page-turner. Curnutt adds back story and even write scenes from the point of view of a couple minor characters without slowing down the pace, and I burned through the pages to find out what happens to the main characters and the missing children. I have a feeling this book will make my list of favorite books for 2009, and January isn't even half over!

******

I had the privilege of interviewing Kirk Curnutt, and I want to thank him for taking time from his busy schedule and holiday recovery period to answer my questions.

What inspired you to write about missing children?

I always wanted to write about the area of Indiana where my mother's side of my family lives, but I could never find a good plot. There have been 1,000,001 generational stories, and too few of them are distinct: there are usually strong women, runaway men, unexpected death, exposed secrets, and some kind of reconciliation. I just didn't know what I could bring to a setting-oriented family story that hadn't been done. Then I found myself reading stories about the parents of missing children. I didn't go looking for them—they just jumped in front of my eyes. The most compelling ones were about the point at which parents had to reconcile themselves to their loss, the point at which they had to find some semblance between a normal life and continuing the search for their child. Of course, there have been 1,000,001 novels about missing children, too, so I zipped through the best and tried to figure out structural ways I could do things differently. In the end, I felt as if I had a chance to avoid the best of both worlds: I could explore character in the way that family novels do, but I could also pace the book with the search plot that abduction thrillers enjoy.

How did these characters come about, particularly Colin, Robert, Dickie Bird, and Sis? Did you find it hard to write from a woman's point of view? Do you identify with any of these characters?

Except for the villain of the book, I identified with all of my main characters. Each personifies certain qualities I admire in people and certain failings for which I have great empathy. Sis was based on all the women in my family: very strong and stoic, embarrassed by any emotion they can't control. That's not to say they're unfeeling—they're just tough and leery of their own vulnerability. I mean, I remember being a child with all those beautiful old women around—beautiful because they were steel gray—but they were mean, too. You started crying around them, and they would really give you something to cry about. It was so different from the city life I grew up in.

Colin was created out of a literary tradition known as the Byronic hero. He's very much the defiant megalomaniac whose willingness to keep to his Ahab-like quest threatens destruction. Robert was somebody that came out of my love of noir fiction: the detective who oversteps his bounds. Each is very different, and each, to a certain extent, has his or her own style. I was very conscious as I was writing that Sis's would be lyrical and pastoral, while Robert's would be cadenced as staccato as a Hammett or Chandler hero, and Colin's—well—his would be very poetic, over-the-top poetic monologues. Dickie was probably the least original: I based him mainly on the man who is suspected of kidnapping Etan Patz in 1979, a convicted predator named Jose Antonio Ramos.

I'm glad you asked about writing from a woman's point of view. It was very important to me that Sis be the heart of the book. I don't really think it's hard for men to write from a woman's perspective—we just have to kind of make a conscious effort to do it. I mean, how many times do we see movies or books in which the basic premise is men are X and women Y (Mars and Venus, etc.). I think we are different but maybe we don't try to understand across genders enough. So it's all about empathy and creating real people—hopefully complex, conflicted ones, and not ones who're merely representing behaviors. (If that makes any sense….)

How long did it take to write the book? How much time did you spend writing at any one time?

It took years to write. Seventeen, basically. Most of that time was spent trying to learn to write. I knew the form of the story I wanted to tell, but I didn't have the ability. Plus I had other books to do in the meantime and professional obligations. When I finally felt like I was up to snuff, I finished a first draft in about eight months—mainly by working from 5 to 8 a.m. in the mornings. Sometimes on weekends I could work ten hours, but that required a lot of deck-clearing. The lawn won't let you wait to write your little novel when it wants mowing. Then over three or four years as the book was being rejected by just about every publisher from here to Timbuktu, I would revise, cutting subplots and developing other characters. Robert, for example, was originally a minor character who stepped to the forefront at one point to balance out Sis and Colin. I had a lot of agents and editors tell me I had too many characters, but I wanted to tell the story at right angles, seeing the main characters from different perspectives. All told, it was about thirteen months of constant writing spread out over eight years of rejection spread out over a decade and a half of procrastination.

Are you working on another novel? If so, any hints as to what it's about?

I have a thriller coming out next November called Dixie Noir, which is set in Montgomery, Alabama, where I live. The main character is a disgraced Crimson Tide quarterback who is trying to redeem himself amid a lot of political shenanigans—the backdrop of the story is the race for our first African American mayor. I wrote and sold this one in eight months; I realized I didn't have a second seventeen years for the next novel. I also have a comedy in the works called Raising Aphrodite, about a single father and his teenage daughter. I've yet to find a publisher for that one, though. Hopefully, it'll happen soon.…


Any advice to aspiring novelists?

My main advice is to be disciplined and counterintuitive. By discipline I mean giving yourself the time to study, to absorb techniques, to practice style, to become knowledgeable about your strengths and how to overcome your weaknesses, and, finally, to finish a manuscript. By counterintuitive I mean questioning your instincts so you offer a new insight on human behavior. Your best friend as a writer is the resisting reader you have in your mind that says, "I've seen this done before, and much better." It's that voice that will compel your originality.

Thanks so much for stopping by Diary of an Eccentric. I wish you the best in your career, and I'll keep an eye out for your upcoming book!

******

Kirk would like to offer a copy of Breathing Out the Ghost to 3 lucky readers! To be entered, you must leave a comment on this post with your email address and tell me why you'd like to read the book. The giveaway is open to readers everywhere and will end on Monday, Jan. 12, at midnight EST. Thanks, Kirk!

******


Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Breathing Out the Ghost. You can see the rest of Kirk Curnutt's tour dates here.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Breathing Out the Ghost from the author for review purposes.


117 comments:

lisamm said...

Awesome review and interview, Anna!! Wow, to predict that it will make your 'best of' list for 2009 so early in the year is really high praise! I'd love to be entered in the contest. I haven't read the book yet and it sounds incredible. Thanks!

Sheri said...

Anna:

You are always before me on the reviews and then mine are never up to snuff! You're a hard act to follow sista! Hee Hee.

I finished my review already, but it's not posting until the 21st (I'm later in the tour). I did an interview, myself. You'd be suprised how similar our questions are.

OK... so, I actually stopped by here tonight to tell you that I gave you an "award" and talked a bunch of nonsense about you at :

http://anovelmenagerie.com/ghost/2009/01/04/butterflyawar/

Enjoy!

Sher

P.S. - You can let your readers know (the ones who don't win in your contest) that I'm giving away 2 signed copies on the 21st. One at A Novel and the other at Thursday's Thoughts.

S

Anna said...

Lisa: Thanks! It was a great book, and a great way to start off the year.

Sheri: I'm blushing! Thanks! I'll let my readers know about your giveaway, and I'll stop by your blog soon. Thanks for the award!

bermudaonion said...

I had no idea that's what that book is about. Thanks for the review.

bermudaonion said...

Well, I messed up in my last comment. I'd like to read this book because you made it sound so good - one of the best of the year! milou2ster(at)gmail.com

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

AWESOME interview, guys! (Hey, it takes two... one to ask, one to answer).

As always, no need to enter me, Anna; you know my book situation around here.

And thanks for the e-mail; this is now posted at Win a Book!

carolsnotebook said...

I would love to read this- the fact that you think it will make your best of list is reason engouh for me and it sounds like a really good, if tough, read. Thanks for entering me.

djecse at yahoo dot com

Jo-Jo said...

What a good review. I want to read this book because it sounds like it would be challenging for me. Please enter me.
joannelong74@gmail.com

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Excellent review and interview, Anna! Seventeen years in the making, wow. It sounds like *Breathing Out the Ghost* was well worth Curnutt's time with a fantastic finished product.

Iliana said...

A great way to start off the year - with some great reading material! The book sounds good, intense, but good.

Really enjoyed the Q&A and please throw my name in the drawing. Any book you think might make your best list is one to watch for :)

AmandaSue said...

Excellent Interview this sounds like a really good book and I can't believe how much time and effort the author put into it, which shows how dedicated he is. I'd love to be entered thanks.

Jenners said...

Wow! This sounds really good! I would love to try and get a copy to read ... and if I won, I'd be sure to review it too! If this is your first book of 2009 and you think it will make your best of the year, that is a good sign!!!

My e-mail is jixer26@gmail.com.


Enjoyed the interview with the author too ... always interesting to get a peek inside the people who create books. I admire them so much .. I know it must be incredibly difficult.

Anna said...

Susan: Thanks so much!

Thanks to everyone who's commented so far. I know there's a whole lot of 2009 left, so I don't say that lightly. If any of you get a chance to read this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Literary Feline said...

Wow! This sounds like a must read book, Anna, powerful and emotionally charged. I would like to be entered in the drawing for a copy as I think this would be something that I would really like reading.

I enjoyed reading your interview as well as your excellent review.

literaryfeline@gmail.com

Anna said...

Literary Feline: Powerful and emotionally charged are great words to describe this book!

Serena said...

Great review and interview. I love those books that take 17 years to get published...it keeps me optimistic!

No need to enter me. He'll be over at my blog Next Monday!

Anna said...

Serena: I know! I saw 17 years and said there's still hope for me! LOL

Jeannie said...

Very nice interview, Anna. Happy New Year! Talk to you very soon.

darbyscloset said...

Anna,
Why would I like to read this book?
Well because you sing it's praises so nicely!!! I love to read a book that another so highly recommends! Also I enjoyed Kirk's answers to your questions, expecially the questions dealing with the writing of this book and his advice to others..,thank you!
Thanks for this opportunity!
Darby
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Valorie said...

I would love a chance to read this book. :) Why? Because I am a pure sucker for books that make my heart pound why tugging at my emotions. I love reading a book that makes me sad and excited.

Valorie
morbidromantic@gmail.com

MJ said...

I teach kindergarten. Missing and abused children always tug on my heart. Your review and interview really make me want to read this even though I'll probably need a whole box of tissue!

mindy said...

terrific review thanks for the contest

Stacie said...

I love to read new authors and am a fan of books that are suspenseful and make you think too.

elaine said...

Judging by the review this sounds like such an interesting book!

Elaine R
emrosser@shaw.ca

violetcrush said...

7 years is a long time, I would love to read it.

Please enter me...

bridget3420 said...

The book sounds awesome! It sounds like a very emotional book.

bridget3420(at)yahoo(dot)com

wildflower00 said...

This book sounds like an amazing read, The interview made me want to read it. Thanks for offering it to us, Win or not this is now on my must read book list, Thank you for offering it to us to win

Lisa said...

This book sounds terrific! Please enter me in your drawing! I'd love to win this book mainly because I haven't read any thrillers like this in a awhile and I would love to start off 2009 witha good one!

lisamos64[at]gmail[dot]com

Carol said...

After reading your review, I just have to read this book! Even though I hate it when something happens to a child, I want to read this and find out how it ends.
Carol M
mittens0831 AT aol.com

Tracee said...

I have never heard of this book but have added it to my ever growing TBR list - it sounds very suspensful and i would love to be entered into the drawing.

Teddy Rose said...

I would love to win this book because of your review Anna. I was holding my breath the entire time I was reading it. The phone started ringing and I didn't answer it, because I didn't want to be taken away from your review. If the book is half as riveting as your review, I won't want to put it down for anything!

I blogged about your giveaway here:

http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/2009/01/this-weeks-giveaways-galore.html

teddyr66 at Yahoo.com

Blodeuedd said...

I always love to hear about new authors, and books so that is the simple answer why I want to read it.
Also the book sounds thrilling and even better when you say it's a page turner. I want my books to keep me hooked

blodeuedd1@gmail.com

Wrighty - said...

Excellent review and interview! This was the first I had heard of his book. I always wonder how long it takes a writer to finish each story they write. It's amazing that it took him so many years for this one but it sounds like it was worth it. His next books sound very good too. I would love to be entered in the contest. Thanks!

5wrights1@verizon.net

Anna said...

Teddy Rose: Thanks for blogging about the giveaway, and thanks for your kind words about my review.

traveler said...

Thanks for featuring this great novel and for the amazing review. I found it to be intriguing and totally fascinating. The entire subject caught my attention immediately.
saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

ddurance said...

It sounds intriguing and difficult to read due to subject matter. That's always a nice combination.

Deidre

specialagent777 said...

because i like/love/passionately/etc/etc/etc to read.

My advice to aspiring Novelists is this: Read Hardcore style books of the neo-ancient(s). I'm talkin' 100 year old Novels. Read a bunch of those; B.E. -- Before Electricity. Once your brain is strained, then pick out 5 novels at the Grocery Store. Fast and Easy and Pleasing tempo reads. After that, Write like the wind baby. You'll have a strong backbone from the Pre-Electronics, and the fingers of your Contemporaries. Cheers,

JACOB V
specialagent777@gmail.com

PopinFresh said...

The content of the book is disturbing, especially since there is a scene with the pedophile, but at the same time I want to know what happens with the three main characters. I think that even if I don't like the book, it will be one that I'll remember, so that's why I want to read it. (If that made sense :p )

Thanks

~ Popin
proudbookworm[@]gmail[dot]com

taterbug said...

Your awesome review makes me want to read the book. Thanks so much for the opportunity to win a copy!

angelacisco said...

This is my first time at your blog and I am very impressed with how well you explained the book. I really want to read it now. I'll be following your blog from now on, I'm looking forward to your next review.

Stephen said...

cool blog, great giveaway, this book sounds intense... I'd like it.

mrs.mommyy said...

from reviews sounds good

azrosebud said...

this looks good - a father searching for his child - i'd love to read it

Creative Mom said...

I am a reader. It is my favorite thing to do and this book sounds really interesting. I really hope I win this!

LJ said...

I would love to find out how it ends!

mverno said...

i sounds like a great book being an avid reader i'd love to have it

toughturtles said...

good interview thanks

abfantom said...

Wonderful interview. I'd like to read this book.

Please enter me.

abfantom (at) yahoo (dot) com

Cheryl F said...

Great review, sounds like an interesting book.This year I want to read more and this one is going to be on my list.

vboackle said...

This looks like an edge of the seat book.Very interesting.

danosor said...

I am a subscriber.

Deborah Wellenstein said...

This sounds like a very powerful read-please enter me to win! Thanks!

Smooshy said...

I'd like to read it, I love books that are heart-wrenchingly sad and powerful! (Is that bad??)
:)

sweetsue said...

I would like to read this because it sounds exciting and I love a good detective story!
smchester at gmail dot com

trippyjanet said...

Sounds a like a great book and how interesting living the life with a murdered parent..

Jason said...

Your high praise this early in the year must mean this book is awesome. I would love to read it.

jason@allworldautomotive.com

a real librarian said...

Awesome review and interview!!! I'd LOVE to read this!!

areallibrarian[at]gmail[dot]com

janehixon said...

Your review makes me very much want to read the book.......and the interview was fascinating...I want to read his next book, as well! Thanks!

Zoly said...

A great review. My wife and I both want to read this book.

Becky said...

From your review this sounds like a very powerful book and I would love to read it. Loved the interview and getting a glimpse of what went into the book from his perspective.

Thanks so much!

dbkagrayson2002 [at] gmail [dot] com

tarahsfoodreviews said...

Great review of the book, have you thought about writing? :) It almost sounds a little bit like "Pretty Bones" which was a good read, yet gut wrenching at the same time.

Tarah
tarah716[at]ymail.com

Sunnyvale said...

I'd like to read this.

Donna R. said...

This sounds like a good, interesting read. Please enter me into the contest and thanks.

susan1215 said...

Sounds like an interesting book

Don said...

The summary of this book looks very interesting...I would like to check this book out...thank you.

cathirushing said...

I love to read book like this

Randominities said...

Sounds like a great read! Thanks for the contest!

gkstratos said...

Great review. Sounds like a great read.
gkstratos@yahoo.com

Annie said...

This sounds like a very intriguing read, maybe a even a little difficult for me emotiotionally to read; but I'm always up for a challenge and would love to win !

Thanks

nancyrobster@gmail.com

Daniel M said...

always interested in stories about the supernatural - regnod(at)yahoo(d0t)com

pbrint said...

I love to read books and this looks like a good one. Please put me in the drawing.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a must-read. I love thrillers and this is right up my alley. Thanks for the terrific giveaway!

Kim
turtles8861(at)gmail(dot)com

Francine said...

I really like thriller books and it sounds like a great read. Thanks for the giveaway.

fmd518@inbox.com

sherri419 said...

Sounds like a really great read! I love reading mysteries and thrillers. Plus, your review would make anyone want to read it! Thanks for the chance!

sherri419 at gmail dot com

drming said...

Any book with noir thriller on the jacket as part of a review can not be disappointing. Can't wait to pick up a copy and start reading.

cpullum said...

These kind of books interest me! I would love to read this book!
Carla
cpullum(at)yahoo(dot)com

Sheila P said...

This book sounds incredibly awesome! I would love to win it! Please enter me to win! Thanks for this giveaway!

sohamolina said...

I'd love to read this story.
eddiem11@ca.rr.com

Tiggerriffic said...

Wooo Hooo Make me a winner!

tanabata said...

Wonderful review and interview, Anna! It does sound like an incredible story.
I'd love to have my name in for a chance to win. Even though they are sometimes hard to read because of the subject matter, I really do like reading about difficult topics sometimes. Thanks.
(tanabata2000 at gmail dot com)

sito50 said...

Your review of this book has really made me want to read it. I enjoyed the author interview, too. Hearing about the background and the writing process always makes a book more interesting. Thanks for hosting this giveaway.

kalea_kane said...

I would love a chance to read this book. Of course who wouldn't after that endorsement! Great interview too.

kalea_kane(at)yahoo(dot)com

vmkids said...

I would like to read this to see if the book is good or not

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an excellent read!

froggypartyof2@aol.com

LizzieK8 said...

I've already put it in my To Be Read list at GoodReads!

djgroz said...

Reading is fun when you are bored.Like to win this book. Thanks

Anita Yancey said...

I'd like to read this book, because your great review really peaked my interest. Sounds like a great book.
ayancey[at]dishmail[dot]net

redron said...

This sounds like a very good read. I love to read and this book sounds like one I would read.

tetewa said...

Enjoyed the interview, I'm always looking for new authors to read. This sounds good! tWarner419@aol.com

Anonymous said...

Intriguing fiction!

theyyyguy@yahoo.com

chromiumman said...

i love a good character driven novel

paryjeja said...

There is nothing better to read on a cold winter's night or two, than an engaging thriller and this one looks very good.

Jess V. said...

The genre interests me.

NesieBird said...

Really cool!!!

chazvgo said...

Great interview, the book seems interesting :)

Diana D said...

Wonderful interview. I'm an avid reader and would like to have the opportunity to read this book. Thanks for having the wonderful giveaway.

dianad8008 AT gmail DOT com

Roseann K. said...

The story seems intriguing. Thanks!

blueviolet said...

This is my favorite genre to read and this particular subject looks compelling and haunting. I think it would be hard to put down. Thanks for the chance to win it.
doot65{at}comcast[dot]net

ky2here said...

Sounds like a difficult but rewarding read.

Anonymous said...

Because it sounds like one of those so compelling that you end up losing sleep so you can finish it all in one go.

ladycat713@yahoo.com

angie said...

This sounds like a really good read. I like thrillers and books in that genre. Thanks~

purango said...

I would love to win the book because it sounds like a powerful story about a subject that many parents have to face. garrettsambo@aol.com

pauline15 said...

I have a young boy who I constantly keep an eye on to keep him safe. This is a very real threat and a very scary part of life. This book sounds like something a parent should read, if only to learn from it. It sounds like an incredible story!
pauline15_01 at hotmail dot com

deedleweedle said...

This sounds very good and I love to read!

lupinea said...

I would appreciate winning this book. I am a very eclectic reader, please just no romantic novels or such books. This sounds good in the interview, but, I have trouble finding enough books to read that I enjoy. I do not have the money to buy arm loads of brand new books so I must hunt the used book stores and the library. Winning a books feels like Christmas to me.

Luck Happens said...

I'm currently collecting my 2009 bedside pile of books and I'd love to add this one to the top. Besides being a thriller - which I enjoy - this book sounds like it was a true labor of love for the author. Thanks for the chance to win!

kellifrobinson2 AT gmail DOT com

Kim Miller embracelove@care2.com said...

I am an avid reader and I like to read on the bus, this be a riveting read while I am going to work.


embracelove@care2.com

fancyfeet48 said...

Sounds like a great read

Heather said...

I actually had a friend in Indiana who was abducted and killed at the age of 11. Being a mom now to my own 11 year old, I can not fathom what my friends parents went through. The book sounds difficult but I think I could relate many feelings.

ZESTYWONDERLAND said...

This sounds like a thought provking good read!
Please enter me into the giveaway!

Gabriel said...

My daugther would love it.

legab67156 (at) gmail (dot) com

kerri69 said...

This book sounds really great by youre review I would love to read it

Susanne said...

The book sounds like a page-turner...count me in!

lilyk said...

I would like to read the book because it sounds very interesting.

Anna said...

This contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. I appreciate your kinds words about my review, and I know Kirk appreciates your interest in his book. I will announce the winners soon.

Wendi B. - Wendi's Book Corner ~ Rainy Day Reads in Seattle said...

Your interview has been added to About the Author - An Author Interview Index! ~ Wendi

Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi!