Award-winning Author, Abby Geni, Brings Suspense to the Crowley Booth
In anticipation of this week’s American Library Association (ALA) conference in Chicago, Illinois, I chatted with Crowley’s guest author 2016 Barnes and Noble Discover Fiction Award-winner, Abby Geni, to learn more about her connection to libraries, her intriguing debut novel, “The Lightkeepers” (which she will be signing in the Crowley Booth #2438 on Saturday and Sunday of the conference) and much more.
Q: How have libraries played a role in your life?
A: Libraries have played an extensive role in my life, particularly when I left home to attend college and grad school. There is a peace and a hominess libraries offer that other spaces lack. It’s because of that comfort that they quickly became my home away from home and a source of inspiration. In fact, my short story, “Captivity” was started after reading a Jacques Cousteau book about octopuses* cover-to-cover in a library. I love every library branch around my town and have frequented them so often that I’ve memorized their every nook and cranny.
Q: What attracted you to accept The Crowley Company’s invite to be a guest author?
A: I love libraries so the chance to be a part of the conference was enticing. I’ve never been to an ALA conference before and the opportunity seemed wonderful.
Q: What was your inspiration for “The Lightkeepers?”
A: Mysteries have a perfect architecture that has always interested me. “The Lightkeepers” is set on the Farallon Islands off the coast of California. When I first read about them, a wonderful possibility to create opened up because it’s a misty environment that’s only accessible by boat. It immediately became an intriguing story for me of this “locked world” filled with mystery.
Q: Nature seems like a huge inspiration for your writing. What about this subject intrigues you?
A: One of the biggest issues of our time is climate change. It’s hard to believe that even though we know the science, the problems are still escalating. I’ve always had a connection to nature and I want to make sure it is at the forefront of people’s minds.
Q: The book took some pretty unexpected turns and I’ll never look at seagulls the same way again. What prompted the storyline?
A: I wanted to create a world in which anything can happen and in which danger comes from both the natural world and the human world. Miranda, the main character, is surrounded by predators both inside the house and out. I will also say that as I began the writing process, I didn’t expect that the seagulls would be such vivid antagonists. I grew up in Chicago, where seagulls are a fairly constant presence, but they’re not dangerous. I was interested in birds going into the book, but as I learned more about the gulls on the islands, I realized they would be the ultimate danger for Miranda to face.
Q: What does your typical writing process look like?
A: I think on an idea for years. Once I sit to write, I write for fierce and intensely focused periods of time. I like to make a point to say that I do not write every day. There is a widespread idea that in order to be a “good writer” you need to write every single day, which isn’t always the case. I write four to five days a week, normally in the morning when my head is clear.
Q: What resources (books, the internet, etc.) do you normally utilize for your book research?
A: I’m a research junkie. For “The Lightkeepers”, I was writing about a real place that I’ve never been to, which is how I prefer it. I like to have enough information so that I can create a realistic and informed perspective but not so much that I lose all possibilities to imagine. Susan Casey’s book “Devil’s Teeth” offered a lot of good perspective into the animals and seasonal changes on the islands and provided a great map, so I had it beside me during the entire writing process. “The Lightkeepers” takes place over a one-year time span, so as the story progresses month-to-month, I’d pay special attention to the details in Casey’s book about the environment in the season I was writing about and the habits of the animals in that season.
Q: Do you ever use microfilm records in your research? What were your thoughts on the experience?
A: Yes! I remember reading newspaper records on an old microfilm machine while researching the Farallon Islands. People called “eggers” would steal birds eggs off the island and the problem was written about in the news. The information on film was backward and difficult to read but there was a very nice librarian that helped me use the equipment. I remember it had an odd smell. I’m interested to see the modern technology Crowley provides for microfilm reading at ALA.
Editor’s Note: We can promise you, Abby, the images will be right-side up, crisp and clear on the UScan+. The “odd smell” you encountered was most-likely vinegar syndrome, a chemical degradation that can occur in old microfilm rolls which give off the smell of vinegar. Microfilm with this syndrome will eventually degrade to a point where the information is unusable and should, whenever possible, be digitized immediately to preserve the information. We, of course, can recommend a few of the best scanners to accomplish this.
Q: Congratulations on winning the 2016 B&N Discover Award for Fiction! What was your reaction to winning the award?
A: Thank you! It feels like a dream! They flew me out to New York [for the winner announcement] and held a fancy luncheon. I was so nervous that I barely ate. I had written a small speech just in case I won. They announced my name and I made the speech, and when I came down from the podium I finally ate something. Now the book is featured in all Barnes and Noble stores and will be for the next year. The experience has been remarkable. I have a special love for bookstores as I do for libraries. When the libraries close for the night you can always go to the bookstore and enjoy a coffee and read there.
Q: As a Chicago native, what are some of your favorite spots or literary attractions in the city?
A: I’m a big fan of the Shedd Aquarium – I wrote about it in “The Last Animal” – and as far as literary sites go, there’s the brand new American Writers Museum, which just opened a few months ago. It’s on Michigan Avenue near Millennium Park, which is a fun area to visit anyway, and it’s delightful.
Q: I see you teach writing classes at the Northbrook Public Library. How has this experience influenced you?
A: Teaching has been a great experience. Writing is often a solitary activity so getting the chance to have an actual conversation about your work is a special experience. Sometimes I’ll be asked questions by a student and I have to think hard about how to answer it. Intuitively, I know how to do something but then explaining it to a student becomes a challenge. Teaching is beneficial because it allows me to look at my own work as I would a student’s and be more critical and thorough.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish at ALA Annual?
A: I hope to meet as many book lovers as possible. I love talking to people about books and meeting people that share my love for them!
*Octopuses? Octopi? Octopodes? We went with the standard English version of “octopuses” but only after studying this video from Merriam-Webster.
Meet Abby in person!
Abby will be signing copies of her 2016 Barnes and Noble Discover fiction award-winning debut novel, “The Lightkeepers,” on Saturday, June 24th and Sunday, June 25th in Crowley’s Booth #2438. She’ll be giving away 25 copies each day. Join us for scanners, suspense and a whole lot of fun!
About The Crowley Company
The Crowley Company is a full-solution imaging partner. From micrographics equipment and microfilm to desktop and production scanners to patron systems and conversion services, The Crowley Company has aided records managers, archivists, librarians, researchers, students and others throughout the world with archival preservation, records management and digitization solutions.