LYNNE HUGO

A Q&A with Lynne

Describe A Matter of Mercy in one sentence.

One sentence? You do know you’re talking to a writer, right? Okay, here’s a go at it: The novel A Matter of Mercy, weaves the true story of a 1996 lawsuit against the oyster farmers in Cape Cod Bay by the wealthy owner of an upland vacation home with that of two fictional characters, Ridley Neal and Caroline Marcum, who each think they’ve discovered where forgiveness ends.

 

What do you think your readers will enjoy most about your story?

That might be individual. Possibly, though, the sense of being fully immersed in the life and world of the sea farmers. So many people love the beach and dream of living by the water. My characters live, work, struggle and love there. In real life, the entire foundation of the oyster farmers’ lives was threatened by the lawsuit; it would have put an end to a traditional way of life based on the tides, one that’s both back-breaking and deeply loved. Rid and Caroline each have complicated pasts, and I wove their entirely fictional stories into the true, utterly unpredictable, progression and outcome of the lawsuit.

 

What other books in your genre would you compare your novel to?

Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson, and One True Thing by Anna Quindlin. Generally, I write contemporary fiction that leans into literary. By that I mean that while I always want to tell an engrossing story and keep a reader glued to the page, I explore serious themes and am very attentive to language—I try to make the writing beautiful and memorable. For a more current novel, I’d say perhaps The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis, mainly because it’s a literary novel also set on the outer Cape, although I think the setting is more a primary factor in A Matter of Mercy.

Who or what was the inspiration for your book?

Finally! a nice easy question. A Matter of Mercy was inspired when I became friends with a woman oyster farmer, Barbara Austin, whom I met while walking the beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts at low tide. She was working there in the shallows of the harbor. I grew up in New England, and go back to the Cape as often as I can. Even so, I’d had no idea that oysters and clams were painstakingly farmed, nor that it takes three years and that they’re subject to predators, storms. All kinds of things can and do go wrong. Neither had I known that it’s a traditional way of life to raise them, one based on the tides because “sea farmers” (now known as aquaculturists) can only work for an hour before and after low tide, while the racks and cages are exposed. I wish there were space here to tell you all that Barbara taught me about the devotion, care, skill and back-breaking labor that goes into raising oysters and clams. And how closely-knit their community. She invited me to put on waders and learn to work a “bump rake” to dig up clams ready for harvest (it’s much harder than it looks! I promptly fell onto my rear in ankle deep water). She taught me to cull, took me on deliveries with her, and explained the danger of a red tide. I began to understand this life lived by the water.

When I heard about a lawsuit against them–one based on the Colonial Ordinance of 1640!–by the owner of a large vacation home on the bluffs above the harbor who wanted to shut the farming down because he didn’t like seeing the cages at low tide, I knew there was the seed for a novel. The lawyer for the aquaculturists found a completely unpredictable, secret way to fight back when losing everything looked like a sure thing. Aquaculture is the economic lifeblood of the town. The owner of the vacation home is there six weeks a year

Briefly describe your writing and editing process. Are you a pantser or do you outline?

Maybe a little of both. A lot of thinking happens when I’m out hiking with our yellow Lab, Scout, in a nature preserve near our house, but often once I have the seed for a novel in my mind, I just start writing. As it takes shape, I’ll do a very rough outline, which consists mainly of chapter numbers and then scene lists under each. I don’t sketch out more than a third of the novel at a time, often because I’m often not sure what direction it’s going to take. I like to let the characters grow, and allow room for surprise and change within myself. When I say “scene list,” that means just a few words consisting of what needs to happen by the end of a scene and the point of view it’s in (not a problem if it’s all first person!). It’s almost never more than that.

 

Are you working on a new novel?

Honestly, I’m always working on a new novel. It’s like being naked if I’m not!

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