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Reader’s Guide: THE WISHING THREAD by Lisa Van Allen

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Allen_The Wishing Thread Random House Reader’s Circle has exclusive materials for you and your book club to enjoy! SARAH ADDISON ALLEN is the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, and the upcoming Lost Lake, interviews debut novelist Lisa Van Allen.

Sarah Addison Allen:  The Wishing Thread is a delightful novel about the bonds of sisterhood, the transformational power of love, and the pleasures and perils of knitting. What sparked your idea for this novel?

Lisa Van Allen:  It started with the knitting. When I knit a gift for someone, I always say a few prayers for the recipient. It’s about sending deliberate thoughts of love and kindness, along with offering a gift. So it wasn’t a far jump from there to “Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody could knit a magic spell into the fabric of a hat or a scarf so that it rubs off on the wearer?”

Of course, in The Wishing Thread, the people who go to the Stitchery looking for magic never know what they’ll get. Sometimes the spells don’t work as expected. Sometimes they don’t work at all.

Many people in the town think that the Van Ripper sisters are swindlers, preying on people who are desperate enough to turn to “magic” to fix their problems. But others think the sisters are the real deal and will defend the Stitchery’s magic, tooth and nail. Each sister in the story approaches the idea of magic in her own way.

SAA:   The way you write about magic is so unique. What are your favorite books with magic in them that have influenced you?

LVA:  I’ve always loved books that offer fun, imaginative plots along with a certain “makes you think” element—-going all the way back. As a kid I adored The Little Prince for its enigmatic characters, magical surprises, and emotionality. Recently I fell hard for Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. And, Sarah, your latest, The Peach Keeper, was one of those reads that had me sitting down thinking “just for a few minutes” and then realizing hours had gone by. This is always the sign of a great read.

SAA:  Thank you! I’m glad to be in such great company! Magic is so wonderful to write but also so tricky. I think every writer approaches writing in a different way. What are your writing habits? How do you write best?

LVA:  More and more, I find myself collecting things. I make a regular practice of writing lists with titles like “things you find that could change everything” and “reasons you might become stuck in a tree.” Sei Shōnagon inspired this habit for me when I read her eleventh–century collection of writings called The Pillow Book. She makes beautiful, breathtaking lists.

I also keep random boxes in my office of things that seem to go together somehow: pictures, objects, bits of fabric or color, anecdotes, books and pamphlets, scribbles, etc. Each box has its own kind of ordered chaos. I like the idea of all these elements marinating for a while until all the flavors marry and become a cohesive story. I have Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit to thank for this.

SAA:  I hear you have a hedgehog as a pet—-is anything else in the book based on real life?

LVA:  Ha, ha. Yes! My hedgie has quite a following. I guess you could say she was instrumental in developing the character of Icky Van Ripper, the main character’s pet hedgehog in The Wishing Thread. I’m hoping my little beastie won’t sue me for using her likeness or something like that. I’ll have to pay her off with mealworms.

But seriously, I never have models for my (human) characters. That method just doesn’t work for me. I do, however, expand on my own emotional experiences, like every writer.

SAA:  How did you get started knitting? What do you love about it?

LVA:  I actually outright refused to learn to knit for many years. I so was sure I’d hate it! But one day in my mid–twenties, an aunt finally took my shoulders and sat me down, and said “watch my hands.” A few rows later, I was hooked. There’s a scene in The Wishing Thread that definitely came right from that moment.

Of course, I had some false starts with knitting. My first scarf looked like a moth–chewed roll of lumpy toilet paper. One year, I made my brother three socks (one that was okay, one with holes, and one that could only have fit a hoof). But I’m better these days. Ravelry, a social networking site for fiber nerds, helped my technique a lot (find me as “lisava”). Knitting’s a great creative outlet for when I’m away from my manuscripts. I’m not very good at sitting still.

SAA:  Are you working on something new? Can you share anything with us about your next project?

LVA:  I can tell you that my book–in–progress box is filled with bright red plastic berries, peacock feathers, beeswax candles, pictures of farm equipment, random info like “how to make a leech barometer,” and writings about whether or not plants have feelings. It’s gonna be fun!

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