Under the debut spotlight today is author Alexandra Burt for our stop on the blog tour for her debut novel Little Girl Gone which was published last week.
Alexandra was born in Germany. After her college graduation she moved to Texas and, while pursuing literary translations, she decided to tell her own stories. After three years of writing classes her short fiction appeared in the Freedom Fiction Journal, All Things Girl, MUSED Literary Review, and Heater Crime Fiction Magazine.
She is a member of Sisters In Crime, an organization promoting the advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.
She live in Texas with her husband, her daughter, and two Labradors.
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel Little Girl Gone?
Little Girl Gone is set in New York City and is the story of a mother’s quest to uncover the truth about her daughter’s disappearance. It’s not a typical child abduction—a stranger in a nondescript van, or a woman masquerading as a hospital employee kidnaping a newborn from a health care facility—but a baby disappears from her crib with the windows and doors locked and no sign of a break-in. But that’s only the first mystery.
Estelle Paradise is a first-time mother suffering from post-natal depression and she panics when she realizes that all traces of her daughter have been erased: her bottles, her diapers, and her clothes. Instead of calling the police, she begins to question her mental state and one crucial mistake after another renders her the number one suspect in the eyes of the police and the media. Pressured by her estranged husband, she voluntarily commits herself to a psychiatric facility. With the help of a psychiatrist, she undergoes memory recall therapy. The harrowing days after Mia’s disappearance play out in minute details during her sessions. A long forgotten suitcase, a homeless woman in possession of a hollowed out squirrel, a secret passage in Grand Central Terminal, an abandoned dumbwaiter, and a corn maze—fragments of memory emerge, leading up to a final climactic realization: What happened to baby Mia?
Where did the inspiration come from?
Estelle’s story stewed in my head for many years before I actually put the words on paper. For one, I was intimately acquainted with post-natal depression after my daughter was born and there was this storyline in the back of my head that just wouldn’t go away. I became fascinated with court cases involving mothers with post-natal depression and followed a couple of trials closely. I also remember, as a child growing up, two girls disappearing in my hometown and the crimes remain unsolved to this day. Back then, police went house to house asking questions and a friend of mine lived near one of the crime scenes and her neighbour, who happened to go to high school with us, was questioned extensively. I have never forgotten the overall mood that gripped the town during that time, the way people looked at each other suspiciously and my need to find answers. Sometimes I feel as if I’m still hung up on those unsolved crimes and the questions that remain unanswered.
Post-natal depression is at the heart of the story, how much research did you need to do to be able to write about this?
I know first-hand how it feels to suffer from post-natal depression. I had a rocky start with motherhood myself; I experienced nine months of nausea and a potentially life-threatening complication after childbirth and after my daughter was born I just didn’t bounce back. I didn’t know what post-natal depression was and I never thought it to be anything but a personal failure. Once I became enveloped in that state of mind, it became increasingly difficult to ‘think’ my way out of it. It took an entire year for me to feel remotely normal. I also spoke to many women who went through post-natal disorders. They were my greatest inspiration for the book.
What can we expect from you next?
Another psychological thriller, for sure. My next novel takes place in a fictional Texas town. It’s a story about a woman who develops a fixation on missing person’s cases after she finds a barely alive Jane Doe in the woods. Local cases fuel her obsession but in the end there’s only one case left; a woman who went missing fifteen years ago. There’s no photograph of her, just a hasty composite tucked away in a dusty file. In pursuing questions about the mystery woman, the character exposes her very own obscure past.
What attracted you to writing crime fiction as opposed to other genres?
Writing crime fiction wasn’t a conscious decision I made. I had read crime fiction here and there over the years but I wasn’t per se attracted to it. I enjoyed literary fiction but as I kept writing, a clear trend emerged; a crime happened to be at the center of each and every story. I guess crime fiction found me, in a way.
How did you writing journey start?
I’ve always been obsessed with studying foreign subject matters and I have this natural curiosity that makes me get lost in so many subjects. After my daughter was born, I worked as a freelance translator and I thought I had hit the jackpot; I translated projects completely unknown to me and I got to satisfy my curiosity that way. European luxury automotive paint, Sanskrit literature, Ireland’s cigar industry, Swedish art exhibitions, safety assessments in power plants, artisan cribs made from Austrian pine. I also translated long lost love letters and correspondence of people who had never met. Medical histories, divorce decrees, and death certificates. Stories were everywhere.
I toyed with the notion of getting into literary translations but that dream didn’t pan out and so I decided to tell my own stories. About six years ago I enrolled in writing classes but concentrated mainly on short stories. Eventually I signed up for a novel writing class and on the first day of class I was asked to post twenty-five pages. Needless to say, I hadn’t written a single word. So later that night, a sentence popped into my head; “Tell me about your daughter.” I imagined a woman, ravaged by post-natal depression, confronted by a psychiatrist and forced to unravel the ball of yarn that is the disappearance of her infant daughter. By the end of the class I had written the first draft of Little Girl Gone.
What attracted you to writing?
I truly believe that becoming a writer is inevitable. There’s a question I ask every writer I meet in order to satisfy my own curiosity: Hindsight, were there early signs that you were destined to become a writer? As for myself, I had an early obsession with reading, I always asked too many questions, wanted to understand everybody’s motivation and I watched people closely. I’ve heard ‘will you stop starring already’ more times than I can remember. People fascinate me.
I vividly remember the moment I became hooked on writing; in my very first writing class the instructor challenged us to write a scene in which we allowed the character to do something we would never dare in real life. That was all it took. Oh, the possibilities.
Now that you are a published author, what advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
No one said it better than Ray Bradbury, “You must write every single day of your life... You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads... may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
If you are going to aspire to become anything, give it your all. If writing is your passion, aspire to be a better writer. Every single day. Read, write, read some more. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate the publication of your debut novel?
I had plans. Plans of pulling on my hiking boots, or going on a holiday, a Caribbean cruise maybe? None of that happened. Instead I spent a month reading and just kind of allowing myself to drift. I sent LITTLE GIRL GONE and its actors off into the sunset and watched a new crew of actors assemble, ready to act out their very own story. They are giddy and eager and so am I. Remaking a world, like Bradbury said.
A baby goes missing. But does her mother want her back?
When Estelle’s baby daughter is taken from her cot, she doesn’t report her missing. Days later, Estelle is found in a wrecked car, with a wound to her head and no memory.
Estelle knows she holds the key to what happened that night – but what she doesn’t know is whether she was responsible…